Working with youth to build a better future for Kashmir
Conciliation Resources’ partners Waqas Ali and Fayaz Ahmad Dar have been working on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) with young people in Kashmir.
Through this they have sought to understand and communicate the needs and concerns of the young people; facilitated the meeting of youth from across divided parts of Kashmir and provided space for them to articulate ideas about how to work together towards a better future.
“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 the past. Engage them constructively, and you get a more stable youth that believe in political processes,” enthuses Waqas, who works in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan on the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir.
Waqas and Fayaz, working with a group of dedicated young people from Kashmir’s different regions, have most recently produced a collaborative publication, Vision 2020. This document – through the articulation of a set of seven joint values –seeks to reflect the socio-economic, educational and political vision of young people in Jammu and Kashmir across both sides of the LoC.
As Fayaz clarifies: “The development of the core values and articulation of the vision is potentially a ground-breaking exercise. The emergence and use of the core values has enabled us to open the conversation with people who otherwise were reluctant to engage with the process. For example, it has helped us significantly increase and improve the participation of people from Jammu and Ladakh. Exploring and trying to internalise these values has also opened up possibilities of building a constituency for peace and justice.”
Fayaz works with young people on the Indian-administered side of Kashmir. He has conducted research and produced reports on the needs and aspirations of over 3,000 youth in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.
“The needs assessments were focused on the issues and complaints the young people had. Even though the situation on the ground has not changed, our work has moved to a ‘solutions’ phase – we are working with young people talking about how to build their vision for the future,” he states.
Likewise, Waqas has conducted research with over 3,000 young people, bringing their unheard voices to a larger public and has also worked to produce two needs assessments, one on AJK and one on Gilgit-Baltistan. He engaged the young people through workshops, trainings and intensive discussion – ensuring the process was inclusive of people with a range of different opinions and from different backgrounds.
“We feel that people are being fed narratives that do not represent the voices of young people. The findings from this research have received feedback from wider civil society and I have undertaken media interviews, appearing on TV and in print media, to help positively challenge existing narratives.” Waqas elaborates.
From the research, Waqas created ten consensus points and then shared these with policymakers, providing feedback to the government of AJK. Of the many suggestions they made to the local government during these consultations, three were taken directly on board and included in a youth bill passed by parliament.
“We were 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 100 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 striving to have an impact, at least at a local level,” Waqas adds.
Following the first phase of work, Waqas and Fayaz, along with Conciliation Resources, organised for a group of young people from either side of the LoC to meet in South Africa. It was through this exchange that the young people started to identify the set of joint core values.
These values – dignity and trust; equality and justice; freedom and responsibility; inclusivity and participation; individual, family and community wellbeing; relationships and collaborative learning; and self-sufficiency and sustainability – form an ethical basis upon which to build a better future.
The values, and the dynamic process through which they were conceived, have the potential to be catalyst for transformation of the region and for the creation of the peaceful future that people want to see.