Launched on April 25, 2017, Afghan Studies Center (ASC), a Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS)’s self-funded initiative, brought together over 360 young Pakistanis and Afghans in its 20 Pak-Afghan youth dialogues and training workshops over the course of the past year. The workshops were focused on a range of issues of mutual concern, bilateral peace and cooperation, along with skill development for the youth of both countries.
On the forum of the Center’s youth dialogues, recurring points raised by participants included the need for bilateral cooperation in the economic sector, particularly trade, as well as education; which they believed was a contributing factor in eradicating extremism and allowing development on both sides. The role of the media – both electronic and print – as well as the social media, also surfaced consistently at these debates. The outcome of these debates on media highlighted the mindfulness of the youth in understanding that negativities on the mainstream media were created as part of malevolent propaganda by certain factions and should be scrutinized for ending misperceptions.
Participation in these activities by both Pakistani and Afghan youth has been a great source of encouragement and exhibits the desire of youth on both sides to normalize and improve Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations. In their various testimonials, video messages, and speeches (available on the website), young men and women from both countries continually reminded each other of their commonalities. These commonalities primarily included language, culture, religion, ethnicities, and ancestors for some, and, based on this, being inseparable neighbours. The participants also urged the governments of both countries to overcome the growing trust deficit by engaging in direct talks.
The latest youth dialogue held on April 25 focused on the theme of the resumption of Pak-Afghan state level dialogue and future bilateral prospects following Pakistan’s PM Khaqaan Abbasi’s visit to Kabul on the invitation of President Ashraf Ghani. Key note speakers engaging in the interactive discussion with the young participants were senior journalist Hasan Khan and former Ambassador Ayaz Wazir, who shared the youth’s concerns regarding the need for cooperation in matters of security, trade, education and, development between both neighbours.
CRSS, as part of its efforts to improve bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, undertook this major Pak-Afghan confidence building initiative to involve the youth – future leaders seeking sustainable solutions for challenges facing both countries – and to serve as a bridge between them by facilitating a healthy interaction on its platform. The initiative emerged as a result of CRSS’ track 1.5/II project Beyond Boundaries’ meetings – an ongoing project since October 2015 having held 14 meetings between influencers of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the government and non-government stakeholders- which stressed on the need for involving the youth from both countries in joint academic activities and providing them such a platform. ASC carries out different activities in this regard aimed at promoting academic, research, and cultural exchanges, allowing the youth belonging to both countries to become messengers of peace and cooperation between the two nations.
Its activities include an internship/fellowship program exclusively for Afghans, a monthly Pak-Afghan youth dialogue, monthly training and capacity building workshops, research on issues of bilateral and regional interests, the ‘Youth Voices’ initiative where the Afghan and Pakistani youth can get their voices heard through video messages or personal published stories, and cultural get togethers.
So far, the Center has conducted 11 Pak-Afghan Youth Dialogues on issues of bilateral significance such as enhancing trade, political scenarios, role of media, addressing the issue of extremism, education as a connector for peace, finding common grounds for cooperation. These workshops also tried to encourage an informed discourse and debate among its young Pakistani and Afghan participants alongside distinguished experts of the relevant fields. The Center also conducted nine capacity building youth training workshops, to develop their skill and inculcate critical thinking on topics touching wide-ranging themes, by expert trainers. The themes for workshops are non-political, objective, and academic in nature. The Center also provided internships to 4 Afghan nationals studying in Pakistani universities belonging to Badakhsan, Jalalabad, Maidan Wardak and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan.
The CRSS, through its Afghan Studies Center, aims to continue this initiative in order to reduce the trust deficit between both the neighbours, with the hope that the younger generation would help bring both the countries together.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.