By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI — School curricula, mainstream media, sectarian speeches and easy access to jihadi literature and websites are key to the radicalisation of Pakistani youth, analysts say.

“At least three generations of Pakistanis have grown up intoxicated on a curriculum and literature of hatred, bigotry, militancy, sectarianism, dogmatism and fanaticism”, said Akhter Hussain Baloch, former co-ordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The school system fostered a cadre of religiously conservative youth by applying a narrow, politicised definition of Islam to build Pakistani patriotism that continues to poison the nation’s youth, he said. “The textbooks authored and altered during the 11 years of General Zia ul-Haq’s military rule are still used in schools”, Baloch said.

Such textbooks “incited militancy and violence, including the encouragement of jihad and shahadat, glorified war … and spread hateful stereotypes of non-Muslims”, he added.

”]“Madrassas are not only the institutions breeding hate, militancy, intolerance or a distorted world view. The educational materials in government-run schools do much more than madrassas”, concluded a landmark research report, “Subtle Subversion”, by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), an Islamabad-based think tank.

The SDPI commissioned 30 scholars to analyse an array of textbooks used in primary and secondary schools.

“The SDPI’s study unleashed a huge debate … and became the basis of a major curricular reform undertaken by (Gen Pervez) Musharraf’s regime in 2006, but due to huge opposition by religious parties, the changes were cosmetic”, said Elahi Baksh, a political scientist at Governmental College Karachi. “Now religion is to be taught in focused courses, rather than being infused into social studies, civics, Urdu and English”.

“The government is preparing a revision of curricula that are being unveiled this year. If there is any objectionable content, it will surely be removed”, an anonymous Ministry of Education official in Sindh said.

The mainstream media have been criticised by some analysts, who say they contribute to radicalising youth when they present Taliban militants as “heroes” in articles.

“The media are building up the atmosphere of distrust and hype”, Amin Khattak, secretary-general of the Awami National Party Sindh, told Central Asia Online.

“If you read Pakistan’s newspapers or watch TV news, you will find phony news items –like those saying that the CIA is recruiting locals through Blackwater — are behind all the terrorist activities carried out nationwide, and will seize the country’s nuclear assets if Pakistan collapses”, Khattak said.

One provincial government trying to stem the tide is in Sindh. Provincial Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza banned the sale or distribution of objectionable or provocative literature and audio cassettes and ordered police to monitor banned groups’ activities, the Sindh government said in a statement. Observers attribute the action to pressure resulting from recent terrorist attacks in Lahore on the Ahmadi community.

A government ban on jihadi literature is not stopping jihadi and sectarian organisations from their work. They simply change the names of their publications, Elahi said. He cited the outlawed Lashkar-e-Tayyaba jihadi magazine “Ghazwa”, which lives on as “Jarrar”.

“Hate literature and jihadi newspapers are not as easily available as they once were in Karachi, but they can be obtained through certain mosques and book stalls or members of the appropriate group”, Baloch said. Those publications run ads that raise money for their causes, he warned.

“Religio-political parties, especially their student wings, are exploiting the anti-Western sentiments of youth in academic institutions”, said Ali Raza, a student leader at the University of Karachi. He said he knows a few students from well-heeled Karachi families who joined the Taliban and died battling the army in the tribal areas.

Inflammatory videos and films glorifying suicide bombers and inciting others to join the fight are widely available to any youth with a mobile phone, Raza learnt.

“To some extent, young Pakistanis are influenced by jihadi literature circulating on various Islamist websites and discussion forums, and the militants’ use of the internet for … recruitment and public relations has been well demonstrated”, a security analyst said on condition of anonymity.

“Pakistan is experiencing the ‘youth bulge’. More than half of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30. Their socialisation is heavily loaded with Islamic orthodoxy and militancy”, Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defence analyst and columnist, said in the Daily Times.

Yet the government sometimes appears to pick the wrong fight, critics said. “Instead of banning websites inciting violence and hatred, the government banned Facebook, YouTube and other social websites”, Awab Alvi, a blogger, said at the Karachi Press Club May 21.

Ironically, Alvi became a victim of violence after the news conference: religious anti-Facebook demonstrators attacked him outside the Press Club.

first published at Central Asia Online