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Building Bridges – Afghan Pakistan CSO exchange visit is breaking new ground.

In order to enable civil society actors from Afghanistan to engage in dialogues with their peers in Pakistan on issues of mutual interest, including peace building and reconciliation; Counterpart’s I-PACS team organized an exchange visit for Afghan youth civil society leaders to Pakistan. During the four-day visit, participants from both sides of the border were able to discuss opportunities, challenges, and strategies pertaining to youth participation in the peace and reconciliation process, identifying opportunities and developing strategies for supporting meaningful participation. As a result of initial discussions it was quickly ascertained that there remains significant misconceptions from both parties about their neighbors; and that these misconceptions continue to fuel many of the problems that exist between the two countries.

Awareness raising and trust building sessions were arranged as an ice-breaking opportunity and to challenge some of these negative stereotypes. Throughout the four days, numerous workshops were facilitated, including; interactive question and answer sessions; a ‘Lets Listen’ session where Afghan participants were invited to present their personal experiences; a ‘Promoting Regional Peace and Stability – The Role of the Youth’ workshop; a ‘Youth Programs in Pakistan’ presentation of youth based initiatives; and a training workshop on ‘Defining Conflict and Non-Violent Conflict Resolution’.

In addition, participants met with Pakistan media, Think Tanks and Academics and given the opportunity to share ideas and information. Mr. Hamidullah Muazem, the Deputy Executive Director of I-PACS partner organization Assistance to Defend Women’s Rights Organizations (ADWRO), commented; “I think this four-day event was a wonderful opportunity for Afghanistan CSOs to continue our commitment with Pakistan CSOs for mutual cooperation. I think that we should propose a non-violent culture of negotiations; youth involvement in such processes is vital if we are to fight for a sustainable peace, economic growth and a shared culture”. The exchange visit concluded having identified the need to redefine relationships, to reinforce the need for ongoing exchange visits for further exploration of mutual interests to build social-economic prosperity between the two countries, and to encourage CSOs to engage both at a joint sectorial level and as individuals to promote peace and stability within the region. It was proposed that future exchange visits should be scheduled on an annual basis and include sporting events, literature and arts exchanges, and the creation of a mutual website and the facilitation of a public awareness media campaign to help address the negative perceptions shared by the people of both nations. This visit was the first step for both Afghan and Pakistan CSOs to begin to build stronger links towards a brighter future. Keep checking out our Facebook page for further developments!