Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, Critical Connections, and the Islamabad-based Peace and Education Foundation (PEF) are together leading a program, Collaborating Against Violent Sectarianism, to promote greater sectarian tolerance in Pakistan. A cycle of violence against members of different Islamic religious sects, mostly perpetrated by extremist organizations, has claimed over 2,300 lives since 2007 and contributes to much wider feelings of intolerance. However, faith-based groups and secular organizations in Pakistan have very different perspectives on the causes of militancy and how these should be addressed—so they fail to rally around a common agenda for promoting tolerance and peace. This is the problem our joint program addresses, by bringing together diverse secular and religious leadership in Pakistan.
Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia militant groups in Pakistan killed more than 2,300 people in Pakistan’s four main provinces alone between 2007 and 2013—and the situation has not improved. While local networks perpetrate most of this violence, sectarian movements also have ties to terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda and Tehrik-al-Taliban—the group that committed a massacre of 144 people at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan almost exactly one year ago today.
Our workshop, from November 19-22 in Islamabad, was the first step of a longer-term project that is already breaking new ground. Working closely with the Pakistan-based Peace and Education Foundation, Mehlaqa Samdani of Critical Connections facilitated an ideologically diverse group of 24 participants representing four sectors in Pakistan: human rights, education, religious clergy, and the media. Within a highly charged religious and political climate, our program is unique because it brings “secular” leadership together with religious leaders, who themselves represent four different major sects—including from some of the most conservative seminaries in the country.
As part of Karuna Center's 20th Anniversary year—connecting with our past, and looking ahead to build the future—we recently interviewed our dear colleague Mossarat Qadeem. Mossarat founded the Paiman Alumni Trust (www.paimantrust.org) a Pakistani peacebuilding and community empowerment organization. With Paiman, Mossarat established the country’s first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding.
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