PESHAWAR --A Pakistani NGO is working to strengthen peace nationwide and help form a prosperous Pakistan.
The Islamabad-based Peace Education and Development (PEAD) Foundation's priority is spreading awareness.
"During the past decade, the country's gravest threat has been terrorism," Shagufta Khaliq, the senior co-ordinator of the PEAD Peshawar office, told Pakistan Forward.
"Since 2002, the PEAD Foundation has been engaged in de-radicalisation and counter-extremism efforts," she said.
In those 14 years, PEAD conducted multiple programmes to raise awareness of non-violence as a way of life, the effects of radicalisation and the virtues of religious and social harmony, good governance and respect for human rights.
Working with everyone
It cast a wide net, co-operating with local groups, government agencies, students, teachers and officials at all levels, including lady councilors (female members of district, tehsil and union councils), to fight extremism.
"Our group discussions focused on conflict resolution measures, avoiding clashes and preventing the new generation from slipping into the hands of militants," Shagufta said.
PEAD facilitators conducting awareness sessions inform participants about conflict avoidance and about the national dangers posed by extremism, she added.
Many goals, one direction
PEAD's projects tackle many issues, but all of them are meant to build peace in a country that has seen too much terrorism.
One of its most significant projects is "Just a Sustainable Peace", Shagufta said, describing it as an attempt to reform school curricula to fight extremism and to promote a peaceful society.
Another project initiated interaction between public school students and seminary students, she said, adding that it is meant to eliminate misunderstandings and to enable seminary students to learn about modern public schooling.
PEAD took some Muslim college students to visit Sikh and Hindu houses of worship in an effort to promote inter-faith harmony, she said.
Pakistan needs "an excess of love and respect for all" to overcome "hatred and negative perceptions", Shagufta said.
One Muslim college student learned much from his visit to a Sikh gurdwara in Peshawar October 30.
"I had never seen a gurdwara in my life," Rashid Khan told reporters afterward. "I had many wrong perceptions beforehand."
He expressed amazement by the warm welcome that the Sikh community extended to his student group.
A local Sikh community leader, Charan Jeet Singh, gave an orientation session to the visiting students.
"We Muslims and Sikhs ... should live together peacefully," he said.
PEAD is unwavering in its determination to end the country's feuding and violence.
"To defeat extremism, we must build a society where rule of law, accountability and justice prevail," PEAD founder and executive director Sameena Imtiaz told Pakistan Forward.
In addition, PEAD focuses on youth and conducts targeted programmes to build their capacity as future leaders and voices of reason, she said.
Creating livelihoods and earning society's gratitude
Many Pakistanis have learned a trade or started a business with PEAD's help, reducing the number of hungry and disaffected citizens vulnerable to extremist messages.
"A short course in computers helped me get a job in the Qissa Khwani bazaar [in Peshawar]," Mouazam Iqbal, a seminary student, told Pakistan Forward.
He came from an impoverished family headed by a disabled father and was grateful to PEAD for helping him become a responsible citizen, he said.
Unfortunately, "abject poverty and lack of resources have made hundreds of thousands of [Pakistanis] vulnerable to radicalism," Taimur Kamal of Peshawar, co-ordinator of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Civil Society Network, told Pakistan Forward.
NGOs like PEAD "have played a very important role in shrinking the wave of radicalism in our society, either by creating awareness or by providing job training", he said.
The role of civil society in fighting terrorism will be cast in gold in history's annals, he added.
Qamar Naseem of Peshawar, an active member of the KP Civil Society Network who has faced militant threats himself, is similarly impressed by NGOs' contribution to fighting terrorism.
Organisations like PEAD "serve as a bulwark against terrorism", he said, adding that such groups "have saved a large number of people from becoming extremists."
Pakistan will need the work of civil society, not just crackdowns by security forces, to defeat extremism, he said.
The public should acknowledge the role of NGOs like PEAD in fighting extremism, he concluded.