PESHAWAR -- Raising awareness among Pakistani youth about the history of the region through artistic and cultural exhibitions has been described as a key tool in preventing extremist tendencies and keeping youth engaged in positive activities.
For many years Pakistani culture was a model of peaceful co-existence, religious harmony and tolerance, historians say.
They are urging transmission of that message to the next generation, which has become tragically familiar with decades of violence.
The University of Peshawar's annual Art and Design Degree show, held in June, represented a golden opportunity to introduce and create such awareness about the peaceful and tolerant side of the region’s history, university officials and artists said.
Thirteen theses went on display at the university's department of art and design. They featured the work of textile and communication designers on diverse themes and topics.
After seeing the works on display, University of Peshawar Vice Chancellor Muhammad Rasul Jan said it was evident that Pakistani youth are top notch and capable of creating excellent products in art and design if given the opportunity.
Students are precious assets who need to be groomed in a manner to meet their future professional needs, he said.
Cultural events are a great way to "highlight the real face of our society", Minhaj ul Hassan, dean of the university's faculty of arts and humanities, said.
"Such exhibitions are a way of passing on our legacy to the younger generation," he told Pakistan Forward. "Almost all civilisations in this region, whether Buddhist, Islamic or Pashtun, have had a tolerant and peaceful face, and this is what the students displayed with their brushes and paint."
Ancient history of tolerance
"Our history shows that even non-Muslims remained in the protection of the locals, which showed they had always been cordial to everyone without any segregation of religion," he added.
The intolerant and extremist thinking that has afflicted some local youth comes from outside and can be dispelled through such initiatives, he said.
"Such endeavours by the younger generation are evidence that they are peace lovers and are aware of their history, which is based on peace and justice," he said.
The show, which depicted historic Peshawar buildings and displayed Swat Valley artwork, is proof of Pakistan's rich cultural heritage and long history of tolerance and moderation, University of Peshawar Registrar Syed Fazl-I-Hadi said.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), especially the old city of Peshawar, were historically multi-ethnic and multi-cultural cities where Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and many others lived in peaceful coexistence, said Ali Jan, a Peshawar-based writer and scholar of the cultural history of the region.
These different groups even participated in each others' cultural rituals and festivals, he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the younger generation knows very little about this past.
The new generation grew up in a gun culture, he said, adding that such exhibitions are an excellent effort to teach peace and tolerance to youth.
Such events will remind the younger generation about the true face of their peaceful history, he said.
"Since the war [against terrorism] and conflict have marred healthy cultural activities, the focus on the region's culture and art is a great initiative not only to create awareness among the Pashtun youth but also to show the world that Pashtuns have always been peaceful and tolerant socially and culturally," he said.