The Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) conducted its fifth Pak-Afghan Youth Dialogue under its Afghan Studies Center initiative on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, as part of its ongoing series of monthly dialogues aimed at providing a platform for enhancing people to people contact between the youth of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The theme of the dialogue was “Education as a connector for peace in Pak-Afghan Relations”. The session was attended by 31 participants – 13 Afghans and 18 Pakistanis, comprising students enrolled in higher education programs in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar as well as young activists and professionals.
Executive Director Mr. Imtiaz Gul welcomed all participants and introduced CRSS as a civil society initiative committed to the cause of independent research and non-partisan advocacy. Mr. Aized Ali, Project Director, moderated the session and briefed the participants on CRSS’ Track 1.5/II project Beyond Boundaries aimed at improving bilateral relations between the two neighbors by engaging with influential stakeholders in both groups as well as both the governments as well as enhancing and fostering people to people contact. He also apprised them of the CRSS initiative Afghan Studies Center, which he explained had been a product of the Track 1.5/II meetings held over the last two years by CRSS and its Afghan counterparts.
Mr. Waseem Hashmi Syed, Advisor Human Resource Development (HRD), Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, was the chief guest. He joined the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan in 2003 and is supervising 47 projects of HEC. One of the major HEC initiatives is to strengthen the education diplomacy with Afghanistan, which includes a scholarship program for Afghan students.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Hashmi welcomed the young Afghan and Pakistani participants and appreciated the efforts of CRSS, emphasizing that both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been in need of such youth-oriented programs for ingenious young minds who can push for positive change. Speaking on the theme, he said education diplomacy is the one of the contemporary approaches in modern times which can play an effective role in bringing the two nations closer in a constructive way. Mr. Hashmi told the participants that he has been frequently traveling to Afghanistan for educational collaboration, particularly for conducting selection tests in various regions of Afghanistan, and that he has always been warmly welcomed there. He also stated that during his meetings with the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan, they commended the model of HEC in Pakistan which they aspire to install using the help of Pakistani academic experts.
He informed the participants that the HEC launched the Allama Iqbal Scholarship program for 3000 Afghan students in 2016 which includes undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate studies programs, out of which 750 scholarships will be awarded this year; comprising 600 for undergraduate students, 120 for medical, and 100 plus for engineering and other disciplines. He also said that HEC will expand the number of scholarships for Masters and PhD Degrees. Scholarships for Masters and PhD will be awarded to faculty members on the request of the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan to improve their capacity. As part of this scholarship program, the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan requested for 100 scholarships exclusively for females, based on regional representation, to which HEC already agreed. The HEC is also in the process of laying the groundwork for some more initiatives with Afghanistan which include; sending Pakistani resource persons to Afghanistan for training Afghan faculty; Afghan medical teams visiting Pakistan for training purposes and starting additional short certificate courses at very low tuition fee or no fee at all. Furthermore, HEC intends to celebrate “Iqbal Day” in Afghanistan at the end of November this year, as Iqbal – the national poet of Pakistan – is widely respected across Afghanistan due to his Persian (Dari) poetry.
During the discussion session, both Afghan and Pakistani participants raised various issues. An Afghan participant pointed towards the issue of visa problems faced by Afghan students once enrolled in an educational institute in Pakistan and, in particular, the ambiguity regarding their status as foreign or local student. Mr. Hashmi told the participants that HEC has already requested respective authorities to at least grant one year multiple entry visa to Afghan students to address this problem. Responding to the another question, Mr. Hashmi said that HEC intends to give Afghan students a special status, so that they will not have to pay higher fee or hostel charges like other foreign students.
Participants discussed various other aspects of educational collaboration between the two countries. Students from both sides urged the need for more people to people contact, especially the youth via educational platforms to better understand each other. Participants of the dialogue also praised the efforts of CRSS and stated that such dialogues and platforms would enable young Afghans and Pakistanis to create youth as a pressure group to mobilize for positive relations between the two countries.
Concluding the dialogue, Mr. Hashmi shook hands with all the participants as a sign of goodwill.
Sarfaraz Ahmed Orakzai from Pakistan was nominated as Pak-Afghan Youth Ambassador and was awarded a shield by Mr. Aized Ali. In the previous dialogue, Ms. Syeda Rahimi from Afghanistan was nominated as the Youth Ambassador. The session ended with tea/coffee and refreshments, giving the participants a chance to interact with each other as well as the CRSS team.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.
Source: Afghan Studies Center