Friday, 7 June 2019

De-radicalisation is a broad term that comprises many ideas and practical actions. It is important to examine what is involved at a more granular level and here Raafia Raees Khan describes a specific, multi-faceted program in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the country’s far north. There may be scope for policy learning and borrowing for other countries, including multi-ethnic, multicultural societies such as Australia. Shamit Saggar

Sabaoon: De-radicalisation through a Compassionate Approach

- Raafia Raees Khan

Sabaoon, a de-radicalisation and rehabilitation centre established in Swat, Pakistan, is a facility that was initiated by the Pakistan army in the aftermath of the counter insurgency in 2009. The facility was handed over to a civilian administration with Dr Feriha Peracha as the Director of Sabaoon. Thus far, Sabaoon has catered to over 240 youth, and reintegrated 219 to date.

The first and foremost consideration for any youth inducted to Sabaoon is an in-depth and individualised understanding of the causes for recruitment tends to guide the de-radicalisation and rehabilitation process, while assessing the push and pull factors (personal, social, ideological, etc.) and aiming to provide an understanding of the same to the youth at the facility.

This is then aimed at devising the subsequent psychosocial intervention in an individualised manner. The program itself is comprehensive, providing (a) mainstream education, (b) vocational skills training, (c) corrective religious instruction, (d) psychosocial intervention and support, and (e) recreation (sports, field trips, musical evenings, family visits, etc.).

Each young person’s timeline for being reintegrated back into society is based on the progress they make at the facility. Progress is assessed at an interim basis, with young people shortlisted for reintegration once a year and some highlighted for possible reintegration in the subsequent year. Progress, here, refers to the ability to learn (academic and or vocational achievement), to accommodate corrective religious instruction (concepts related to the essence of Islam; such as Rab ul Alameen or ‘God of the Universe’ – rather than God of the Muslims, Talib referring to a person who is a ‘student’ or ‘seeker of knowledge’ rather than a militant or a soldier, Jihad referring to ‘striving’ – to learn to control ones impulses, to learn and understand religion, to be kind and tolerant towards others, etc.) by being able to verify concepts by referring to the Quran and seeing a verse within the context of the chapter, while also being cognisant of the time of revelation and its significance.

Progress with psychosocial intervention is assessed in terms of the acceptance of the extent of involvement (by providing a detailed account of mode of the involvement itself and factors that motivated the individuals to become involved and remain involved). These are then discussed in light of the corrective religious instruction and are often also discussed with the religious scholar to address individually.

Psychosocial intervention also emphasises helping the individual move to reframe the experience of involvement in militancy and to establish a more cohesive personality with an improved understanding of where the misconceptions were and how to avoid them in the future. This is not just in terms of religious misdirection or misguidance, but also in terms of the importance of thinking critically and questioning what one is being informed about, and an ability to verify the information.

Another essential condition at the time of reintegration is goal direction. This allows the individual to transition towards a socially appropriate and acceptable alternative lifestyle by developing a trajectory aimed at a sense of personal meaning and productivity.

Support does not end at the time young people are reintegrated, but rather is continued in order to help them transition back to mainstream society, while also facilitating their pursuit of alternative lifestyles and goals. Challenges faced post-reintegration are managed, addressed and or resolved, and coping strategies are developed in order to help this young person to become better equipped in addressing similar challenges independently.

Such a model for de-radicalisation, reintegration and post-reintegration monitoring and support can be developed for any society facing issues of radicalisation and/or returning foreign terrorist fighters, including Australia. However, what is required is an in-depth understanding, which cannot be sought without an empathic and compassionate approach towards finding reasonable ways to help each individual transition back into mainstream society. For many multicultural and multi-ethnic societies, the challenge may naturally be varied. Having said that, careful consideration can help understand the societal perspective which can then serve to guide the kind of intervention it is likely to be, as well as the mode/s in which the intervention can be most beneficial for all parties involved.

Raafia Raees Khan

Raafia Raees Khan is a clinical and counselling psychologist (MSc Applied Psychology & MS/MPhil. Clinical and Counseling Psychology) who has been involved with Sabaoon since 2009 and currently serves as the Vice CEO of SWAaT for Pakistan. She, along with Dr. Feriha N. Peracha, have developed the Sabaoon model for de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration which is considered to guide best practices in the field of countering violent extremism. Raafia currently supervises the Monitoring Centre, from where the reintegrated youth is monitored and supported once they graduate from Sabaoon, while also contributing to Sabaoon and other projects being managed by SWAaT for Pakistan.


UWA Public Policy Institute