Socio-economic and Political Determinants of Terrorism in Pakistan

Date01 April 2018
Published date01 April 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Socio-economic and
Political Determinants
of Terrorism in Pakistan:
University Students’
Zahid Shahab Ahmed1
Farooq Yousaf2
Khan Zeb3
Pakistan is experiencing a youth bulge with more than half of its population under
the age of 30 years. Economic, political and security challenges, however, prevent
the nation from fully utilizing its demographic advantage. Over the last decade,
terrorism has become a major security issue. This article is based on primary
research of Pakistani university students’ views on terrorism and related chal-
lenges. Its results reveal that the youth is concerned about the domestic triggers
of terrorism and students’ place of origin impact upon experiences of terrorism.
Moreover, while just under two-thirds of respondents from federally adminis-
tered tribal areas (FATA) said they had been directly affected by terrorism, less
than one-third of Punjabis provided the same response.
Pakistan, university students, terrorism, perceptions, extremism
International Studies
55(2) 130–145
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718790689
1 Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Burwood Hwy, Burwood, Australia.
2 PhD candidate, University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.
3 PhD candidate, Peace and Conict Studies, Centre for International Peace and Stability,
National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Corresponding author:
Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Alfred Deakin Institute for
Citizenship and Globalization, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Burwood Hwy,
Burwood 3125, Australia.
Ahmed et al. 131
Since gaining independence from the British Empire in 1947, Pakistan has
faced major domestic and external security challenges. In the early years of its
nationhood, Pakistan endured wars with India, the partition of its Eastern territory,
and faced consequences of the Afghan–Soviet War. The present government is
involved in the management of a myriad of security issues including the continued
implications of the on-going war in Afghanistan, domestic security operations
in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and its counter-insurgency
operations in Baluchistan. Pakistan’s involvement in the so-called Afghan jihad
in the 1980s is a major cause of present-day security troubles, including terrorism
and religious extremism (Hartman, 2002, p. 2). The major wave of terrorism
that surfaced after 2002 is substantially due to the ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan
and related security operations against terrorists across Pakistan (Nawaz, 2009,
p. 15).
For nearly 15 years, terrorist attacks have indiscriminately targeted markets,
hotels, religious and social gatherings, schools, mosques, parks and other public
places. According to one estimate, nearly 62,000 lives have been lost due to
terrorism in Pakistan for the period between 2003 and 2017 (SATP, 2017).
Despite the decreasing frequency of terror attacks due to Operation Zarb-e-Azb
and Operation Radd-ul-Fassad, terrorism and extremism-related violence remain
a major challenge to the social–economic and political landscape of the country.
Compounding this threat is sectarian and ethno-nationalistic unrest, as expressed,
for example, in the Baloch insurgency. It is argued that the causes of domestic
instability in Pakistan are widely manifested in the form of under-developed
democratic institutions and the dominance of military and political monopolies
belonging to the landed and capitalist elite (Javaid, 2015), which diminish the
opportunity for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The civil society in Pakistan
is relatively weak and has little space to influence policymaking processes
(Pasha, 2010, p. 134).
While other scholars have addressed the interactions between youth and
terrorism focusing on issues related to youth religiosity (Biberman, Gul, & Ocakli,
2016; Kohlmann, 2006); the impacts of terrorism on youth (Ahmed & Zeb, 2016);
grievances against the state as a result of socio-economic deprivation (Shahbaz,
2013; Yusuf, 2008) and youth recruitment by militant organizations (Fair, 2004;
Haque, 2014; Khan, Khan, Aziz, & Shah, 2012), a relatively little research has
given prominence to the views and perceptions of the youth—particularly educated
youth—themselves. The study which most resembles the current research is a
survey-based report published in 2010 by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies,
focusing on radicalization and youth lifestyle preferences, such as favourite TV
channels and religious routines (PIPS, 2010). However, the study gave little
emphasis to young people’s perceptions of the threat of terrorism or its immediate
effects. It also eschewed local factors in favour of external reasons for youth
radicalization such as the actions of the USA. In contrast, this article focuses largely
on young people’s perceptions of the domestic triggers and consequences of terrorism.

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