“Poverty alleviation is fundamental to contain and reverse extremism,” an aide to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently stated.
Terrorism has cost Pakistan an estimated $35 billion, and though international donors recently pledged billions to help the country’s deteriorating economy, the unemployment rate is soaring.
Sharmeen Gangat is a Pakistani-American who writes at the “World Policy Blog” to explain why she left Pakistan — and why youth too poor to leave often resort to lucrative criminal acts.
Sharmeen Gangat: Crime and (the Lack of) Punishment in Pakistan
The grim reality of daily violence is an ever-present concern for millions of Pakistanis. Sadly, fearing for the safety of one’s family is a part of everyday life.
From my perch outside Pakistan, the international discussion often focuses on my homeland as a place for harboring and exporting terrorists. What goes missing is any apparent concern for what is happening to civilian life within the country.
Since 2002, there have been 140 suicide blasts. But the total figures obscure a worrying rising trend: in 2008 alone, 61 suicide bombings killed approximately 889 civilians and injured 2,072.
“When suicide bombs are such a norm, who would cry over kidnappings, robberies, and murders?” said my brother.[…]
At the root of the problem are Pakistan’s weak political and legal institutions, and the lack of opportunities for educated and the resourceful youth. As such, those with the means (like myself) look to migrate abroad. Those who don’t have sufficient funds or connections to leave the country often resort to picking up arms—either for corrupt political leaders, on behalf of terrorist organizations, or sometimes just for themselves.
The lack of economic opportunities for youth combined with religious indoctrination has resulted in a gang mentality, with violent crime as the obvious result. There are more students graduating than there are jobs available, and a lack of technical, professional, and vocational institutions adds to the problem.
In this climate, criminal activities offer a lucrative option, spiced with religious frenzy and anti-American banter that has roots in the U.S.-supported war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1979 and that has been re-inflamed by recent events.
If the scourge of terrorism is to be fought and won in that country, the United States will have to ally with local youth (in both Pakistan and Afghanistan) who can be won over by positive economic and social development.
In the past, Pakistanis have responded warmly to American humanitarian efforts. For example, after the United States pledged $510 million for post-earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan in 2005, 78 percent of Pakistanis expressed a more favorable opinion of the United States—with the strongest support among those under 35 years of age. Interestingly, this also resulted in a significant decline in support for Al Qaeda.
But what must come first is support for the rule of law and the rebuilding of a broken police and security apparatus. Until people feel safe at home and have opportunities for education, advancement, and steady employment, the lure of the gun will prove too strong.
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