To further explore the significance of the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in relation to peace in Pakistan and South Asia, Insight on Conflict Local Correspondent Zahid Shahab Ahmed approached Arshi Saleem Hashmi. This interview gives an insight into both the work of an individual peacbuilder in Pakistan and also the work of the IRS. We begin a brief biography of Arshi to showcase her work for peace at national and international levels.

Arshi Saleem Hashmi has been working in the area of peace in different capacities both voluntarily and professionally for 15 years now including both working in the field with NGOs, human rights organization and in research as university faculty at the Karachi University, Quaid-e-Azam University and the National Defense University (NDU) in Islamabad. Also she works actively to promote the research agenda of IRS in her areas of expertise.

Arshi began her work in this area through her work with PILER (based in Karachi) where she was engaged in a project on Indo-Pak fishermen who accidently cross international waters and land into jails either in Pakistan or India. For this project, she was responsible for talking with the Interior Ministry of Pakistan to convince policymakers to make public the list of Indian fishermen, in order to help get innocent fishermen out of jails. Arshi has worked with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) as a member of the Alumni Association, Women Lawyers’ Association, and WISCOMP (New Delhi) among many other professional engagements. She has been a member of Women in International Security at Georgetown in Washington, Women with Borders and Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) in Vienna. There are many more relevant and interesting aspects of her work deserve to be highlighted, and Arshi herself says “My recent work since 2002 is specifically on religious extremism, radicalization and terrorism with special focus on Pakistan”.

Insights into the work of IRS

Firstly, I asked Arshi to give an introduction to the work of the IRS. “Well, I think it is just like you need an activist to work in the field to promote peace and conflict resolution, similarly you need think-tanks to produce policy relevant papers that provide help and work as backgrounder for further deliberations on the problems that states are facing. A regional institute is important because it specifically focus on the countries in the region, relations, problems, issues, and conflicts with each other and how to resolve them. IRS is one such institute which is working for more than 25 years and the sole purpose is to come up with research papers which help understanding issues, conflicts and solutions in the region with regional perspective. The Institute covers a wide spectrum of research in foreign and internal affairs, economy and industry, science and technology, socio-cultural and security related issues and thus provides an in-depth understanding and objective analyses of regional and global issues.”

IRS is in touch with similar research institutes the world over. Publications are exchanged with institutes in the United States, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, West Asian and Southeast Asian countries, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russian Federation, and other major European countries. Arshi claims that the IRS “has gained international recognition, prestige and credibility in a surprisingly short span of time. Its position papers and studies are in great demand”. Research articles written by scholars at the IRS have been frequently abstracted in the "Documentation Politique Internationale" in Paris. In addition, Arshi highlighted that the IRS is proud to possess valuable archives which are unique in entire South Asia. The IRS data is shared by other institutions and outside research scholars working on South Asia. In its capacity as a research think-tank, IRS is working as a platform for scholars all over the region as well as Pakistan to share their views on peace, conflict and regional politics.

Peacebuilding engagements

Arshi is affiliated with a group called “Women without Borders” (WWB). The group is an international research and advocacy organization that seeks to provide women with a platform to have their voices and their concerns heard. The Women without Borders group conducts a variety of campaigns in countries around the world with the unifying goal of empowering women as agents of positive change. SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) is the world's first female counter-terrorism platform based at the Headquarters of the Women without Borders in Vienna. SAVE brings together a broad spectrum of women determined to create a united front against violent extremism. SAVE provides women with the tools for critical debate to challenge extremist thinking and to develop alternative strategies for combating the growth of global terrorism.

In February 2010, women from all over the world came together for the second Global SAVE Conference in Vienna, Austria. Arshi represented Pakistan at the conference. She expressed her views on this by saying that “the conference participants provided unique insights into the reality of violent extremism in their home countries, and constructively discussed how to draw on women’s experiences and unique abilities to challenge extremist ideologies in their families and immediate surroundings”.

When she was asked about the link of her engagement in peace-related initiatives at the international level and its impact on peace in Pakistan, she stressed that “being a member of SAVE, I am working on initiating a project called ‘Mothers for Change’ and the purpose is to train the mothers through a team of trainers who will conduct the workshop in major cities of Pakistan. From there the participants will take the training message to their towns and village and will conduct similar local workshops to discuss and talk to women from all walks of life about their role in combating terrorism as mothers who can play a powerful role in the upbringing of their child”.

Before the interview, Arshi thoroughly looked at the information on “Insight on Conflict” and therefore added her comments on the project: “I think it is remarkable; we need such projects and especially those, which are actually trying to get in touch with peacebuilders in their own countries to have local perspectives instead of commentaries from an outsider’s perspectives”.

See Arshi’s talk on “extremism in Pakistan: an Analysis” at the SAVE platform.

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