Civil society, ulema, media role in peace building discussed

By Zainab Kakar,

QUETTA:    Recent years have brought immense suffering to the people of Pakistan particularly Balochistan due to rampant terrorism and a prolonged internal conflict. The effects of the conflict are felt throughout Pakistan but the epicenter lies in Balochistan. The compound impacts of internal conflict and disasters were particularly devastating for youth and women. This exacerbates intergenerational tensions and results in disengaged, cynical youths with few constructive pathways to a better future. Lack of opportunities for socio-economic uplift and constructive community engagement thus increase the inclination of young people to be involved in armed violence and conflict. Balochistan Rural Support Programme and Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad, successfully brought media, ulema and civil society to initiate a national dialogue on peace building under the ambit of Paigham-e-Pakistan on 24th February,2020 in Quetta.

Paigham-e-Pakistan’ initiative of the government of Pakistan is the best tool to deal with growing extremism and intolerance in the society. The basic objective of the initiative is to promote peace, harmony and friendly relations between various segments of the society as well as different religious groups in the country.

In recent years, the importance of a free, professional and plural media in contributing to peace building has gained traction in the national dialogue around conflict management. A vibrant and empowered media gives people free flowing access to information, enables dialogue, encourages people to express their views, prompts greater political participation and encourages accountability. Media is a powerful driver for conflict resolution and peace building.

National Integration remains a crucial issue in Pakistan. It is, therefore, necessary to make concerted efforts to strengthen the national integration. There is a need of following a correct and pragmatic approach with dispassionate analysis of all the issues jeopardizing the process of national integration. The task of national integration in a plural society like Pakistan is although arduous, yet it can be achieved by bringing in diverging forces together through a political system based on justice, equality and fair play. Legitimized by religious authority and deeply rooted in traditional norms and practices, religious actors and institutions retain considerable influence on the moral values, social practices and political opinions of many Pakistanis. The relative independence of the sphere in which ulema and local mullahs operate places them in a position to act as interlocutors between their own communities and external agents, such as state, aid agencies and NGOs.

Meaningful participation of minority groups in peace processes is important for sustainable peace and effective conflict resolution. Lack of adequate protection of minorities remain a widespread challenge in all regions of the world. In addition to being human rights imperatives, combating racial discrimination and protection of minorities are also key factors in the prevention of conflict, in conflict and post-conflict situations

Pakistan has been divided along ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines, a condition which has been exploited by external organizations to foster extremism and terrorism. Since 2002, we have faced 104 incidents of attacks on mosques across Pakistan killing more than 1500 people. Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), provincial counterterrorism departments, and a National Action Plan on Preventing Violent Extremism aims to regulate madrassas, block extremist communications, and curb terrorist financing. The mosque is a place that is used not only for religious services but also to share information of public relevance and to spread political messages. The Friday prayer, in particular, is an important and influential institution. In performing this function, religious leaders are opinion-makers, expressing a range of civil society voices.

Recently Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for propagating hate speech. Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. Tackling hate speech is also crucial to deepen progress across Pakistan by helping to prevent armed conflict, atrocity crimes and terrorism, end violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, and promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies

Conclusion: Balochistan Rural Support Programme in collaboration with Islamic Research Institute brought prominent Ulema, civil society and media on one platform to initiate a dialogue on peace building and perception management in Pakistan. Till date limited attention has been given to who are considered civil society actors and what role religious actors and mainstream media could play in peace building process.

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