Few countries in the world match Pakistan in its political, social or economic complexities and security-related challenges. It is a country of nearly 200 million people, from over a dozen ethnic and minority groups, and myriad tribes who have coexisted peacefully for decades. It is the same country, however, that has been grappling with violent extremism in different shapes and forms for the past 15 years. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), violent extremism is most acute, and women are on the front lines of warfare. They are the widows, victims and survivors of the suicide bomb blasts, the displaced and the traumatized. Their male relatives are either fighting or gone, and therefore many women are de facto household heads, shouldering the responsibility for feeding, nursing and sheltering the old, the young and the injured. (1) Yet their mobility, access to education and health facilities, and ability to fully care for their families are severely impacted. Extremists have exploited women in the name of religion, forcing them to raise funds and send their own sons and those of other members of their families and communities to work with and for extremists, particularly in the Swat District. Often women have supported extremists in their own ways by stitching suicide jackets, collecting gold and money, serving as informants and providing shelter.
For those women whose sons serve in the militias, the suffering is profound. They worry for their children's lives, yet live in communities that may shun, isolate and even attack them for their familial associations. They have little or no recourse to protection from anywhere.
"Talking to my son about extremism and extremists is impossible for me," said Zargula, in response to our conversation about engaging her radicalized son in a dialogue.
It was in 2008 when the PAIMAN Alumni Trust (PAIMAN) embarked upon the "Let's Live in Peace" initiative. One important aspect of this programme was to empower mothers of extremists and other women in the community to help in the prevention of radicalization.
FROM UNTHINKABLE TO THINKABLE
The situational analysis led us to focus upon the most challenging and unthinkable solution to address this menace by engaging mothers. PAIMAN realized that it is the innocent mother who needs to be sensitized and educated to counter the extremist ideology. We developed our strategy of engaging mothers with the belief that they shape the morals and values of their children and instil a sense of responsibility for creating...