Waqas Ali Kausar works with youth across Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan on the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir. Through providing the young people with a platform where they can share their stories, articulate their vision and develop their understanding and aspirations in a way that is more collaborative and inclusive, he is fostering a greater sense of peace among them. He participated in a fellowship exploring gender and peacebuilding in 2011.
If you empower young people and give them a voice, they are less likely to move towards a path of violence as has happened in past. Engage them in productive means, and you get a more stable youth that believe in political processes.
How did undertaking this fellowship impact you personally?
For me, I gained so much from the fellowship, personally and relating to my peacebuilding work. Especially in Northern Ireland, I gained real insight from seeing how people have been promoting transformation of society and building trust. I discovered how civil society plays a role and learnt how to empower people. In particular, I met women who have been very active and saw how they have created a role in the peace process and how they have been able to build links between the different groups.
It was extremely empowering for me in terms of my work and helped me to think more creatively and constructively. Seeing young people and women playing an important role in Northern Ireland inspired me. Through the fellowship I developed my belief and faith in what is possible.
What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?
The fellowship gave me exposure to lots of different peacebuilding examples and approaches, but it also opened up the possibility of new areas of research and interventions in my work. The training we undertook on responding to conflict – the first time I had undertaken formal and structured training ¬– was very useful. Having a diverse group of people from over 20 different places, I was able to learn from other contexts. It helped me realise that it is necessary to have different processes, structures and frameworks for responding to the larger Kashmir conflict, as well as developing a model that is relevant to our own context.
A visit to British parliament, and also to Belfast, helped me to understand the system and how political processes can help in transforming conflict. I was able to build connections, for example, I met two or three lords, originally from Pakistan, who I am still in contact with.
How have you applied what you learnt to your work?
Following the fellowship, I started conducting numerous trainings based on what I learnt – particularly for young people and women. We trained between 3,000 and 4,000 young people in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan – taking the learning from basic understanding of conflicts, to how to do conflict analysis and conflict mapping, as well as looking at different approaches and solutions.
Of the people trained, many are young professionals doing work in their context. They have been taking forward what they have learnt from the trainings in their own areas and organisations. We also delivered conflict transformation workshops and generated dialogue and links between young people in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan – two areas that are politically separate and have very little interaction. I applied a model of dialogue I gained through this fellowship. Such discussions between young people from either region have never happened before. During my work, I always provide examples from Northern Ireland to make it real for people.
Based on what I learnt, we have conducted significant research with over 3,000 young people in Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK, to bring unheard voices to a larger public. People are being fed narratives that do not represent the voices of young people. We engaged the young people through workshops, trainings and intensive discussions, ensuring the process was inclusive – including people with a range of different opinions and from different backgrounds. To move further, we have also built links with young people on the other side of the LoC.
The findings from this research have received feedback from wider civil society and I have been invited to do media interviews ¬¬– appearing on TV and in the printed media – to positively challenge existing narratives, share peacebuilding approaches and discuss the views of young people. We managed to create ten consensus points between the young people of AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan and we engaged policymakers – providing feedback to the government of AJK. Of the suggestions we made to the government to improve things for young people, three were directly taken on board and included in a youth bill passed by parliament. These were to create a youth parliament, set up a youth loan scheme and conduct youth skill-building.
We were also invited to contribute to the manifestos of the two main parties regarding youth issues – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) AJK and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) AJK. PPP accepted one hundred per cent of the suggestions from the group. We shared the youth reports with senior ministers in AJK, including the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Deputy Speaker and opposition leader.
We are now taking the work forward, building links with people on the other side of the LoC and have articulated a shared vision for the future. Through this we consulted over 3,000 young people. We are now confident in developing a constituency of young people that is more empowered, informed and able to play a constructive role in peacebuilding.