A year after Mumbai terror attacks, the U.S. and Pakistan need a jobs strategy to prevent militants from gaining recruits
It has been a year since 21-year-old Pakistani Ajmal Amir Kasab walked into a packed train station in southern Mumbai and began indiscriminately firing with his AK-47 assault rifle. Kasab, part of a 10-terrorist team that targeted hotels, restaurants, a hospital, and a Jewish center over three horrific days, was an unemployed laborer from Faridkot, a village in Punjab province of Pakistan, who had moved to Lahore to find a job a few years earlier. The only one of the terrorists to survive, Kasab later claimed he had received a promise that, if he killed non-Muslims and then martyred himself, his family would receive $1,250. We often hear such stories by word-of-mouth or in the press. A man loses his job, feels increasing frustration toward his government for providing little or no support, and so finds that militancy is in fact a tempting alternative. Policymakers, both in Pakistan and the U.S., have repeatedly acknowledged that unemployment is a key factor that has led to more militant recruits, making the need for local socio-economic reform and U.S. economic aid even more crucial. On the anniversary of the Nov.26, 2008, Mumbai attacks, though, it's apparent that people in Pakistan have witnessed military action only to fight militancy. Pakistanis hope government policies will eventually create jobs, and we anticipate that a $7.5 billion aid package proposed by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will help improve economic conditions over the next five years. But we fail to see how this particular form of militancy—one that is driven by being chronically unemployed—is being specifically combated today. Three-Step Strategy
It would thus be prudent to implement, alongside military action, a specific nonmilitary approach toward tackling unemployment-driven militancy in Pakistan. Let's use part of the Kerry-Lugar aid package to further examine the lure of militancy among the jobless and reduce it with a three-step strategy. First, it's critical to investigate to what extent unemployment increases the number of militant recruits. Is this a widespread trend, or is the case of Kasab the exception? Since we need to build our knowledge base about this phenomenon, U.S. economic aid should partly go toward funding related academic studies at local universities. Through polling and interviewing, it would be easier to gauge where unemployment is high, where militancy is also high, and where the two appear to be interlinked. We should also not forget that 9 out of the 10 Pakistani assailants in the Mumbai attacks came from various towns and villages in Punjab. Perhaps this would be a good starting point for a poll or series of interviews. Were the other assailants all unemployed laborers like Kasab? Are unemployment and militant recruitment common in these particular towns and villages and elsewhere in Punjab? Second, explicit communication with the unemployed will help to reduce their likely sense of alienation and counter the message of militant recruiters. It would help to speak out to the unemployed directly, empathizing with their plight and emphasizing their alternatives to militancy. U.S. aid can be specifically tailored for such communication efforts. Earlier this year, U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke announced a strategy to counter militant propaganda through American-funded radio stations, video programming, pamphlets, and other media. Part of the Kerry-Lugar aid package could be used for such a program to talk to the unemployed about their options other than militancy. Third, it is crucial that a portion of the U.S. economic aid package should go toward bottom-up, job-creation programs. One option to consider is microfinance. The U.S. already works with local microfinance groups such as Khushhali Bank, but the low-income clients usually are those who already have businesses or entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses. This job creation program, however, would focus on the chronically unemployed who perhaps have not yet shown (or no longer show) the initiative to be entrepreneurial. Vocational Training
Within the framework of a local microfinance bank, American aid could go toward training such individuals in specific vocations. Ideally, this would help motivate them to apply for microfinance loans to start a business. And again, this strategy could be applied to those areas where our academic research has revealed unemployment and militant recruitment are high. Of course, these suggestions are all easier said than done. The situation continues to be so unpredictable, with recurring attacks in various cities all over Pakistan. And no one really knows when the military battle against militants will actually end. Furthermore, using U.S. economic aid—amid drone strikes, local corruption, and the growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan—is itself controversial. There are also reasons (lack of education, class rifts, etc.) beyond being simply unemployed for individuals to turn to militancy. Yet a year after the Mumbai attacks in which at least one unemployed laborer from Punjab turned to terrorism, there is an obvious need to explore the relationship between unemployment and militancy. There is also a need to implement methods—beyond military action and economic policies that may not necessarily create jobs—to prevent this particular form of militancy. How difficult would it be to try out the three-step strategy in one village in Punjab, such as Kasab's village of Faridkot? If successful, this pilot program could be a significant step to reduce militant recruitment among the chronically unemployed in Pakistan. And it could be a valuable way to apply part of the Kerry-Lugar aid package, one village at a time.