The persistence of terrorism
: Exploring global dynamics and the case of Pakistan through a grounded theory lens

  • Muhammad Feyyaz

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Terrorism has long persisted, despite its having proven historically ineffective at securing strategic goals. This thesis aims to explain this significant but underexplored paradox, and to do so through particular attention to the original case study of Pakistan, where terrorist violence has endured for decades despite tenacious opposition. The study specifically asks two questions: (1) how do we explain terrorism's persistence, given its seeming strategic inefficacy? (2) What are the dynamics of persistent terrorism in Pakistan and how does terrorism’s persistence-inefficacy process/explanation function in this important case study? That is, how can those dynamics singularly or complementarily explain this paradox?
The particular significance of the study lies in seeking to empirically locate, conceptually unravel and theoretically interpret a wide range of socio-political, psychosocial, institutional and cultural processes and the underlying assumptions, meanings, actions and implications which encourage, formalise and sustain violence. The thesis does not aim to offer a practical guide to responses to terrorism. Nonetheless, by answering the questions raised, it endeavours to make metastasised terrorism intellectually more accessible by potentially offering insights and understanding that are of practical relevance to Pakistan and other sociopolitical contexts. 
The study has employed Constructivist Grounded Theory (GT) as the research methodology which is suited for the study of open-ended, complexly fluid and uncharted waters. The data have been gathered by conducting 62 original interviews; these were conducted during an extended period of fieldwork in Pakistan, and represent a sizeable, information-rich body of materials, including underrepresented voices of the former militants as well as those of ideologues and the marginalised and vulnerable social groups. 

As perhaps would be typically the case, this research does not find a straightforward, linear explanatory hypothesis. Rather, indicating the complexity, the central hypothesis of the thesis, emergent from the research data, derives from three substantive GTs or the coping strategies by the subjects to address their concern which it argues empirically sustain terrorism, and theoretically rationalise why terrorism will not end in Pakistan and under similar conditions elsewhere. These are a) Manoeuvring ideological framework to nurture, impose and implant one’s own interpretation of existing religious, ideological and historical discourses to commandeer the discourses and the society, b) Terrorism as a survival interest embodying encouragement and exploitation of violence for sociopolitical and geopolitical survival and c) Terrorism-rebreeding lifestyles and subcultures to perpetuate coexistence and thriving by affective groups and communities. The case study also effectively resolves the persistence-inefficacy puzzle by finding that deterministically terrorism efficacy is relativist without necessarily being linked to the historicity of its failure or success.

 Furthermore, among other vital contributions, the current research offers potential users of GT the methodological pathways that delineate how to approach a research project of this magnitude singlehandedly. The most important conclusion of this study is that a persistent terrorism in Pakistan or similar decolonised states is an outcome of the implications of a post-colonial skewed state-building project that has not been able to manage dissent and differences. In brief, this thesis hopes to become part of a pioneering effort to develop an exclusive persistent terrorism discourse, by offering a distinctive methodological as well as a set of theoretical frameworks by which to understand the underpinnings that keep terrorism going.

Thesis embargoed until 31st December 2025
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAndrew Thomson (Supervisor) & Richard English (Supervisor)


  • Terrorism persistence
  • Pakistan
  • grounded theory
  • field research
  • ideational factors
  • structural-material factors
  • ethnocentrism
  • securitised terrorism discourse
  • ideological manoeuvring
  • terrorism rebreeding sub-cultures

Cite this