Understanding Perceptions of Terrorism
Why do Pakistanis continue to hold a skewed assessment of the Taliban threat to their country? What underlies their attitudes toward the Taliban, the United States, India, and religious minorities? This report draws on author interviews and fieldwork undertaken in Punjab in 2013 and 2014 as well as on a detailed curriculum and textbook study to identify and trace the roots of these attitudes and suggest ways out of the dilemma for Pakistan’s policymakers.
- Pakistan’s official education system does not equip students to counter the prevailing, problematic narratives in society and the media in any way. Instead it both creates and propagates them.
- Pakistan studies textbooks forge an identity exclusively based on Islam and derived in opposition to India. The United States, mentioned sparingly, is portrayed as having betrayed Pakistan at key points in its history.
- Textbooks are memorized verbatim and class sessions do not permit questions from the students, teachers’ presentation of evidence, or discussion of alternative sources.
- A common Pakistani narrative of terrorism pins the blame on the United States and India. Explanations range from conspiracy theories to justifications of militant action as retaliation for U.S. policies.
- A second narrative interprets the militants’ cause as primarily religious and supports it on this basis.
- Pakistan needs curriculum reform to follow an international-level curriculum that incorporates rigorous analysis and critical thinking and to create tolerant and analytical global citizens.
- Official textbooks need both to be reimagined to include a full view of history and to be authored by international scholars.
- In addition, the government needs to find a way to halt the circulation of terrorist narratives from both mainstream media and madrassas.
About the Report
This report both examines the attitudes among Pakistani youth on terrorism, relations with India and the United States, and other related issues, and traces the roots of these narratives. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the research includes a curriculum and textbook study and is complemented by interviews and fieldwork in Punjab high schools in 2013 and 2014 all conducted by the author.
About the Author
Madiha Afzal is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her current work examines the roots of radicalization in Pakistan, focuses on the role of education, and includes research on Pakistan’s politics and development. Named in 2013 to Lo Spazio della Politica’s list of Top 100 Global Thinkers, Afzal holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and has consulted for the World Bank, DFID, and IFPRI. The author would like to thank Muhammad Ali Syed and Mehwish Rani for research assistance and USIP for comments.