Can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role in Countering Violent Extremism? 

Discussion about incorporating CVE initiatives within Australia’s education and vocation sectors has re emerged. While Education and vocational training have been shown in some particular cases to reduce engagement in VE, this has only been shown to work in countries experiencing violent conflict. In these cases, the application of CVE has been be specific and justified. 

Blanket approaches to CVE are problematic for several reasons. Primarily, they have been shown to increase distrust of authorities and alienate minority communities. These approaches are also impossible to evaluate, as practitioners are to measure whether this type of program has had any effect. When governments and international organisations are measuring the impact of the activities, if the aim is to counter violent extremism, then that should be what is measured. As Martine Zeuthen explains:

“Some policy makers and practitioners do not wish to target their interventions towards individuals and communities at risk of recruitment and radicalisation but rather wish to have inclusive programmes. In other words their end goal is to contribute to building an inclusive society rather than managing the present problem of radicalisation and recruitment to violent groups. I respect and see a value in this approach as a type of long term development intervention. But the more inclusive the programme, the more difficult it is to show that the intervention prevented violent extremism.  The further we move from the problem the more tangential the intervention is and the harder it becomes to measure any effect.”

For more on this issue, see Countering Violent Extremism – can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role? –

Thoughts on CVE and Foreign Aid

Image: Devex 

Foreign aid has undergone several shifts in recent years. As someone involved with the development sector in Pakistan and Indonesia for the past decade, I have noticed the gradual ‘securitisation’ of development programs. Although governments have always used international aid and development to further their state’s interests in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the presence of security language and programing in international aid (in particular – countering violent extremism – CVE) is changing the development landscape.

As new forms of internationalised violence emerge, there has indeed been a justified need for greater focus on security threats within foreign aid. The need to address the emergence of violent extremism has seen the blurring of the worlds of international development and international security, as international aid programs increasingly look to address development and security at the same time. This will change the international development sector and will result in greater collaboration between security and development specialists.

But CVE remains a controversial and highly contested field.

Two problems recur in the literature on CVE: First, there is a lack of research supporting CVE policy – a field that “struggles in its efforts to explain terrorism or to provide findings of genuine … value.”[1] Second, there is a lack of empirical evidence that CVE has worked and, more alarmingly, there is some evidence that in some cases it has actually caused harm.

On March 1 2017, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a new framework, Development Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism: Policy Framework and Guidance Note, to “guide the delivery of development assistance to counter violent extremism in developing countries, bolstering existing Australian Government efforts.” It acknowledges that there is no agreed international definition of what violent extremism is, and that it is “a complex phenomenon,” the form of which differs “across and within countries.” Much of the new approach involves the giving of grants to civil society organisations, mirroring the domestic CVE approach.

One of the potential problems with a generalised, grant-giving approach to CVE (in Indonesia) however is that there is still “no consensus in the broader [Indonesian] Muslim community about what constitutes extremism,” and there still remains a disconnect between state intelligence agencies, and civil society groups engaging in CVE initiatives [2]. As IPAC point out, the design of prevention programs may benefit from “more systematic study of the case dossiers of the almost 800 individuals indicted on terrorism charges since 2002,” and greater focus on how proposed programs might to respond to contemporary problems, for example, the recruitment and return of Indonesian ISIS recruits from Syria. As limited evaluations of successful CVE interventions indicate, this field requires specialist knowledge of CVE.[3]

There have been a range of successful CVE initiatives in Pakistan, however ‘violent extremism’ in the country continues to surge. Furthermore, when CVE is approached as an adjunct to CT activity, there is the issue of state security forces using inappropriate force in response to terrorism and security threats. On the one hand, CVE is promoted to reduce conflict and insurgency in conflict affected, non Western societies; on the other hand, security forces in these societies have been known to use CT as a method of suppressing opposition. In the context of Pakistan, CVE has been flouted as a method which the society could “overcome the challenge of growing extremism, [with programs that] comprise of individual- focused de-radicalisation, and environment-focused counter-radicalisation strategies.”[4] But how can we decide which communities to to target, and how effective can such programs be when it is already widely acknowledged that CVE is a clumsy and contradictory field? Even if the research community could agree on what a successful CVE program looks like — and more research needs to be done in this area — there is a real concern that the CVE is being promoted as too broad a CT activity without there being any clear evidence of its efficacy. Furthermore, when there is a change of government, what will happen to these initiatives? For there to be any long-term measurable impact there needs to be continuity. This has been a problem for the Australian Government in recent years. As Terrence Wood et al point out, post-2013 changes to Australian aid having “wide-ranginimpacts and have led to deteriorating overall aid quality” so far.[5] 

It is too early to make definitive comments about the direction of the aid program. However it appears that in substantive terms, aid is being framed as security risk management, yet the aid budget continues to decrease.[6] It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next five years.


[1] Andrew Silke, “The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (2001), pp. 13.


[2] Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia: Need for a Rethink, 30 June 2014 IPAC Report No.11, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Abdul Basit, Countering Violent Extremism: Evaluating Pakistan’s Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization Initiatives, IPRI Journal XV, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 44-68, 44.

[5] Gauging Change in Australian Aid

[6] Varghese, P (2016) 2016 Australasian AiConference Speech. viewed 19/11/201<>

Sub Rosa Episode 2: Muslim women and the War on Terror, with Shakira Hussein

The second episode of the Sub Rosa Podcast is now online 🙂


Sub Rosa

Shakira HusseinIn this episode, Kate spoke with Shakira Hussein, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and author of the recently released book From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11.

We discussed her new book’s main theme – the transformation of Muslim women in the public eye since 9/11, from being helpless victims awaiting rescue, to becoming potential threats to be monitored and kept under control.

The episode covers her research on Muslim women in Pakistan, and how the War on Terror has effected the lives of women there. We then discuss how counter terrorism (CT) and countering violent extremism (CVE) has changed the aid landscape in Pakistan, before discussing recent developments in the Australian government approaches to CVE, including the dilemmas of funding community programs with CT money and the potential that CVE policy-initiatives targeting the Muslim community have for securitising them and further alienating some…

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Education Program for Afghan Refugees

Since 2007 I’ve been part of a community-run charity that raises money to support schooling and literacy programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The organisation provides an education to children who would never be able afford to attend school otherwise. We started a new fundraising drive at

For Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the only education options often available are Madrassah’s (religious seminaries), whose credentials are not accepted in either Pakistan or Afghanistan and who often promote sectarian violence through their teachings, further inflaming cycles of violence. For children who miss out on an education, they are often forced onto the streets to beg, steal, engage in hazardous labour or prostitute themselves to survive. This is the sad and harsh reality that these children experience.

Our program is run by Afghans for Afghans. We have won awards from the Balochistan Government and UNICEF and our work is supported by local tribal elders.

A recent UNHCR-funded population census indicates more than three million Afghans still remain in Pakistan, about 1.8 million of them in the North West Frontier Province living both in refugee camps and in urban areas. Despite substantial repatriation in recent years, the impact on refugee camp school enrolments has been relatively negligible. During 2005, UNHCR aims to repatriate 400,000 Afghans, which based on past trends means a reduction of only 3,000 students in camp schools.

The Government of Pakistan and UNHCR also recognise the importance of education to equip Afghan children with knowledge, skills and a sense of self-worth so that they can face the harsh and difficult task of returning home to rebuild their lives and country.

‘Education for All, and ‘Inclusive Education’, both promoted and under implementation by the United Nations, include refugee children, who constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups and who live at the mercy of host countries, humanitarian agencies and donors.

We want to see ‘Education for All’ a reality in Pakistan, which is why we continue support Afghan refugee communities in Pakistan throughout this crisis.

Help us to continue our education and outreach programs with young refugees by supporting us with your donation at our Go Fund Me Campaign.

