PESHAWAR -- A burgeoning group of "Peace Ambassadors" is forming in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), encouraged by the Youth Anti-Terrorism Organisation (YATO) to fight religious extremism and violence.
"In the prevailing circumstances as we witness terrorists ... mercilessly killing innocent countrymen including men, women and even children, it is imperative for every citizen to rise against tyranny and serve as 'Ambassadors of Peace' by preaching the message of peace," YATO Chairman Muhammad Asif told Pakistan Forward.
"Formed in 2010 in the wake of a spate of bomb blasts in Pakistan in general and KP in particular, the organisation has convinced hundreds of people to serve as Peace Ambassadors," he said.
"We have scores of members who are ... sensitising people in their respective localities about the importance of peace and the damage caused by violence and extremism."
Terrorists have caused unspeakable damage to the lives and property of the Pakistani people, and a growing number of citizens are interested in countering this threat, said YATO General Secretary Syed Abbas Shah.
"When YATO was formed, there were only few members," he told Pakistan Forward. "But with the passage of time, people keep on coming and joining us, making our strength in the hundreds."
"The atrocities meted out by militants to the people of Pakistan cannot be narrated in words," he said.
YATO's objective is "to raise awareness among communities, especially youth, regarding anti-terrorism activities", Abbas said.
It raises awareness about the needs of bombing survivors to help them obtain financial assistance from the government and other relevant organisations, he said.
YATO also contributes financial assistance to orphans whose parents were killed in terrorist attacks and provides them a free education.
'All citizens must stand against terrorism'
"The Youth Anti Terrorism Organization has been working for the past seven years on a self-help basis with the mission of dousing the fire of religious extremism," said Mian Fazal Dad, vice chairman of YATO, referring to YATO's policy of funding its workshops out of its officers' own pockets.
Speaking to participants of a sensitisation workshop in Peshawar on February 22, Fazal Dad said it is imperative for all citizens, especially youth, to stand against terrorism and save humanity from destruction.
"Our mission is restoration of peace," he said. "To attain this sacred goal, we are even ready to shed our blood or give our lives."
He urged participants of the workshop to spread the message of peace in their respective communities and to tell others to foil terrorist plans by co-operating with security forces and by staying united.
"Security forces cannot fight this menace [alone]," he said. "People have to play their role and extend support to them for getting rid of this hazard."
"The Peace Ambassadors are facing great hardships, even threats to their lives, for spreading peace and fighting radicalism," said Asif, the YATO chairman.
Asif said he receives threatening phone calls regularly.
On February 7, unknown assailants even attacked Asif's 10-year-old son, smashing a sheet of glass over his head. The boy needed several stitches.
Three years ago, the son of another YATO activist was kidnapped and killed, Asif said. Police made two arrests in the case; one person received life in prison, and the other is still going through the judicial process.
Peace activists speak out
"The task of spreading peace in our society is a very difficult job because our society is in the grip of terrorism and the enemy is hidden," said Pervez Khan, a college student who attended the YATO sensitisation workshop February 22.
Pervez said he decided to become a YATO member "because I want peace in my country and region".
"Without peace we cannot progress, and if this effort needs my contribution, I will fully participate in it," he told Pakistan Forward.
Pervez said he asked YATO to hold the next sensitisation session in his community of Momin Town, Peshawar, so that he can convey the message of peace to his friends and relatives.
Basharat Ali, a college student in his 20s and a first-time attendee at the YATO awareness workshop, expressed his resolve to become a Peace Ambassador.
"I am impressed with the mission of YATO because lawlessness is the biggest problem we are facing," he told Pakistan Forward. "It not only affects our progress but endangers our lives."