The Community Support Programme (CSP) was established by a group of like-minded young professionals who aspired to bold initiatives in creating awareness about the socio-economic and political condition in the country at grassroots level. CSP adopts a participatory approach, believing in the importance of community self-help; they work with volunteer groups in remote rural areas of Pakistan. CSP has set up a collaborative network of 500 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) across Pakistan to assist in the implementation of different projects and capacity building programmes. The reach of the CSP at the grassroots level makes it unique in Pakistan, and I was therefore very keen to find out more. The Director of the CSP, Muhammad Asif Noor, granted me an interview to explain more of how they operate.
The first topic we discussed was peace education. In 2005, the CSP was the first group in Pakistan’s history to organise a national-level festival with the goal of creating awareness about education for peace and tolerance. Organised in collaboration with the Pakistan National Club for UNESCO, the festival brought together higher education institutes, civil society organisations, booksellers and education consultancy firms. Why did they organise this event? Muhammad Asif Noor replied in detail: “The rationale behind the festival was to counter the fact that in today’s world education is being used as a tool to earn money and not to spread knowledge. The purpose of education that we are disseminating to our children should be to serve humanity, build peace and tolerance, so they can build up a sense of harmony towards other religions and faiths. The challenges for organising such an event were many, including bringing the Ministry of Education on board to understand the rationale behind such an educational event and its significance for future curriculum development wherein the peace and its awareness stands supreme. As far as civil society organisations were concerned, they remained focused and supportive”.
The festival was attended by thousands of students and families from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The Festival was well received by the political and religious leaders of the country. Noor believes that the success of the festival means that future such events to promote peace and harmony will receive further support.
Education for peace and tolerance in Pakistan has been the core focus of CSP’s work in the area of peacebuilding in the country. Therefore I asked Noor, why do you think the people of Pakistan need this type of education? “Pakistan is a society with a multiple layers of conflict ranging from religious to ethnic, political to socio-economic. Understanding and awareness about the root causes of these conflicts is important to address the baseline issues. Lying across the conflict fault lines in Asia and after the incidents of 9/11, the need for working beyond the spectrum to promote awareness about tolerance and the significance of peace has been raised to higher level in Pakistan. Our special focus is the youth of Pakistan (almost 70% of the total population). If we want to give the real and true picture of Pakistan to the world then we have to make concrete efforts in bringing Pakistani youth in our programmes for peace and tolerance. We at the CSP believe that equipped and well sensitized young people can be a major resource in the social mobilization needed to combat the intolerance, terrorism, extremism and prevailing chaos in the country”.
“2006 was quite a distressful year for Muslims around the globe with the publication of blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad”, Noor continued. Keeping in view the mounting tensions within the country, CSP felt the need to organise a National Inter-Faith Harmony Conference on Tolerance in collaboration with Plan Pakistan and United Nations on 3 May 2006. The conference was intended to bring the representatives and scholars from all of the religious groups including Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. The conference was attended by more than 500 people from all walks of life - diplomats, civil society activists, educationalists, professors, and participants. The various religious groups of Pakistan were also represented.
According to Noor, “the conference was a first step in exploring the possibilities of peace, tolerance and cooperation among the various religions in Pakistan and how to go about changing the whole paradigm. Since the conference was widely discussed and promoted in print and electronic media, people at community level have started raising questions of how to promote peace and how they can play an effective role in bringing inter-faith harmony. The conference was a success from the moment it began its sessions with religious scholars sitting on the same dialogue table, pledging to cooperate with each other even at that crucial time”. Leading religious figures shared their views on peace and harmony. At the event, the head of the Sikh Temple in Hassan Abdal, Sardar Ranjit Singh, said “All religions are true and we should respect all of them as we respect our own religion”. Pakistan’s former Federal Minster for Minorities, Mr. J. Salik said “A follower translates the religion to which he pursues through his or her behaviour. If one meets a needy person he should help him on the basis of humanity and not on the religious terms.”
CSP intends to take various projects aimed at promoting peace and harmony in Pakistan; “creating a peaceful and prosperous civil society” as stated in its official slogan. Noor also shared some of his future plans. CSP plan to organise an interfaith harmony conference, workshops, dialogue, interactive sessions and awareness campaigns, not only at the national level but at the very grassroots level. CSP also aims to bring change in the current curriculum of the schools and colleges by brining into the light the significance of peace education.