Editorial Notes

Pakistan's educated extremists: Dawn

The Pakistani national flag being waved during a protest in Karachi, on March 3, 2019.
The Pakistani national flag being waved during a protest in Karachi, on March 3, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial, the paper cautions about young, educated Pakistanis insidiously being radicalised.

ISLAMABAD (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The trope of the madrassah-educated or illiterate extremist from an impoverished background was comprehensively shattered when Saad Aziz was arrested for high-profile terrorist attacks in Karachi.

Coming from a well-to-do family, the young man was a graduate of one of the country's most prestigious business schools.

Yet, inspired by the militant Islamic State group, he went on to commit a number of heinous crimes - several within the span of a few weeks in the summer of 2015.

On Thursday, an anti-terrorism court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of American educationist Deborah Lobo in Karachi, in 2015.

Aziz, along with his accomplices, has already been sentenced to death in May 2016 by a military court where he was standing trial in 18 cases.

Among these was the murder of rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, the targeted killing of policemen and the Safoora Goth massacre.

In 2010, Faisal Shahzad, an MBA from an American university and son of a senior Pakistan air force officer, attempted to detonate a bomb in New York - a crime for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the US.

However, Shahzad seemed an aberration, a product perhaps of unique circumstances far from home.

On the other hand, the arrest of Aziz and his accomplices five years later as suspects in multiple acts of terrorism was a watershed moment.

It laid bare the fact that a radical mindset had been stealthily taking root among young, educated Pakistanis, who were now turning on their compatriots in savage acts of violence either directly or as co-conspirators.

More arrests along similar lines followed in subsequent years.

The case of Naureen Leghari, the medical student who travelled to Syria and received training from the IS, illustrated how even women from sheltered backgrounds can be lured into acting upon a Manichaean worldview.

These developments have been an inevitable outcome of allowing extremist ideologies to percolate through society for years; ad hoc and inconsistent efforts are not enough to effectively staunch their spread.

Disaffected youth, however privileged, not only in Pakistan but even in the West, can be drawn to narratives that appear to offer them an active role in 'righting' or avenging perceived wrongs.

Having gained some respite after years of bloodshed, one should not assume that the danger posed by toxic ideologies has passed.

A culture of debate and critical thinking is yet to be inculcated in society.

Dawn is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.