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

Kashmir’s crisis simmers dangerously: Attention is needed.

Kashmir’s crisis simmers dangerously: Attention is needed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

By: Mujibur Rehman

Conflicts centered on Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia have seized recent global attention, overshadowing the dangerous escalation of the crisis in Kashmir. India’s government in August abrogated the political autonomy of the portion of Kashmir that it governs. To suppress protests, India has had to maintain a severe lockdown—effectively, a form of military rule—over more than 7 million people in the Kashmir valley. While India and Pakistan have avoided military clashes over this spike in their 62-year dispute over Kashmir, Dr. Mujibur Rehman, a scholar on Indian politics at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Central University, says the international community should organize a high-level factfinding mission to reduce the risk of greater violence.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

The Latest Kashmir Conflict Explained

The Latest Kashmir Conflict Explained

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

By: Tara Kartha; Jalil Jilani

USIP Jennings Randolph Fellows Dr. Tara Kartha and Ambassador Jalil Jilani look at the latest crisis in Kashmir from their respective views. Dr. Kartha was a member of India’s National Security Council for 15 years and has over 30 years’ experience in national security policy. Amb. Jilani, a career Pakistani diplomat, is a former ambassador to the U.S. and former foreign secretary. This post represents the views of the authors and not those of USIP.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Kashmir Crisis Raises Fear of Intensified India-Pakistan Conflict

Kashmir Crisis Raises Fear of Intensified India-Pakistan Conflict

Thursday, August 15, 2019

By: Vikram J. Singh; Colin Cookman; Richard Olson

Last week, India made a controversial decision to revoke the special status of the disputed region of Kashmir and sent thousands of troops to quell any potential unrest. The Muslim-majority territory has been a major source of tension between India and Pakistan since it was partitioned between...

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Moeed Yusuf on Imran Khan’s Visit to Washington

Moeed Yusuf on Imran Khan’s Visit to Washington

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Following Khan’s visit with President Trump, Moeed Yusuf says that the two leaders appear to have a chemistry that could improve U.S.-Pakistan relations. Although the two countries have been at odds over the Afghan conflict, Yusuf says Trump and Khan indicated they would “work together to find ways to break the impasse on Afghanistan.”

Type: Podcast

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications