Post 9/11 Structural Violence in Pakistan

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Though wars, terrorism, or structural violence carry a potential threat to the economy, political and physical structure, at the same time they are also potential threats to the psychological health and social well-being of the citizens (Galtung, 1969).

The cycle of terrorism has emerged as a highly disastrous phenomenon in Pakistan for decades. It was in the aftermath of a terrorist act on September 11, 2001 in the US which was followed by a series of terrorist attacks across the globe. Pakistan also, being a prominent target of terrorism, lost thousands of its citizens’ lives.

Out of all the terror attacks; the most traumatic was the killing of one hundred and thirty-two students, some teachers, and the principal of the ‘Army Public School’ (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. These attacks increased the intensity and duration of the psycho-social impact on the Pakistani population.

Unfortunately, the available research on terrorism has mainly focused on the implications of the war on terror in terms of lives lost; however, it ignores the psychological and social repercussions on the victims of terrorism. To fill this gap, the author, as a research scholar, conducted research to assess the psycho-social repercussions of post 9/11 terrorism on the population of Pakistan. As a case study, the Army Public School Peshawar incident was selected to assess the levels of Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) through Lieber’s scale of PTSD and Social Capital through Fang’s ‘Personal Social Capital Scale’ (PSCS).

Both Mental health and social capital get damaged as a result of terrorism and its aftereffects. The loss of social capital includes loss of trust in others and fears of social interaction. The victims avoid participation in businesses and trade, which results in unemployment and further leads to social and financial insecurity. Researchers like Giordano (2016) also argued that terrorism tends to disturb mental health among those who face it and that it also negatively affects levels of social capital. He considered social capital as a buffer against poor mental health.

The research work contributed an addition to Galtung’s Structural Theory through analytical debates by focusing on the micro-level examination, and the many ways by which the victims have devised coping strategies while dealing with the psychological impact of the APS incident in Peshawar. Structural violence in this context refers to post-9/11 acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

The micro-level examination in the research indicates that Structural Violence varies amongst the demographics of the population. The unanticipated gender-focused results are very interesting and open new doors for researchers as the male respondents who directly experienced trauma show more signs of PTSD symptoms than female respondents. Men and women experience trauma in different ways so there can be different reasons for PTSD results (Van et al., 2017). The findings of this study also reveal the gender aspect of different results for PTSD.

The findings in this research indicate that male respondents who experienced trauma manifested a higher score on recurrence of disturbing memories, thoughts, or images of the stressful incident. They feel more upset when something is reminded of the stressful incident. The male respondents are more inclined towards avoiding activities or situations that remind them of the stressful incident and they feel more distant or cut off from other people due to highly scored PTSD. Their score results show more symptoms of irritability or angry outbursts than female respondents. The PTSD test score also reveals that male respondents face more difficulty in concentration.

One plausible reason might be the fact that patriarchal society does not encourage male members to become vulnerable, therefore, men resist expressing their grief and let it be unresolved. This patriarchal practice is harmful to men because it blocks the natural release of emotional reactions which may affect men psychologically compared to females who easily express their emotions releasing stress (Kamla Bhasin, 1997).

This study also contributes to the realization of a need to change the patriarchal concepts that deprive men to express their feelings hence developing psychological issues. Overall, this gender-based data analysis shows the repercussions of a terrorist traumatic incident at a micro level which is a contribution to the theory of structural violence.

The psychological repercussions of any trauma are correlated with social repercussions. The gender-focused results of the social capital of trauma victims are very unexpected and interesting and explore new doors for researchers. The male respondents show lower social capital scores than the female respondents. This proves that men are more affected socially by traumatic incidents than women. Many factors can be involved as mentioned in PTSD results, which need further empirical study.

The men among direct victims show low scores among all components of routine contact with family members, relatives, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and country fellows. The trust level & expectation of help of male respondents is badly damaged by the traumatic incident as they scored low for the component of trust & expectation of help in all categories of family members, relatives, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and country fellows.

Although the participation of men victims in activities of Governmental, political, economic, and social groups/organizations (political parties, women’s groups, village committees, trade unions, cooperative associations, volunteer groups, etc.) is better than those of women but the reason is their political involvement in the protest against the incident and demand for justice and inquiry engage them with government, politicians, parliamentarians, media, and civil society.

Whereas their participation in the activities of Cultural, recreational, and leisure groups/organizations (religious, country fellows, alumni, sport, music, dances, crafts, games, etc.) is low compared to the women victims who have increased their participation in religious activities for spiritual healing.

The expectations of help upon request & rights and interests represented by Governmental, political, economic, and social groups/organizations (political parties, women’s groups, village committees, trade unions, cooperative associations, volunteer groups, etc.) are low among women victims and high among men victims. The reason is the information and engagement of men with government authorities is more frequent than women. This reveals that the social capital of citizens’ trust in the government for help decreases with terrorist incidents.

On the other hand, the expectation of help upon request & expectations of their rights as represented by Cultural, recreational, and leisure groups/organizations (religious, country fellows, alumni, sport, music, dances, crafts, games, etc.) are low compared to women who have more interactions with religious groups.

As far as the the confidence in possession of the resource of solid financial basis, confidence in possession of the resource of broad social connections, possession of the resource of great social influence and confidence in possession of the resource of decision-making by the two groups of Governmental, political, economic, and social groups/organizations (political parties, women’s groups, village committees, trade unions, cooperative-associations, volunteer groups, etc.) and another group of Cultural, recreational and leisure groups/organizations (religious, country fellows, alumni, sport, music, dances, crafts, games, etc.) are concerned, the results show that social capital of male respondents is low.

The results of the PTSD & Social Capital assessments were thought-provoking with each component of the tests which gives directions for further research like the gender impact on social change, the impact of structural violence on youth, the catharsis impact on the PTSD of men and women at different levels.

The primary data concluded with men’s high PTSD leads to further research work on the gender aspect to explore the social and psychological aspects of men’s world with different dimensions. The unexpected result about the male respondent with high PTSD due to a lack of expressing their sorrows explores a door for further research. These results also demand a change in the patriarchal concepts which pressurize men not to express their feelings hence developing psychological issues more than women. On the other side researchers and policymakers should give more attention to the lack of opportunities for leisure and recreational activities to develop the social capital of the vulnerable population (Zhou, R., & Kaplanidou, K. (2018).

Overall, this empirical data analysis gives the result of repercussions of a terrorist incident at a micro level which is a contribution to the theory of structural violence.

Shahida Shah Kakakhel holds an MPhil and is a researcher on Human Rights and Climate Change. She led a community forum for tribal women of FATA called“Takrah Qabailee Khwenday”(TQK) or “Brave Tribal Sisters”

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