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

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

Thursday, August 19, 2021

By: Garrett Nada; Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D. ; Gavin Helf, Ph.D.; Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.; Tamanna Salikuddin

While the Taliban’s swift advance into Kabul over the weekend has left much of the West reeling, Afghans themselves will bear the brunt of the militant group’s rule. Beyond Afghanistan’s borders, its neighbors will feel the most immediate impact. Earlier this year, Russia, China and Pakistan affirmed that the future of Afghanistan should be decided through dialogue and political negotiations. How will they engage with the Taliban now?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Afghanistan-Pakistan Ties and Future Stability in Afghanistan

Afghanistan-Pakistan Ties and Future Stability in Afghanistan

Thursday, August 12, 2021

By: Elizabeth Threlkeld; Grace Easterly

The situation in Afghanistan—and with it the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship—is likely to worsen in the short term. The prospect of a prolonged civil war or full Taliban takeover now looms large as hopes of a negotiated settlement recede. Whatever the outcome, the countries’ bilateral relationship will continue to be shaped by tensions that have characterized it for more than a century. This report examines these sources of tension and identifies potential openings for engagement that could, over time, become sources of stability and growth.

Type: Peaceworks

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

The Impact of COVID-19 on South Asian Economies

The Impact of COVID-19 on South Asian Economies

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

By: Uzair Younus

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused one of the most serious public health and economic crises faced by India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in recent years. This report looks at the economic impact on these nations, their prospects for the remainder of 2021, and their relations with the United States. It identifies key areas of focus for ensuring the subcontinent’s recovery is equitable—which, in the context of an erosion of democratic norms, growing authoritarianism, and severe crackdown on dissent, could help avoid economic and social instability.

Type: Special Report

Economics & Environment

India, Pakistan Watch Warily as Taliban Move to Takeover

India, Pakistan Watch Warily as Taliban Move to Takeover

Monday, August 2, 2021

By: Vikram J. Singh; Ambassador Richard Olson; Tamanna Salikuddin

The Taliban’s rapid advances have caught the region and the United States off guard. The deterioration in security has forced India, along with many other countries, to retrench its diplomatic presence in the country, closing consulates outside of the capital of Kabul. There have been conflicting reports over the past month over whether or not Indian officials have engaged in talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar. Afghanistan’s neighbors all prefer a negotiated political settlement to the conflict but are preparing for the worst and could look to armed Afghan factions to protect their interests. Meanwhile, Kabul and Islamabad are blaming each other for the spiraling security situation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications