“From the platform of PAIMAN, I have formed women and youth peace groups in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and a few conflict prone districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province) and I have built their capacities in conflict transformation, peacebuilding and leadership. So far through PAIMAN we have been able to reach out to 65,000 people across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA through these peace groups. Through the same platform we help radicalized youth to be rehabilitated and re-integrated in society through psycho-social therapy, non-formal and formal education, skill building and true Islamic Education”. These were some initial views of the founder and the executive director of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, Mossarat Qadeem, when she granted me an exclusive interview about PAIMAN’s peacebuilding projects.
PAIMAN claims to be the only political and economic network of women legislators, elected women councillors and potential women leaders across Pakistan. Their vision is to connect women and marginalized communities, working for the socio-political and economic empowerment of women and young people.
‘Let’s live in Peace’ is PAIMAN’s initiative for conflict transformation and peacebuilding in the conflict ridden regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The PAIMAN team felt that in the current situation where everyone is talking of aggression, destruction and hatred, they should raise the need for peace through education about conflict transformation and peacebuilding, and its application in the local context. Mossarat Qadeem explained, “PAIMAN believes that the indigenous approach is indispensable to successful peacebuilding. It is required, not as a moral imperative or an infallible theory, but peacebuilding simply cannot succeed without people’s involvement in society”.
PAIMAN has formed six groups called “TOLANA” ('Tolana' means group or together in Pashto) in six FATA agencies including Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Bajur, Khurram and South Waziristan, with six more groups in different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Swat, Upper Dir, Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan and D.I. Khan. In each group there are 10 core group members, both male and female, who carry out sensitisation work with young people on the importance of tolerance, accommodation, and peaceful co-existence. They teach them practical skills of mediation and negotiation, as well the significance of a united Pakistan and the need to combat extremism through a peaceful mass movement. These core group members are called 'PAIMAN Peace Practitioners' (PPP), and they conduct sessions from time to time and add members to TOALANA on regular basis. So far PAIMAN has been able to reach out to 65,000 people across FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Mossarat added that, “the core group members of TOLANA have been trained in the art of leadership, conflict transformation and peacebuilding using experiential and hands on training techniques with case studies from real situations”.
As a result of PAIMAN’s Peace Education, 10 teachers, in two schools, received training on the conflict transformation and conducted training with some 634 students on the subject. They also formed a network, 'Peace Kid', to exchange information as well as holding essay writing, poetry, drama, and art competitions.
In an interesting initiative, whenever a bomb blast takes place in Peshawar PAIMAN arrange visits to the victims’ houses to show concern and solidarity. They also support people affected by bombings by collecting funds from their communities. Also, to ensure the quality of peace education programmes, PAIMAN has developed a very elementary curriculum for the school-going students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When asked why there was a need to implement peacebuilding, more specifically peace education programmes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mossarat Qadeem shared PAIMAN’s rationale behind the above mentioned projects: “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been bleeding for the last eight years but no one has paid attention to it. Investing in the young people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the need at this time. These children are living in fear and uncertainty and many of them are traumatised by each new bomb blast. We also felt that the conflict and extremism that exist in the society will make its inroads into the minds of the young children and to combat that onslaught we started working on peace education in the province. We also thought that in order to make schools orderly and peaceful places in which the positive outcomes of conflict at personal level can be realized and high quality education can take place, intra-personal conflicts must be managed constructively. To do so, students must be taught the steps of being a peacemaker. Besides, we had limited funds and could not afford to work on the issue in other provinces”.
Through the Centre for Conflict Transformation & Peacebuilding, PAIMAN trains university students as well teachers, lawyers, elected representatives, journalists and members of community based organisations and NGOs in the art of conflict transformation, peacebuilding and leadership. According to Mossarat, “It is the first of its type in Pakistan where female and male students trained in the art of conflict transformation and peacebuilding have started leading the process of peacebuilding across communities”.
PAIMAN started the peace education project with its own funds and would like to continue the project, but, as Mossarat told me, “we are short of funds at the moment and are looking for funds and donors so that we can extend it to more schools not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but in the other three provinces as well”.
Working for peace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not an easy task for any local or international organisation, so I asked Mossarat about the kinds of challenges she has been facing while working in this region. She said, “Yes, working in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, especially on a sensitive topic like peace, is a challenging task. I personally have received threats from a group of Taliban in Mohmand and Khyber”. To adjust in project areas and be able to implement its peacebuilding projects, PAIMAN has developed a workable strategy as mentioned by Mossarat: “It is very difficult to identify or know who is with extremists, and we have to work with everyone. So far we have tried to keep a low profile and little or no projection of the movement that we have started, because we don’t want it to be sabotaged before it gets mature enough to face any sort of resistance or challenge. The financial cost of the initiative is quite burdensome because we started this as a part of another project which is completed and now we have to keep the movement not only alive but strengthening it further through PAIMAN’s funds”.
It is often hard to measure the impact of peacebuilding projects in any country, but still I asked her this question to know the way PAIMAN views the value of its peacebuilding projects. “PAIMAN has been working in the health, education and peacebuilding sectors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The health and education were taken as projects and have been trying to deliver as per the project outcome but our Peace initiative is taken as a movement and everyone has put its heart and soul into the movement as it is a matter of our existence. Its impact is amazing. Initially when we started it we didn’t know what will be the outcome or impact. But when we started the processes PAIMAN’s Peace Practitioners took sessions with an extraordinary zeal and showed tremendous courage. In the process of sensitizing of the community, radical youth and mothers were identified and they got sensitized to an extent that they want their sons to be de-radicalized and these mothers are now part of our peace movement. Again it is a very sensitive issue and we are trying to handle it with great caution. There are certain things associated with this that cannot be made public until we feel it’s safe to share our success with everyone”.
Given the wealth of experience in the area of peacebuilding, personally and through the platform of PAIMAN, I asked Mossarat about her message for peacemakers in South Asia to promote in the region. She replied by saying, “a real peacemaker doesn’t believe in projection. For the sincerity of purpose initially one has to be very careful in making any moves in the direction of peace. For instance, we call our Peace Groups ‘TOLANA’ in order to hide our real motive of promoting peace and combating extremism through engaging local communities. At the personal level the peacemakers should first build inner strength to face any challenge and at the same time not only believe but practice non-violent means of addressing the conflict. I feel that one needs courage to be a non-violent person, more even than for being a violent person. I feel I am still developing and maturing in knowing non-violence and applying it in my daily life. For leading a movement like this you need determination, zeal and strong will power to remain steadfast and work for a cause”.