Monday, 14 March 2016

Between Two Countries Often at Odds, a Youth Alliance Forms

February 17, 2016   by Zubair Azam & Suleiman Amanzad
Ever since diplomacy between Afghanistan and Pakistan was established in 1947, relations between the two countries have seen their ups and downs. Recently, however, Afghan and Pakistani civil society organizations have endeavored to improve them.
Leaders from each country have recently expressed a desire to come together and end years of hostility. “Enhancing people-to-people relations is a priority of relations with Pakistan,” said the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Janan Mosazai in November. At the same event, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Commerce and Industry Khurram Dastagir added, “It is important to bring together media people from both the countries to help improve the perception of each other.”
Seizing the moment, the Afghanistan New Generation Organization (ANGO) and the Peace Education and Development Foundation (PEAD) created a platform for citizen-to-citizen interaction called the Af-Pak Youth Dialogue. Both ANGO and PEAD have a history of youth-led and youth-focused approaches to development in the region and focused on the role of the new generations as peace ambassadors.
The first step in the dialogue was a visit to Kabul, where youth from Pakistan were exposed to the Afghan region and its people. For them, the visit was an eye opener.
With their only real understanding of Afghanistan coming from media images, the participants were not expecting to find a peaceful, vibrant city filled with active youth and socially engaged women. For one Pakistani delegate, the only difference he could find between Afghanistan and Pakistan was that “Afghans drive on the right side of the road.” Others were surprised at the development of infrastructure in what they assumed was a war-torn country.
The visit of a delegation of Pakistani youth generated a lot of interest, and they were invited by the Afghan minister for border and tribal affairs, as well as a national television channel, to share their perceptions.
During the Kabul visit, the delegates developed an activity agenda which would guide them over the course of the project. This agenda outlined online discussions between the youth from the two nations, promoted Af-Pak ties in local communities, and laid out other tasks.
A visit to Islamabad offered a similar experience to the Afghan youth who visited Pakistan. Engaging with policymakers, media, and different segments of society made them realize that there was a general desire on both sides for peace and stronger ties, but lack of trust made efforts at reconciliation difficult and prone to setbacks.
The highpoint of the Islamabad visit was a seven-point declaration written up by the delegates that urged the two governments to take steps to promote ties between the two countries, including constituting a bilateral youth jirga (an assembly of leaders), increasing opportunities for youth to engage with each other through professional opportunities, promoting tourism, and developing infrastructure that could facilitate more interpersonal interaction. These recommendations were endorsed by the Pak-Afghan Parliamentary Friendship Group’s Convener and former Pakistan Federal Minister Aftab Sherpao.
Moving forward, the youth delegates are vigorously reaching out to other youth networks, writing blogs, making television and radio appearances, and conducting orientation and awareness sessions in their education institutions. Through such pro-peace youth activism, the new generation on both sides is learning to understand and respect the differing viewpoints regarding controversial political issues between the two countries. But more importantly, they realize that it is through peace that both nations have a chance at progress and countering violent extremism.

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