Jahan Zeb is the executive director of Global Peace Centre Canada. He is also community engagement co-ordinator at THRIVE Child and Youth Trauma Services, and involved with the Gandhi Peace Festival and the Malala Fund. He moved to Hamilton from Pakistan in 2003.
Will the Trudeau government grab the opportunity to prevent violent extremism in Pakistan and beyond?
It is heartbreaking that militants have murdered over 60 children and women, mostly Christians who were celebrating Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan. It is a continuation of the ruthless killing of young school children, university students and teachers that recently happened in a public school in Peshawar and the Bacha Khan University. The increasing suicide attacks in Pakistan have compelled people around the world, and especially Pakistani Diaspora, to grieve and reflect.
Pakistan is a peculiar country with over 100 million children and youth out of a population of 180 million. A United States Institute of Peace report informs, "The cultural outlooks are differentiated on a multitude of religious, racial, regional, vocational, and socioeconomic lines. During the past decade, violence has become endemic across many parts of Pakistan."
I spent over two weeks in Peshawar and Islamabad in February of this year along with a team of Canadian professors from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, exploring how people are responding to the prolonged conflict that has taken away the lives of over 70,000 innocent people. We were learning about how to support Pakistani institutions in their capacity building through co-creating peace education curriculum, professional development through teaching excellence and exchange programs. We had a focused dialogue with over 150 students, faculty and senior leadership of nine public universities, 10 civil society organizations and officials from Canadian High Commission in Islamabad. They told us they need our ideas and training and not money.
'The prolonged social, cultural, economic and political oppression of minority groups in Pakistan has provided a fertile ground that has successfully been exploited by militants.' - Jahan Zeb
I observed that the prolonged social, cultural, economic and political oppression of minority groups in Pakistan has provided a fertile ground that has successfully been exploited by militants. I was told that militant groups are recruiting disengaged young people across Pakistan to help them assert their power and influence at a national and global levels.
If handled urgently with a widely supported process of peace building processes across political and social lines, a culture of peace can be restored. Such a process can transform all sorts of conflicts whether to pacify militants, provide rights to the Baloch and the people of tribal areas, and religious minorities. The alternative to peaceful conflict transformation is a growing culture of violence in which conflict is continuously handled with force or by quietly appeasing the militant groups. The use of indiscriminate violence is weakening the state.
There seems to be a genuine interest among the academia, civil society and government to build a sustainable peace to prevent another decade of violent extremism. For instance, a public university president told us to help him create an institute to provide professional skills in leadership, mediation, negotiation and conflict transformation for leaders in government, state institutions, and among religious parties. The training will help build leadership to prevent violent extremism and transform deadly conflicts at national and regional levels.
'The use of indiscriminate violence is weakening the state.' - Jahan Zeb
Canada seems to be prepared to play a leading role to support civilian institutions to promote peace and security globally. Unveiling Canada's plan to seek a UN Security Council seat in New York City, the Honourable Stephane Dion informed that in "our role as a determined and effective peace builder … we'll do what is needed to support the international community, based on our experience in building a peaceful and resilient society in Canada; in bravely fighting for justice and security on the global stage; in promoting humanitarian assistance, development, training and capacity building; and in protecting gender equality and all human rights. We seek a seat at the Security Council precisely because the world finds itself at a time when there is a pressing need to prevent violent extremism, to manage conflict and to respond to humanitarian crises. We know Canada can make a difference."
We, the Canadian peace builders, are ready to work with the people and government of Canada to support peace education in Pakistan that can be scaled up to other countries experiencing violent conflict.
Will Trudeau's government grab this opportunity to be partner in such initiatives to build the capacity of educational institutions and civil society and provide a chance to over 100 million children and youth in Pakistan to live in sustained peace?