Press for Peace (PFP), a non-governmental humanitarian organisation is the brainchild of Zafar Iqbal. This organisation was established in 1999 in Muzaffarabad-the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, commonly known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K). The protection and promotion of human rights, conflict resolution, peace and security, interfaith harmony, community cohesion, gender empowerment and sustainable development have been major areas of focus of this organisation.
Interestingly, over the years, Press for Peace has become a single entity which has been actively engaged in peace related activities in the Pakistani part of the conflict zone and it is for this reason that I communicated with Zafar Iqbal, Chief Executive of Press for Peace, to discuss the peacebuilding story of this organisation for Insight on Conflict.
Zafar shared the ambitious start of Press for Peace by saying that in the beginning, the PFP aimed to utilize the mass media for social change, particularly in the fields of conflict resolution, peacebuilding and harmony in the region through small scale media campaigns at local level in Kashmir. However, more recently, it has expanded its mandate to cater to other sections of society and spread messages of love, tolerance and humanity across the world.
Although the founding members of the PFP were journalists and media professionals, over the time the organisation has attracted the attention of other working groups, especially youth, women, minorities and social activists working on different spheres of human interest.
In peacebuilding PFP has focused on people-to-people contacts through seminars, conferences and walks, with training sessions for youth and community leaders. The most influential and significant PFP campaign was against the reorganization of militants in Neelum Valley and other border areas of the divided state.
"The outcome of our peace-related activities is visible in those areas. Now, you can notice an increased public motivation for peace and conflict resolution. PFP’s work has shown people that hawkish elements can be challenged through peaceful means. Not only, PFP has given them the courage to do so but has been actively supporting them at different levels."
Based in Kashmir, the PFP strives for the promotion of peace and harmony in the conflict and volatile states of Jammu and Kashmir.
"We have also extended our network to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, the Indian-administered Kashmir, the UK, Austria, and the Middle East," Zafar says.
"PFP works in collaboration with other local and regional civil society groups. It has established a strong network in all parts of Kashmir, including Gilgit Baltistan and has therefore been able to be aware of and constantly condemn human rights violations all over the country. "
"There is a strong network of professionals, activists and campaigners working at grassroots level to emphasize the importance of peace and harmony in local communities,” Zafar says.
Press for Peace is also member of Liberal Forum Pakistan, which is a conglomerate of humanist, secular and democratic political parties and civil rights groups.
Zafar Iqbal told that the PFP is also concentrating on the establishment of culture of mutual respect in South Asia. He is convinced to the core of his heart that most of the animosity and hostility that has engulfed numerous lives and vast resources of the region has been caused by long-standing disputes. He also shared that at the PFP they believe that the resolution of Kashmir conflict could be a gateway for enduring peace and prosperity not only in South Asia but at global level. "In other words, a nonviolent settlement of the conflict would pave the way for positive change in the lives of millions of people, who have paid heavily the price of the policies and wars of the governments of India and Pakistan."
Iqbal said that their partnerships with Shirkat Gah, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ASR Women Resource Centre, Action Aid and the United Religions Initiative in Pakistan had allowed PFP to make strong inroads into achieving their aims of the protection of human rights, gender development and the advancement of democratic and humanist norms.
Youth, women, and other marginalized groups who are often the victims of the state and non-state actors, are the target groups for PFP’s peace and human rights projects at domestic level. Zafar Iqbal stated that “due to their formidable exclusion in policy formation and implementation, women are the most deprived element of society. However, their emancipation and empowerment can bring enormous transformations in the whole social system. So PFP especially concentrates on women’s development”.
The organization is aware that young people can be a driving force for nation-building, but that due to many factors they have not been able to play this role. According to Iqbal, because of poverty and other reasons, the youth community is extremely vulnerable to brainwashing by the extremist groups. PFP has therefore tried to engage and mobilize the youth community for positive and constructive activities like conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
Towards the end of this interview Iqbal shared his vision for peace in the Kashmir region. In his words “Press for Peace (PFP) advocates a democratic, liberal and secular state of Kashmir where all of its citizens could live peacefully without any discrimination on the basis of religion, region, class or creed. It envisions a pro-people approach in terms of resolution of Kashmir conflict. It believes that there should be no dictation enforced by India and Pakistan. People of the state should be given the right to decide their future. We believe that human rights violations should be stopped in all parts of Kashmir. Pakistan and India have failed to improve the livelihood of Kashmiris in the areas under their control. Human dignity and humanity is our preference and priority in all of our ideology and actions."
Currently PFP is working on an “Assessment of Line of Control (LoC) Trade as a model for CBM” between India and Pakistan, and has also implemented projects to enhance people to people contacts at the grassroots levels.
Zafar Iqbal says “Our future plans include an All Kashmir Civil Society Conference” and “Intra-Kashmir Women Conference”. It is hoped that such cross border initiatives will contribute towards better relations between India and Pakistan, especially with reference to the Kashmir dispute.
Biographical Note on Zafar Iqbal
Zafar Iqbal is a freelance journalist, human rights activist and media educator. He holds MA (Media & Globalization) from Nottingham Trent University, UK. He has many other academic distinctions from some of the renowned centres of excellence in Europe and Pakistan. He is also a Chevening Scholar.
After earning his first Masters degree in mass communication from Pakistan, he started his career as a journalist from Muzffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani part of the divided state of Kashmir.
For years, Zafar has been highlighting the miseries of marginalized and voiceless elements of the society in his country. Promoting peace and supporting various issues including press freedom, globalization, interfaith harmony and environmental issues have been the major areas of his contributions while working for a number of national and international dailies and media organisations. As a journalist, he is specifically interested in peace and security with special perspective on South Asia.