Since the adoption of United Nations’ in 2015, every year 12th August is celebrated as International Youth Day to recognise that young people, as agents of change, are critical actors in conflict prevention, sustaining peace and development of societies. International Youth Day 2017 is also dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace. The theme of International Youth Day 2017 is Youth Building Peace.
The current generation of youth is the largest in history and young people often comprise the majority in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, therefore considering the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace and security is a demographic imperative. Another Security Council Resolution, Resolution 2282 (2016) recognized that the scale and challenges of sustaining peace needs effective partnerships among all the concerned stakeholders including youth organisations. It also reaffirms the important role youth can play in deterring and resolving conflicts, and are key constituents in ensuring the success of both peacekeeping and peace building efforts. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is committed to fostering peaceful and inclusive societies and affirms that “sustainable development cannot be realised without peace and security”. Young people’s inclusion in the peace and security agenda and in society is considered key to building and sustaining peace.
In Pakistan, youth constitute major chunk of population. After the historic 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, affairs and policies related to youth have become a provincial subject. Now the major responsibility lies with the provincial governments to undertake practical steps for social inclusion of youth, including participation in decision-making as well as access to quality education and health care, provision of employment and other related opportunities. Needless to say, provision of basic services to youth, promotes their role as active contributors to society and affords young people with opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their goals. There is consensus among the stakeholders over the fact that when youth are excluded from political, economic and social spheres, it can lead towards violence and conflict. Therefore, identifying and addressing the social exclusion of young people is a precondition for sustaining peace.
According to a countrywide survey titled “Civic Health of Pakistani Youth” conducted by Centre for Civic Education Pakistan, a reputed think tank, a majority of Pakistani youth (69.6%) believe that extremism is on the rise among the youth. An overwhelming majority of 85.4% believe that the Pakistani youth can play a constructive role in combating growing violence and extremism in society.
During recent exchange of views between members of law enforcement who are familiar with the intricacies of extremism in the country and educationists from 40 universities at Karachi, there was consensus among the entire stakeholder that there are umpteen indications of a radical mindset taking root in Pakistan’s higher institutes of learning. The internet has made it even easier for extremist elements to ensnare naïve, impressionable young people, including women. A case in point is Noreen Leghari, an MBBS student from Hyderabad, who was arrested in April on suspicion of being involved in terrorism; she later confessed she was to be used as a suicide bomber. Aside from educational institutions, families too must be made aware of the warning signs which indicate that their younger generation is on the path to embracing a dangerous trend of violence.
In order to address this alarming situation in effective way, coordinated policy is required in terms of formation of campus based vigilance committees, increased surveillance on campus and awareness seminars to sensitize faculty members and students. There is also dire need to involve youth actively in extra-curricular and sport activities. In this regard, various student councils/societies’ i.e. music, dramatic, debate, literacy societies need to be revived and strengthened. These can be good alterative platforms to engage educated youth in positive activities and avenue for training them as future leaders of the country.
A close interaction among academia, research organisations and policymakers is the need of the hour in order to resolve this important issue. Policy makers and practitioners should also take the youth and academia of universities on board while making important strategies for peace on national and international level. As Pakistan is facing various conflicts, it has to rapidly forge new mechanisms and formulate new ways. A university, as a central hub of academic and intellectual activities, is the best place for the promotion of peace, tolerance and harmony in society through strengthening social sciences.
The other suggested steps include promotion of book reading culture through organising literary activities and book festivals, effective implementation of National Action Plan at all levels, organising intra-university festivals and competitions, neutral and unbiased role of vice chancellors and administration, undertaking community out-reach program through university magazines, newsletters & campus radio, conducting a survey on students to assess their perceptions related to peace and tolerance and their expectations from institutions of higher education, well maintenance of the university playgrounds, gyms and swimming, organizing seminars/conferences, workshops and other related activities on the topics related to extremism, violence, peace and tolerance. There is also dire need to conduct in-depth studies on the incidents of violence on campuses as case studies to investigate and learn causes and triggers. The recent incident at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan can be one example.
Collaborative efforts aimed at active engagement and involvement of Pakistani youth in decision making process and various spheres of life could lead towards peaceful and safe society.
n The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development and education sector.