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

Extending Constitutional Rights to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Extending Constitutional Rights to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

By: Umar Mahmood Khan; Rana Hamza Ijaz; Sevim Saadat

When Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas were officially merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in May 2018, the five million residents of the former tribal areas acquired the same constitutional rights and protections—including access to a formal judicial system—as Pakistan’s other citizens. This report, based on field research carried out by the authors, explores the status of the formal justice system’s expansion, finding both positive trends and severe administrative and capacity challenges, and offers recommendations to address these issues.

Type: Special Report

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

India, Pakistan choke on their smog. Can they clear the air?

India, Pakistan choke on their smog. Can they clear the air?

Monday, March 29, 2021

By: Jumaina Siddiqui; Zaara Wakeel

South Asia’s extreme smog worsens each winter, helping to kill an estimated 1.2 million Indians and 128,000 Pakistanis annually—more than have died in either country from the COVID virus. As pollution this past winter exacerbated the pandemic, India’s and Pakistan’s governments responded with mutual blame. Yet COVID, and a sudden moment of détente between these bitter rivals, could offer an opportunity to address the smog crisis, and build rare collaboration with the only strategy that can work: a joint one. The governments, their U.S. and international allies and civil society should use this chance to jumpstart such an effort.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment

Pakistan: A Rising Women’s Movement Confronts a New Backlash

Pakistan: A Rising Women’s Movement Confronts a New Backlash

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

By: Aleena Khan

Thousands of women rallied across Pakistan on International Women’s Day this year and demanded an end to violence against women and gender minorities. In the days since, Pakistan’s Taliban movement has escalated the threats facing the women who marched. Opponents of women’s rights doctored a video of the rally to suggest that the women had committed blasphemy—an accusation that has been frequently weaponized against minorities in Pakistan and has resulted in vigilantes killing those who are targeted.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Gender

Pakistan Senate Election Upsets Government Efforts to Solidify Power

Pakistan Senate Election Upsets Government Efforts to Solidify Power

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

By: Tamanna Salikuddin; Jumaina Siddiqui; Adnan Rafiq; Colin Cookman; Ambassador Richard Olson

Pakistan held indirect elections on March 3 for the Senate, its upper house of Parliament, which is elected by sitting legislators in the National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) and each of the provincial assemblies. Given the typically party-line vote, Pakistani Senate elections tend to be mundane affairs, with the results often preordained. However, in last week’s elections the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, despite having a numerical majority in the national and provincial assemblies, failed to forestall defections among some lawmakers and in doing so failed to take control of the Senate from the opposition.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications