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.

Summary

  • 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.

Related Publications

Biden and Washington’s Perennial Pakistan Problem

Biden and Washington’s Perennial Pakistan Problem

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

By: Richard Olson

Among the many challenges facing the Biden administration will be addressing the infamously dysfunctional U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Anyone familiar with how Islamabad and Washington have interacted over the last 74 years will resort to tired metaphors: a roller-coaster ride, a sine wave, the dynamic between an overbearing mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. These clichés reflect the reality that the relationship has rarely been stable and usually is either declining precipitously or accelerating unsustainably. The challenge for the new administration will be to find a way to work productively with Pakistan without oscillating between peaks of enthusiasm and depths of cynicism.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Could Water be a Flashpoint for Conflict in Pakistan?

Could Water be a Flashpoint for Conflict in Pakistan?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

By: Jumaina Siddiqui; Faiqa Mahmood

Water has now become a commodity in many parts of the world. This is a problem in and of itself, as water is essential for every living thing. However, instead of being equally and fairly available to all, water mafias have emerged around the world and put a stranglehold on this essential resource. In Pakistan, this is most starkly seen in urban centers; however, rural areas have also been affected. Urban or rural, the most impoverished sectors of society are the ones most negatively impacted by water’s commoditization. This situation is ripe for conflict, especially in places where poor governance and rule of law are endemic. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Democracy & Governance

Pakistani Politics Roiled by Familiar Triangle: Military, Government, Opposition

Pakistani Politics Roiled by Familiar Triangle: Military, Government, Opposition

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

By: Cyril Almeida

Political uncertainty has descended on Pakistan as the combined opposition, seeking to dislodge the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has gathered under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). While the conflict may appear sudden, its roots lie in the 2018 general election, which the opposition claims was rigged by the military to carry the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) to power. With the government struggling to manage the economy and govern, and the opposition facing further parliamentary marginalization, the PDM has emerged as the most significant challenge to the PTI government so far. The PDM is also seeking to roll back the influence of the military in politics.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Civilian-Military Relations

In Karachi, Flooding Lays Bare City’s Governance Issues

In Karachi, Flooding Lays Bare City’s Governance Issues

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

By: Jumaina Siddiqui

Many parts of Pakistan have always struggled with flooding, especially over the last decade, due in part to climate change as weather events have become more extreme. But for Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, August saw immense rainfall—breaking all previous records in the past century—and widespread flooding that brought the city to a standstill. USIP’s Jumaina Siddiqui and Cyril Almeida look at why Karachi’s flooding situation is so dire, how contentious political dynamics have impeded governance reforms in the city, and what can be done to prevent future humanitarian disasters.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Economics & Environment

View All Publications