On 29th August 2009, Quilliam issued the following press release:

On 31st August 2009, Quilliam will release a new report Pakistan: Identity, Ideology and Beyond which calls for the US and other Western governments to undertake a “paradigm shift” in their approach to tackling extremism in Pakistan. Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam’s director, will be in Washington DC from 1st September to promote the report.

The report is largely based on Quilliam’s recent ground-breaking work in Pakistani universities. This included Quilliam’s director Maajid Nawaz speaking on 21 campuses in all four Pakistani provinces to a total over 5,000 students and responding to their questions and concerns about Pakistan and western policy in the region.  Quilliam additionally collected and analysed over 3,000 questionnaires completed by Pakistani students and polled over 1,000 students at 12 universities in the Punjab region. In addition, Quilliam trained over 500 students in 9 key Pakistani cities to enable them to challenge Islamism ideologically.

The report’s key recommendations:

1.  Islamism in Pakistan should be treated as an ideology rather than addressed through a religious prism. Treating Islamism as an ideology will create vital common ground in Pakistan between leftists (whose opposition to Islamism is increasingly depicted as being “anti-religious”) and the large numbers of observant and devout Pakistanis who nonetheless reject Islamism. This means focusing on Islamist policies rather than their religious justifications.

2. Western inventions in Pakistan must support the country’s secular traditions
. Many of Pakistan’s current problems stem from the contradictions between its diverse population, its secular founding principles and successive government attempts to portray their policies as “Islamic”. Western interventions should acknowledge these contradictions and promote the idea that secularism and democratic pluralism can unite Pakistan.

3. De-couple ‘Af-Pak’ strategy. The ‘Af-Pak strategy’ presently contains a broad focus on economic, developmental and institutional assistance and is built on the assumption that Pakistan and Afghanistan are socio-economically comparable and are on similar political trajectories. However this strategy does not adequately acknowledge that both countries are at vastly different economic, developmental and institutional stages. The Af-Pak connection should therefore only be utilized for mutual security concerns rather than the broader social development agenda.

4. Extremism must be directly challenged at Pakistani universities. Most Pakistani jihadists were not taught in madrasahs and the leaders and ideologues of Islamist organisations were overwhelmingly university-educated – while students presently provide backbone for most Pakistani Islamist movements. Quilliam’s experiences in Pakistani universities found that Islamists are increasing recruitment at universities – even though most students remain politically moderate. Tackling Islamism at universities will cut off a key recruitment stream into Islamist movements.

5. Empower youth and strengthen civil society. At present, secular Pakistani youth are disorganised and ideologically confused compared to Islamist youth organisations. Islamism needs to be challenged through grass-roots, citizen-led movements rather than through government-level initiatives alone. As well as training young Pakistanis in civil society methodologies it is also necessary to give them the intellectual tools to effectively oppose Islamist ideologies and promote secular, tolerant ideologies in their place.

6. Acknowledge internal divisions within Pakistan. Policies aimed at countering extremism in Pakistan must recognise that the country is not a monolith but rather ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse nation. Maajid Nawaz’s experiences speaking at Pakistani campuses confirmed this internal variety. For instance, he encountered notably more overt anti-Western sentiment in Mirpur (the ancestral home of most British Pakistanis) while students in Balochistan and Sindh were generally more concerned with other local issues as well as being more supportive of secularism and democracy.

A poll of Pakistani students carried out by Quilliam in the Punjab reveals that many young, educated Pakistanis recognise that their country is in crisis and that the country’s present socio-political system is failing them. It also reveals that many of them are deeply disenchanted with religious extremism while remaining simultaneously supportive of democracy and yet unwilling to fully separate politics from religious values.

The polls’ key findings include:

1. Most students (68 per cent) say that religion has been “mis-used” in Pakistan

2. Those who perceive such “mis-use”, predominantly blame this on “Mullahs” and the “media”.

3. Most (65 per cent) Pakistan students say that Islam and democracy are compatible.

4. However only a minority of the students (39 per cent) believe that religion and politics should be “kept separate”.

Such findings show that young Pakistanis are by no means drifting towards ever greater extremism but, on the contrary, are potential allies in the struggle against Islamism.

Quilliam’s director Maajid Nawaz will be in the US from 1st September. He will be speaking about Quilliam’s Pakistan report at an open event at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC on Thursday 10th September at 12pm. He will be also available for private meetings and media interviews in Washington DC and New York until 15th September.

The full report is available online here.

Quilliam will also hold a separate event to discuss the report’s findings in London in late September 2009.