Perhaps the only youth development organisation founded entirely by students, Bargad is a leading peace organisation in Pakistan. Bargad was formed in 1997 by a group of enthusiastic students from Lahore in Pakistan. Its mission is to promote peace, justice and cooperation amongst young people in Pakistan. To find out more about Bargad and how the group has been promoting peace through youth-focused projects, I interviewed Sabiha Shaheen, Executive Director of Bargad.

When asked to share the details of how Bargad was formed, Shaheen replied:

At its inception, Bargad initiative came as a movement at the University of the Punjab in Lahore against the culture of violence, repression and bigoted attitude and alienation perpetuated by an extremist-religious organisation, especially towards girls of the university. The founding members of Bargad were concerned over this culture of violence within educational institutions. They were also sensitive to the questions as to why democracy failed in Pakistan and what specific direction do we need to take with the key purpose of promoting culture of peace and engagement of young people in healthy dialogue on democratic issues of non-violence, tolerance, and pluralism.
After understanding the problems, the founding members of Bargad believed that the culture of violence stemmed from a lack of forums and platforms within campuses that has opened a door for radicalisation of young people. There were virtually no opportunities for young people to express themselves. Bargad has the distinction of simultaneously working with young people on campuses and communities and also interacting with national politics.

Bargad has a vast network of more than 1,000 young volunteers throughout Pakistan.
Today, Bargad has a vast network of more than 1,000 young volunteers throughout Pakistan. The organisation has collaborated on projects with more than 52 universities and higher education institutions, 40 colleges, 35 schools and 20 female religious seminaries.

Bargad is a purely youth-based organisation. Its young volunteers are fully integrated into project planning and implementation. Shaheen further elaborated on this aspect of Bargad by sharing that:

The hallmark of our work has been that the core groups of Bargad young volunteers participate in all aspects of project planning and implementation and learn by doing things on their own. In the process they organise events, seminars, dialogues, festivals, concerts and take part in radio and TV programmes, serve communities and collect data for youth-focused researches.
According to Shaheen, this style of youth involvement in campaigns and projects has been a source of resource generation for many young people mainly from public institutions and modest economic backgrounds, where their management, coordination, communication and research skills are sharpened. This youth action is otherwise rare on university campuses in Pakistan. However, it has been critical especially in the face of a youth bulge in Pakistan. We have to develop our youth to reap the dividends of the young people in the country. They constitute more than 32 percent in their active ages (from 15 to 29 years).

Bargad is now hosting the ‘National Youth Advocacy Platform’ to bring together youth groups and organisations from all over Pakistan. They advocate for youth rights and an integrated youth development package which can steer public and policy circles to make synergies for youth in (i) population, (ii) employment/economy, (iii) education and (iv) engagement/governance issues.

Bargad’s idea of peace is built upon maximising co-operation among young people for the common good and linking their personal growth with social development. The organisation pioneered a youth peace track not only at a national level but also a regional level in South Asia. They have established networking among students from various institutions across the region since 2002. The impact of the programme reverberated beyond Pakistan’s borders and was able to bring many individuals and intellectuals together. The programme, Peace and Youth Cooperation, is marked by six regional dialogues between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So far 214 activities including seminars, dialogues, trainings, study circles, meetings and other activities have been organised in which 11,612 youth participated with 44% female and 56% male participation.

Universities that participated include Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, BBKDAV College Amritsar India, Kabul University and Balkh University Afghanistan. They engaged in dialogues under the 'Peace and Youth Cooperation' programme. Bargad has established good relations with students, teachers and the administration of these universities.

Bargad’s youth for peace activities have received a positive feedback from participants.
Bargad’s youth for peace activities have received a positive feedback from participants. Shaheen shared that one participant of the regional dialogues from India, Sucharita Sengupta, said that her participation in the Regional Youth Conference organised by Bargad was a true learning experience and the opportunity of a lifetime. Given how tough it is for Indians and Pakistanis to visit each other, the two consecutive regional dialogues she attended enabled her to understand Pakistan, its people and its politics much better.

As far as activities, strategies and tools are concerned, project 'Peace and Youth Cooperation' engages students in pro-peace, positive and people to people peace. The objective is to build peace in universities and to facilitate the sharing of experiences and information about campus lives so as to link curricular and co-curricular practices with larger peace aims from within.

Since 2011, the project has placed more emphasis on Baluchistan issues. The activities of Bargad in Baluchistan will concentrate on decreasing elements of radicalisation among youth in the province. It will work to increase the sense of nationalism and inter-provincial harmony through a number of procedural activities that will include core group formation, seminars, discussions, trainings, interprovincial exchange programmes, conferences and related activities.

The 'Peace and Youth Cooperation' programme has really transformed a youth-founded grassroots organisation into a leading group on issues facing young people in Pakistan. Its model for youth activism is especially relevant to conflict-prone and divided societies elsewhere in the world.

The lack of such opportunities within educational policies, systems and programming may provide space for militancy and violent resolution of issues on campuses.
The major assumption of this programme is that in the absence of viable platforms of interactions, mutual cooperation and connections for common good - the non-academic programming, so to speak - the organised youth may turn to violent instead of resorting to ‘procedural activism’ on campuses. The lack of such opportunities within educational policies, systems and programming may provide space for militancy and violent resolution of issues on campuses. Organised youth and student politics may act as a key tool for mass mobilisation for violence and militancy in the society. From this perspective, Bargad’s leadership thinks of peace as a cooperative effort and integral part of youth development.

In her concluding remarks, Shaheen said that:

Bargad believes that youth development and youth engagement are key factors for bringing peace to the region. There is a need to engage young people in effective behavioural change of internalising values of tolerance, openness, dialogue and the peaceful resolution of issues. Preventive actions also need to address economic, political and cultural factors of extremism and realise youth the economic, political and psychological costs of extremism. I would say that we do not give fish; we do not teach only how to fish but how to create revolution in the fish industry. In short, the programmes of Bargad are to bring revolution in the youth sector so that they might be able to transform their potentials into a dividendnot only for the country or a region but also for world peace at large.