Wednesday, Feb 26, 2020 | Last Update : 12:03 PM IST

Politics of return & rehabilitation: Some lessons

The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry
Published : Mar 12, 2019, 2:36 am IST
Updated : Mar 12, 2019, 2:46 am IST

Their firm handling also reinforces the onus of reciprocal-change onto the misguided youth who now seek to return.

Shamima Begum
 Shamima Begum

Seldom has an insurgency, institutional injustice or any other form of armed uprising got resolved without an element of deliberate reconciliation and rehabilitation of the insurgents and the other misguided elements. Even though the instinctive tendency and often the political necessity (ironically in democracies too) is to overwhelmingly deploy the lever of strong-arm tactics, as it is perceived to be the most effective way of quelling unrest — the heavy “clampdown” by the state authorities in places like in the Palestinian-Israeli unrest, Balochistan by the Pakistanis, Rohingyas in Myanmar, Kurds in Turkey, etc — the success rate suggests otherwise. The much-quoted and publicly-believed efficacy and decisiveness of the Israelis and the Turks in handling the Palestinian and Kurdish issues belies the hard reality of the insurgency lingering on for many decades without any solution in sight. However, troubled places like Ireland or in India, at places like Mizoram and Punjab, the successful closure of the insurgency saw a modicum and method of acceptance, integration and rehabilitation of the one-time subversive elements. South Africa too had a relatively seamless transition from its brutal apartheid supremacist regime to that of the African National Conference (ANC) government — the entire process had entailed a path-breaking form of restorative justice with the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. The spirit of forgiveness and amnesty from prosecution owing to orderly and sincere confession by the one-time-perpetrators was inherent in thawing the situation, and ushering in the corrective process.

The recent controversy surrounding the British citizen of Bangladeshi origin, Shamima Begum, and a US citizen of Yemeni descent, Hoda Muthana, has sparked a public debate about the handling of the return, reform and rehabilitation of estranged citizenry that seeks to return to the normalcy of life. Both these radicalised “ISIS brides” had wilfully made their way to the Syrian-Iraqi swathes of the supposed “ISIS caliphate” some years back, and today seek a return to the UK and the US respectively, as the portents of the “ISIS caliphate” disintegrate. Both of them have been denied re-admittance and face invalidity of their citizenship for their treasonous acts, and the move does seem to have the support of the masses in the respective countries. This unprecedented sovereign intransigence in these specific cases has to be seen in the backdrop of the constitutional liberality, procedural accommodation and a general sense of reformative opportunity that existed in these societies earlier. The heightened sense of insecurity prevailing in the West due to the possibilities of terror has now evolved into a popular consensus that such desperate returnees are doing so only due to the collapse of the “caliphate” and not on account of changed beliefs, and hence pose a serious threat to societies. While the data supporting “recidivism” or re-radicalisation and reengagement of the returnees with terrorist organisations is not conclusive — years of living in fear has put Western society on a short fuse and understandable intolerance when it comes to any form of accommodation towards these returnees.

Complicating the situations for both these women seems to be the less than compelling sense of regret and remorse emanating from their recent interviews, as indeed with their request coinciding with the virtual elimination of the “caliphate” lands. Technicalities of the constitutional correctness in depriving them of re-entry aside, the visibly defiant stand of “no regret”, by Shamima Begum in particular, has militated against the sensibilities and vulnerabilities of the masses. The UK home secretary was unmoved and revoked Shamima’s British citizenship by stating: “People like Begum are full of hatred for our country. My message is clear: If you have supported terrorist organisations abroad, I won’t hesitate to prevent your return.” Similarly, for Hoda Muthana, to plead for understanding after inciting violence by provoking people earlier — “You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them” — the American public is in no mood to forgive and forget, as it sees the parallel sight of its soldiers’ body bags returning from the conflict zones unabated.

As the battle for the ISIS-held swathes nears its end, Western countries are now faced with the dilemma of handling the return of insurgents, who are its original passport holders. Religious extremism and radicalisation within society is already a real-time issue and the influx of these battle-hardened Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) as potential propagandists, trainers and recruiters cannot be ruled out. While academics and policymakers are divided on the actual threat posed by these willful returnees, the need for effective prosecution laws for their crimes committed earlier and the subsequent monitoring of the de-radicalisation process is universally agreed upon. The unpredictability and risks involved in attempting to de-radicalise insurgents who may or may not have willingly relocated to legal countries has a push-back from communities back home. However, while attempting to “outgun” insurgents permanently is still believed to be the most effective way of overcoming terrorism, the long-term effect of such muscular bravado does not have a singular success case in the world!

The holistic package, reform and rehabilitation of the irate and disengaged populace has been the common hallmark of all successful counter-insurgencies across the world. A carefully calibrated and sincere stick-and-carrot policy has to be devised to always keep the door for potential reengagement open, whilst visibly maintaining the posture of inviolable “red lines” that cannot be breached to act as a fair deterrent. The very exceptional accommodation of violation of constitutional “red lines” should only be afforded for the insurgency leadership, in order to stimulate dialogue and trigger the thaw. Unfortunately, these two women are not part of the insurgency leadership and have circumstantially emerged as the personification of the “red-line” violations that needs to be publically showcased as deterrence to others in society. Their firm handling also reinforces the onus of reciprocal-change onto the misguided youth who now seek to return, after abusing their sovereign duties and dignities. A politics of return is a complicated two-way process that insists on sincerity of remorse and correction on both the state and onto the misguided elements

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