Drivers of Radicalization to Violent Extremism in Afghanistan – A Survey of Taliban Inmates

Summary
 
· Combat military strategy dominated more than a decade of war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
· Despite past counter-terrorism success, Taliban are still successfully recruiting and mounting major attacks in Afghanistan.
· Little efforts made to counter violent extremism (CVE) or understand the drivers of radicalization to violent extremism.
· Although the donor community supported some minor CVE programs, Afghanistan does not have a CVE strategy or an action plan.
· Taliban inmates believe unemployment to be the major push factor in radicalization followed by corruption in government, loss of a family in war, and perceive Afghanistan is an un-Islamic country.
· More field research is needed to further understand recruitment dynamics in order to better design and implement development programming.
· The need for further data collection is to inform programming regarding developing effective methods to produce counter-narratives, i.e., radio, TV, social media, town hall meetings, mullahs and mosques, mentees, and educating mothers as agents of change.
· CVE programs should be designed to integrate research findings and data collection to quickly respond to constant changing circumstances in each community.

Introduction
 
The combat military strategy has dominated more than a decade of war against terrorism in Afghanistan inflicting massive casualties on Al-Qaida and the Taliban.  Despite such casualties, Taliban are still able to recruit and mount major attacks such as the one in Kunduz province and the ongoing offensive in Helmand.  How are the Taliban able to continue to successfully recruit in light of sustaining such casualties?
 
Unfortunately, a key reason is the failure of development efforts to curb and counter Taliban recruitment in the past. Very little has been done to understand the drivers of radicalization to violent extremism in order to design and implement development programs accordingly.  Additionally, Afghanistan is not a member of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) while India and Pakistan are; and Afghanistan does not even have a national strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) yet.
 
While recognizing the important role counter-terrorism plays in security, and if there is any hope of success against terrorism in Afghanistan, it is imperative to learn the root causes of radicalization leading individuals to extremism and terrorism. Identifying the drivers – push and pull factors – of radicalization to violent extremism is the first step in designing programs to prevent and counter violent extremism 

As such, this brief summarizes the perception of Taliban inmates in Pole-Charkhi on the drivers of radicalization to violent extremism.  These perceptions were captured as part of a project funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), aimed at better understanding the drivers of radicalization while also conducting Islamic training which drew on alternative interpretations to deradicalization, disengagement and reintegration of inmates back in their communities. The findings of this policy brief are based on the four common themes that emerged from the 205 inmates, representing 30 provinces, interviewed for the purposes of this project.
 
Inmates Perception on the Drivers of Radicalization to Violent Extremism
 
The “push” factors refer to the socioeconomic differences in a community such as unemployment, sectarianism, tribal marginalization, or government oppression or corruption that drive an individual or group to radicalization.  The “pull” factors that drive an individual or group to violent extremism are those, which provide psychosocial benefits such as sense of protection or safety, sense of belonging, personal empowerment or religious rewards.

The vast majority of the participants believed “unemployment” to be the major push factor in recruitment followed by “corruption in government” and “moral/emotional” factor.  Interestingly, the notion of Afghanistan being an “un-Islamic” country came last in the perception survey.
 
“Unemployment” was understood as not having a job, not making a living, and thus the incentive to earn money or be able to take care of one’s family was an attractive proposition to join the opposition.   This was not explained but AJO learned how “unemployment” was perceived during interviews.
 
“Corruption in Government” meant a variety of things including paying bribes, to warlord reigning with impunity in respective communities, no one listens to complaints, disputes are not resolved, and law enforcement institutions are perceived as corrupt.
 
The “Moral/Emotional” driver was understood to mean avenging the loss of a close relative to war, experiencing perceived injustice at the hands of the government including armed forces (Afghan and international), justice sector institutions and other local governance, and government oppression. To ensure the question is properly understood, further discussion revealed that the participants also perceived this to mean the loss of lives at the hands of foreign troops, night raids, drone attacks, and Afghan military attacks.
 
Finally, the “Un-Islamic government” factor was also understood to denote several things including “no Sharia” or lack of Sharia in the country, the perception that the president is a puppet, and the presence of foreign troops in the country.
 
Group Most Vulnerable to Radicalization: The majority of the inmates believed that the group most vulnerable to radicalization is the unemployed followed by the loss of someone to the war. Factors such as “Government corruption” and “un-Islamic” ranked similar.
 
Ways Forward
 
The International Community’s efforts to combat terrorism worldwide, but specifically its intervention 13 years ago to free Afghanistan used as a haven of terrorism is commendable.  These efforts to an extent have been successful as evident in the progress made in all sectors in Afghanistan. 

However, the challenges to fight terrorism remain and are daunting not only for the international community, but also for the Afghans, especially the law enforcement sector in light of the Bagram Detention transfer and the withdrawal of NATO forces.  Most importantly, further complicating the climate is the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s (GIRoA) inability to implement practices to CVE; unless there is a robust de-radicalization, counter-narrative strategy and action plan in place to CVE, Afghanistan’s security will continue to deteriorate. 
 
In 2015, Afghanistan experienced a sharp spike in terrorism in the north, the region, which enjoyed relative peace during the last decade compared to south and east. With NATO combat operation mission ended in December 2014, it is imperative and crucial that a strong, coherent and coordinated support is given to implement a robust CVE program in Afghanistan to prevent the country from being used again by the terrorists.
 
Mullah Omar’s death splintered the Taliban in to several groups of which some joined DAESH. The peace process initiated by the National Unity Government is slow and no one can predict when peace will take shape and cease fire will be agreed to. With NATO gone, the economic opportunities that used to exist are gone too and unemployment - a driver of radicalization to VE - is at an all-time high also leading to the despondency of the Afghan population and refugee exodus.
 
In light of the current security, political and economic situation in Afghanistan, efforts must be made in the following areas:
 
1.        More field research is needed to further understand recruitment dynamics in order to better design and implement development programming.
 
2.       The need for further data collection to inform programming regarding developing effective methods to produce counter-narratives, i.e., radio, TV, social media, town hall meetings, mullahs and mosques, mentees, and educating mothers as agents of change.
 
3.        CVE programs should be designed to integrate research findings and data collection to quickly respond to constant changing circumstances in each community.
 
4.       Any findings resulting from the research should be utilized as part of the objective to shape debate (government, civil society, media, international community) in countering extremism for that community  or nationally.

5.        Starting with merit based hiring followed by a holistic and robust approach to law enforcement (police and AGO) and the judiciary. Current efforts The current efforts to teach skills and provide vocational training equipping youth to gain legitimate employment assumes the Afghan market is capable of absorption.  There must be a fundamental change in government structure to facilitate markets conducive to grow and provide employment. 

Notes

Despite Massive Taliban Death Toll No Drop in Insurgency http://www.voanews.com/content/despite-massive-taliban-death-toll-no-drop-in-insurgency/1866009.html
UN Report Taliban Fighter Deaths http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/17/un-report-taliban-fighter-deaths
The Global Counter Terrorism Forum.https://www.thegctf.org/members-and-partners
The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency – USAID https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1870/VEI_Policy_Final.pdf