Terrorism has posed serious security dilemmas for many countries across the globe. The whole Middle Eastern region is in a vicious cycle of turmoil on account of multiple terrorist groups fighting for various forces in different areas of the region.
Isis is the new terror face of the Middle East, banking heavily on territorial control via youthful tribal members and trying to globalise its concept of jihad. In Africa, especially in Sahal region, Boko Haram controls most of the parts through suicide attacks and indiscriminate killings at mosques, departmental stores, villages and other places of public congregation. Al-Qaeda in Islamic Mughrib (AQIM) has also carried out deadly attacks either independently or in collaboration with other jihadi outfits in a number of African countries like Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Nigeria and Niger. In South Asia, terror groups like Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been sustaining their human resource through tribal affiliations and youth contributions from high population areas.
The available data on the top 50 most youthful countries of the world indicates that the majority of them are either located in Africa or the Middle East or South Asia. Only a small percentage of these geographical regions fall in Europe or South America. Does a high youth population have any correlation with a rise of terror groups? Does constant supply of cheap local human resource constitute one of the factors responsible for the sustenance of terror organisations?
These questions help understand why the majority of terror organisations have taken roots in Africa, Middle East or South Asia whereas countries or regions that may have similar socioeconomic conditions but are low in youthful populations do not exhibit such clear terror threats.
According to World Bank statistics, Niger has a population of 20 million with nearly 50 percent living below the poverty line. The gross enrolment ratio (for both sexes) hovers around 70 percent. Nearly 49 percent of the total population is young. The average life expectancy is 61 years and Gross National Income (GNI) per capita comes out to be $410. For the past many years, the country has been witnessing brutal attacks from Boko Haram which has maintained its control over large swaths of the country.
Similarly, Mali has a total population of 17 million souls with nearly 44 percent living below the poverty line. The average enrolment rate is 83 percent. Interestingly 47 percent of the total population is below 25 years of age. The GNI per capita is $650 US and Mali is categorised as a low-income Sub Saharan country. Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) hold sway over majority of its land.
In Afghanistan, with a total population of 32 million, the primary enrolment rate (for boys and girls) is at 106 percent. And GNI per capita oscillates around $680. Nearly 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and 42 percent of the total population is below 23 years of age. Yemen has a population of 26 million with average primary enrolment rate (both sexes) of 101 percent and average life expectancy of 64 years. Thirty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 41 percent of the total population is quite young. The GNI per capita is $1300. The country has seen the worst sectarian infighting, which is further ignited due to aerial bombardment by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Recently, Isis has also consolidated its position in the country and is at loggerheads with its Shia population.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of five million with average primary combined enrolment rate of 109 percent and an average life span of 62 years. The GNI per capita is $2800. Nearly 46 percent of the total population is living below poverty line and 42 percent of the population is young people. The country has been devastated by Al-Shabab’s operations, one of the deadliest terror groups operating in the region. Jordan has GNI per capita of $11,900 with 36 percent of its population under 25 years of age. It is perhaps among those countries that are still immune to Isis propaganda and indirect recruitment strategies.
Pakistan has a population of 200 million with an average primary enrolment rate of 86; nearly 28 percent Pakistanis are living under poverty line. The GNI per capita is $1400 – 34 percent of the population is below 20 years of age. These statistics are even worse in southern Punjab, the tribal areas, Interior Sindh and Balochistan.
These statistics establish a correlation between GNI per capita and percentage of total youthful population. All terror groups operate with impunity in countries that have a high youth population and low GNI per capita. That means engaging the youth in productive and constructive ideas can provide us a meaningful solution to the problem of terrorism. Countries that have been persistently plagued by unemployment and poor recreational and youth engagement facilities are bound to be engulfed by terror networks. A question arises as to how a poorly managed government can engage its youth in a positive way without high investment and appreciable financial implication.
First, enhance primary enrolment rate so that young minds can be properly guided and coached. Second, document unconventional teaching institutions such as madressahs so that a uniform educational criterion can be maintained. Third, set up playing grounds for sports so that the youth can be engaged in healthy activities. Fourth, build strong youth networks through social media. Fifth, each union council in every district should evolve a youth committee for strategising youth engagement activities at village and town levels. Lastly, all prayer leaders must be carefully selected to subvert any local radicalisation tendencies.
The high youth population, if not properly handled and channelised, may turn into clusters that can trigger sparks of dissatisfaction leading to civil disobedience and internal strife. The youth can also be readily used by external forces for their own strategic purposes. We are entering an era in which every government will have to micro-manage its governing tools for effective human management and control.
The writer is a senior superintendent of police.