To learn more about what we do please visit

You can follow also @HopeAFAR and @DEWA_Pakistan on Twitter to keep up to date with the progress of our projects in Pakistan.

How effective are Australian strategies to counter violent extremism?

Published 20 May, 8:35am 2015 by The Lowy Institute for International Policy 

Gallipoli Mosque, Sydney (image Flickr)

The Australian Government has just announced that more than $22 million will be spent on battling the radicalisation of young Muslims in Australia. But just how effective are these counter-terrorism programs?

Critics of the Federal Government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy have highlighted problems that have emerged after nine years of CVE community engagement and intervention. One concern is that CVE policies have the potential to divide Muslim communities because they embrace questionable notions of what it means to be ‘moderate’ or a ‘radical’, preferencing and seeking to ‘deputise‘ the former in order to keep the latter in check.
Community critics of the CVE strategy also emphasise that law enforcement leadership of CVE outreach programs is problematic, firstly because it indicates that the Government has ‘securitised’ the Muslim community, and secondly because such outreach strategies have the tendency to be experienced as an extra layer of unwanted scrutiny on a community of predominantly law-abiding citizens. These issues have the potential to erode trustbetween law enforcement and Muslim communities. Because positive relations between communities and law enforcement are so central public safety, the Government has an interest in carefully measuring the impact of its CVE activities on its target communities.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been at the forefront of proactive community engagement responses to CVE since establishing its Islamic Liaison Team in 2007. The team also assisted in contributing to national policy initiatives as part of the Federal Government’s national CVE strategy. The philosophy behind the AFP’s initiative reflected CVE trends emerging at that time. The terrorist threat, it was argued, could be reduced by building‘positive, trusting and cohesive relationships with the community, (which) over time will help increase (the community’s) resilience to extremist behaviours by creating greater levels of social cohesion.’ Within this strategy, ‘at-risk’ groups could be targeted with engagement programs to ‘promote social inclusion.’

But some members of the community argue that this kind of policy has a tendency to reinforce the notion ‘that the entire Muslim community is to blame for its few bad apples.’ As a result, the current CVE model of engagement has begun to be viewed with suspicion by the community, with some leaders calling on the community to boycottparticipation in AFP initiatives such as the Iftar dinner and Eid festivals. But, in the words of one AFP officer, the AFP are ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ continue such programs. The AFP executive is convinced that community engagement is central to CVE, and parts of the Muslim community also expect that the Government will help them to provide ‘social support’ to their young people to prevent them from radicalising, despite others in the community criticising such programs.

Beside the potential to alienate the Muslim community, the effectiveness of CVE community engagement measures as a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy has not been properly measured. As Prof Basia Spalek points out, ‘there has been little empirical investigation of community-based approaches within a CT context…As a result, there is little empirical understanding of…whether (these types of policies) may clash and serve to undermine each other.’.

The perception from some in the Muslim community that the Government’s counter-terrorism approach treats Muslim communities not as partners but as ‘suspect’ presents significant challenges, especially because of the potential this uninvited scrutiny has to create another level of alienation in young people. The latest policy announcement, which devotes $22 million to the Muslim community’s presumed social disadvantage by helping new Muslim migrants find education and employment, also ignores the reality that the causal link between socio-economic troubles and radicalisation is tenuous.

There is much international literature detailing the importance of reducing risks of alienation and radicalisation through redressing policies seen as racially or religiously targeting one community. Studies have come from the US,UK as well as Australia. Yet the focus on the Muslim community by CVE strategies helps perpetuate ‘essentialist stereotypes of terrorists as religious Muslims,’ and leave the community feeling over-scrutinised.

The prime directive of CVE policy is ‘first, to do no harm’. To date, there is little evidence that Australian CVE policy has been informed by this directive. Nor is there an indication our policy-makers have assessed the effectiveness of the CVE programs that have been in operation for the past nine years. The Australian Government needs to take onlessons from US and the UK which show that, in order to reduce the terrorist threat, we need counter-terrorism policies that don’t alienate those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, publishing daily commentary and analysis on international events.