PESHAWAR -- Civil society organisations are focusing on boosting the education sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to prevent militancy and promote peace in the region.
Two organisations in particular -- Karwan Tanzeem, based in Peshawar, and the British Pashtoon Association (BPA), based in the UK -- are joining forces to raise the education level, create awareness among youth, and steer them away from militancy, violence and extremism.
Raising public awareness, participation
Karwan Tanzeem has been working since 2006 to prevent terrorism and improve education.
The organisation has 40 councils comprised of intellectuals and specialists to help encourage reform of government institutions, said Khalid Ayub, chairman of the NGO.
"Nothing is viable for government institutions without public participation," he told Pakistan Forward, giving the example of KP's Dispute Resolution Councils, which he said came into being in part from the efforts of Karwan.
"Similarly, Karwan, with the support of the public, persuaded the government to upgrade the pay scale of teachers," Ayub said.
"Now we are going to create awareness among the youth in the region, which was badly affected by extremists and terrorists, and provide them with education, skills and positive activities for a peaceful and progressive society," he said.
Joint efforts in education
"We are devising a strategy to root out the causes leading innocent youth to [get involved with] destructive activities," Ayub said. "BPA has already agreed to support us in this noble cause."
BPA has provided assistance to the Pashtun community in the UK, particularly youth and students, for the past 15 years, according to BPA President Fazl-e-Rabi, a civil engineer.
BPA decided to work in KP to alter the mindset of society, which extremists severely exploited, he said.
"We have a dire need to create awareness among youngsters to keep them away from militancy, violence and extremism," he said.
Fazl, a native of Dir District, KP, is leading a delegation of 10 UK-based Pashtun community members visiting Pakistan.
BPA joined hands with Karwan to achieve their common goal -- to help raise the education level of students in KP, he said.
"We can support and help educational institutions in KP for result-oriented education, which will help the students to face the new challenges of the future," Fazl said.
Steering youth away from extremism
In addition to education, youth need skill training that can lead to employment, progress and a prosperous society, Fazl said, adding that "poor and jobless youth can be made easily vulnerable [to extremists]."
He wants youth to become productive members of society and engaged in activities beneficial to humanity, rather than waste their energies on hatred and destructive activities.
"The peaceful citizen can contribute towards peace," he said. "Now is the proper time to raise awareness among youth about exploiters and enemies of peace."
Religious leaders and the restoration of hujra (male social gatherings) and jirga (consultation meetings) can help achieve these goals, he said.
"Terrorists use youth for their nefarious designs," he said, adding that this is a global problem.
"This is alarming not only for KP, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Pakistan, but also for other countries of the world," he said.
"Karwan [wants to] use the energies of youth in a proper and constructive way," he said.
"We will also go to the government for help in this regard," he said, suggesting that the government "set up entertainment centres, parks, playgrounds, stadiums and sports complexes for youth".
Education, social reform
BPA is focusing on a new model of education, said Tahira Rabi, president of the BPA women's wing and wife of Fazl.
"Just passing an examination with high marks or getting degrees is the old system," she told Pakistan Forward. "Now we need a new mode of education through which students can play an effective and demanding role in society."
Tahira, an educator, offered her services to help KP introduce a result-oriented education system.
"Like in the UK, here in Pakistan we can try to introduce such an education system," she said. "Just passing exams is not important, but contributing to society is essential."
Restructuring the education system is essential for changing the mindset of youth, agreed Shiraz Paracha, chairman of the journalism department at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan.
"Apart from reforms of the curriculum and education system, teachers should receive proper training to address students' needs," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Building personality and character is needed in schools and colleges," said Paracha, adding, "Merely getting degrees and high marks won't change society."
'War and violence are not the solution'
"Jihad is not the name of war but for doing good, charity work; helping others and participating in any good activity are also considered jihad," Prof. Basharat Hussain, former chairman of the University of Peshawar department of social work, told Pakistan Forward.
He appreciates the idea of utilising youth in positive activities.
"The youth of KP and FATA are talented, but unfortunately because of lack of guidance and of jobs, [terrorists have] misled them," Hussain said. "Terrorism ruined KP and FATA economically ... besides damaging the infrastructure."
Community intervention is necessary for a peaceful society, he added.
"War and violence are not the solution for any issue," he said. "Mutual respect, talks, debates and a give-and-take policy can address any dispute amicably."
"Youth should be engaged in constructive activities, and finally ... society will be developed and peaceful," he said.