In the counter-terrorism strategies, multiform of De-radicalization, Disengagement, and Rehabilitation (DDR) Initiatives are world-wide receiving enormous concern today. Extremism will continue to be a socio-political problem and initiatives derived from socio-political and psychological principles are not entirely constant in all the de-radicalization programmes, but undergo multiplicity due to diverse challenges, local threat environment, and political paradigms.
Driven by their indigenous furor to develop practical programmes countering the appeal of militancy, DDR underpinnings are aimed at curbing the violent practices and changing minds by getting the repentant terrorists absorbed into society. This kind of renunciation is better termed as desertion, de-mobilisation, defection, de-escalation, rehabilitation, reforming, deprogramming etc., carrying different connotations but quite varied assumptions about the way in which DDR Initiatives are developed and implemented in different settings.
The DDR Processes are context specific; oscillating in line with political sensitivities of the countries. Saudi Arab, Indonesia, Yemen, Egypt, Singapore, Europe, and Colombia, etc. are the countries who have developed their own respective DDR approaches. Evolved in multiple ways, DDR strategies carry certain common features such as re-education and rehabilitation programme is premised on the redressing of misguidance, through re-education and close examination of the beguiling narrative that the individual has embraced; offering outlets to vent frustrations.
Alternative lifestyle programmes; engaging with civil society; promoting intercultural alliances; redressing socio-economic inequalities; countering online radicalization; involving qualified agencies in implementing counter-radicalization policies; amnesty programme, under which the repentant terrorists act as lead mentors; role of a psychologist and mentor who can influence the terrorist – often from family or peer group; ideological tools like counter-verdicts, dialogue with renowned clerics and subsequent monitoring to avoid recidivism.
Different Muslim countries have experienced different types of DDR Initiatives, founded on their indigenous customs, political peculiarities and threat environments. Raised in August 2002, The Yemen Committee for Dialogue appeared as a dual-phased programme that gathered senior clerics, who challenged the ideological themes of militants and imprisoned jihadists, and unveiled their self-assumed religious perceptions. In the ultimate phase, rehabilitation of the individuals is worked out by engaging in social constructs like marriage etc.
Heavily focused on educational and ideological aspects, since 2003, the Saudi government has launched Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare (PRAT) programme for countering the al Qaeda ideology through mass media, university curricula and repentant terrorists, who discourage potential recruits by unfolding the violent internet propaganda of terrorists. Under the parliament’s backed de-radicalization policies, core seminaries got united in Indonesia, backed by senior police officials to prevent radicalization devised in the name of religious justification for terrorism. By focusing on poverty alleviation projects, efforts are channelized to deny opportunities to the radical bands, in targeting fresh recruits by marketing their venomous publicity material.
An extended version of such DDR Initiative, under the title of Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), is also observed in Singapore, whereby counseling within prisons initially the Jemah Islamiyah (JI) detainees, their immediate families, and the whole community was engaged. Reunion with the family proved to be a persuasive matter promoting de-radicalization. Thus, Singapore is accredited with the most successful jihadist rehabilitation programmes.
During the 1990s, Egypt fought a bitter campaign against militant Islamists. Since the end of the insurgency in 1997, Egypt’s two fiercest Islamic terrorist groups, the Islamic Group (Al-Gama‘a alIslamiyah) and Islamic Jihad, not only ceased their violent activities but also published texts revising their religious beliefs on the use of violence. Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyah successfully dismantled its armed wings and abandoned its fiqh al-‘unf (Islamic jurisprudence justifying violence) literature, between 1997 and 2002. In 2007, Al-Jihad Organization initiated a similar de-radicalization process.
In Europe, the Norwegian project, functioned by the local youth workers, NGOs, indigenous municipal agencies, child welfare officers, police officials, etc. successfully trained around 700 people to assist the programme. By extremist art therapy, Exit Sweden Programme ferreted to work directly with those who voluntarily contacted them; indeed, the self-proposed character of the interaction endowed great reliability on the programme.
In Germany, manifold initiatives are made functional by civil society tiers and the government. Conspicuous among the latter is the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Increasing imprisonments have raised concerns about the long-term rehabilitation of imprisoned terrorists; therefore, based on strong personal ties, reintegration has surfaced, as prisons themselves become a major center of radicalization and recruitment.
Some programmes devise approaches to cut down the number of active terrorist participants, e.g. the Columbian Reincorporation Programme and may require only a behavioral shift, repudiating violent extremism as the precondition for an individual to be released from prison.  With stark heterogeneity of these initiatives, most programmes objectify to facilitate the societal reincorporation of individual terrorists. This was the case with Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), wherein the members chose to disengage individually.
There are also programmes that seek a more collective approach as experienced in the case of Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), wherein the entire movement surrenders to conclude collective disengagement. Governments could accrue great practical benefits by exploring the drop-out phenomena. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all approach that produces marginal results, there needs to be a tailor-made, comprehensive, multifaceted and flexible programme.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Muhammad Nawaz Khan is Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad. His areas of research include Russian foreign and defense policy with special focus on Pakistan, Counter-Radicalization, and Afghanistan.