Up until 1998, the main activities of the Insan Foundation Trust (IFT) were based around combating extremism and nationalism in Pakistani young people. But the successful nuclear test carried out by India and Pakistan that year forced IFT to change its focus, and expand its activities around peace. The projects of IFT have many interesting and innovative features, and to give Insight on Conflict readers more of an idea of their work, I interviewed Kishwar Sultana, Executive Director of IFT.
IFT's first major peace initiative was the "Dove Day Peace Clubs". The IFT was working with “Insan Natak”, a team of street children, on the design and development of street theatres. Dove Days included performances by Insan Natak and thousands of children and young people attended the performances and then became members of the peace clubs. IFT also jointly organised cricket matches between young people in India and Pakistan. As Kishwar Sultana told me, the focus on cricket was in view of the huge popularity of the game and the feeling that when India and Pakistan play that it is not two teams playing but two nations fighting. She highlighted that “through these programs we were successful in promoting love and values of peace among youth”.
Very soon, IFT will be launching the “Women Action for Peace and Non-violence” project. When asked why there is a need to emphasise women’s role in promoting peace and non-violence in the country, Kishwar Sultana told me the following, "Throughout the history of our civilizations women have been marginalised - socially, politically and economically. Women have also been the most affected sector of society by conflict and wars, and by gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Someone has aptly said that 'wars are fought on the body of women'. Armies and extremist mobs in any violent conflict, being a strong masculine institution representing 'sons' of the 'motherland' have always not only been invading the lands of other nations but also invading bodies of women in order to satisfy their rage for revenge. When we talk about the rapid radicalisation of youth in Pakistan, women’s roles are very important to keep an eye on this. Women have their fingers on the pulse of the community. They can sense changes in their children and the community. Keeping in view all ideological and empirical bases, the field of women, peace and security is the field of interventions of women and men to promote awareness about the impact of conflict on women. and to struggle for protection and prevention of violence on women. In peacebuilding, women can play a very important role because of their different perspective and experiences. Women should be involved in all peace and security initiatives and efforts on every level from local to international ranging from research, advocacy to the responsible authorities, capacity building, coalition building and networking and awareness raising.”
IFT is implementing the project “Act for Change” with 4,000 to 6,000 young people. The project is being implemented with the support of 13 educational institutions of the Pakistani and Afghan refugee population in Pakistan, and the local and Afghan refugee communities, in the Peshawar and Mansehra districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The involvement of Afghan refugees in the project is intended to not only address the question of discrimination and hatred which exist between local communities and refugees, but also to support efforts for peacebuilding and the democratization of society in Afghanistan in the long run. IFT is using sport and community-based organizations to achieve results. The ultimate end of the project is for the participants to demonstrate their ability to create democratic, peaceful and gender sensitive society in the rural, urban and tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elsewhere.
“Act for Change: Rights, Democracy and Peace Initiative (RDPI)” is an initiative of IFT, designed to respond to intolerance, insecurity, war-mongering and violations of the rights of women, children and religious and ethnic minorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I asked Kishwar Sultana why IFT decided to implement the project in this region: "It is a battleground of ideologies and of armed forces, of both state and non-state. The historical tribal practices of the province and the pre- and post-9/11 realities of the region combine together to form such a retrogressive environment that unless youth and communities are involved in a well-considered and long lasting process of democratic, peace and rights education, the fireball will continue to swell and burn the world. It is therefore important to note that whereas negotiations, military response and rehabilitation is composite and a significant strategy to quell militancy by the state of Pakistan and its allies, changing hearts and minds, through value-based education and motivation, is equally crucial for achieving long-lasting results in the fields of democracy, peace and rights. Such an endeavour will draw the society and the state of Pakistan close to the fulfilment of international commitments such as of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And this is an area wherein civil society has its due role to play.”
IFT has three other projects that are worth mentioning, for their scope and innovation. The “Women Action for Peace (WAP)” is an advocacy program, which involves four other organisations, and IFT is serving as national secretariat. The "Reproductive Health Rights of Women IDPs” project is being implemented with Khwendo Kor and Aaghi Organization for the collection of data on the reproductive health of female IDPs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and South and South West Punjab. The partner organisations will conduct different informative sessions with women and the authorities responsible for health care for IDPs and will then hold a national forum in Islamabad to share the findings so as to prepare an action plan. Finally, in association with the United States Institute of Peace, they will run the “Ethnic and Religious Minorities, Peace and Tolerance and Alternative Media Development Project”. IFT is going to selected five universities in Punjab and work with mass communication departments.