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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Nov 24, 2013

National summit: Youth activists vow to bring about change in peace narrative

People’s mistrust of politicians and their frustration
over bad governance was reflected in the interaction between
participants of a national peace summit and politicians on Saturday.

However, the Youth activists’ subsequent messages, full of hope and
determination, to change the country’s conflict-ridden reality, offered a
glimmer of hope.

The peace summit was organised by Search for Common Ground (SCFG)
Pakistan in partnership with the Sustainable Development Policy
Institute (SDPI), at the Aiwan-e-Quaid auditorium in F-9 Park. The
summit was held in connection with SCFG’s Pakistan Peace Initiative.

In the audience were around 100 peace leaders including youth
activists, community leaders and journalists, who are the beneficiaries
of a two-year SCFG project, "Promoting Dialogue for Peace-building
through Media and Youth Mobilisation in Pakistan."

Over 200 beneficiaries were trained in conflict resolution and
peace-building between September 2011 and August 2013 by SCFG in
collaboration with local partners, including the Pakistan Broadcasting
Corporation SDPI and Pakistan Press Foundation. The project was
supported by the Danish International Development Agency.

But as the summit’s second session entered the questions-and-answers
phase, participants unleashed a volley of critical, often inarticulate,
queries at five politicians on the panel. The questions touched upon
basic rights and governance issues: healthcare, disparities in the
education system, unemployment, corruption and youth policies, all
issues obliquely connected with peace and development.

The politicians defended their party positions, which led to more
scathing questions. After the organisers calmed down the house, Ammara
Durrani, Executive Director of SFCG Pakistan, said, "There is still
bitterness in our attitudes, there is still impatience. “We need to
change our attitudes and develop tolerance to listen to others’
point-of-view."

SDPI Executive Director Abid Suleri, however, saw critical questions
as an encouraging sign. “When you allow issues that have been forcibly
buried for years to surface, you get this kind of response.” He said the
desire to hold representatives accountable is essentially a desire to
see a stable, prosperous country.

The Guest of Honour, Danish Ambassador Jesper Sorensen said dialogue
can help build empathy and tolerance in society as a means to achieve
peace. "Peace thrives where there is co-existence, social justice, hope
and creativity," Sorensen said. "If we do not understand each other’s
differences through dialogue, peace will be difficult to achieve."

He said Denmark supports peace initiatives and continued joint
efforts are needed to ensure that Pakistani communities recover and
reconcile from the effects of violent conflicts.

Beneficiaries of the project, which was carried out in 25 districts
of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and the tribal
areas, said they had learned specific ways to tackle and defuse conflict
situations from the trainings.

They said they will try to sustain the network of peace-building,
which they formed during the trainings, through social media and
on-ground community work.

Durrani said the objective of the peace initiative and the summit was
to foster a "strategic shift towards peace, resilience and
reconciliation."

Chief guest Information Secretary Dr Nazir Saeed said Pakistan’s
economic progress depends upon peace and stability. The media and the
youth have a critical role to play in peace-building.

The day-long conference also featured a poster-making competition,
visual performances, a mini-documentary screening and the release of
peace lanterns.