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Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized the Pakistan’s first-ever peace festival on September 23, 2022, at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), Islamabad. As International Peace Day falls on 21st September, PIPS organized the event close to it to celebrate the country’s commitment to the vision of a peaceful and stable world. In addition to highlighting the public’s larger support to the idea of Peace, the event is an effort to improve acceptance of the positive concept of peace, not just as the absence of war and violence, but one built on social norms, institution building and sustainable economic development that target structures and values supporting hatred and violence in society.

The event was attended by 534 individuals from public in addition to 50 invited guests like Government officials such as Advisor to the Prime Minister on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Romina Khurshid Alam, and Chairperson Council of Islamic Ideology Dr. Qibla Ayaz; senior politician such as Former Senator Farhatullah Babar; former and current members of civil and military bureaucracy such as Amb (R) Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, Lt Gen (R) Naeem Lodhi, Lt. Gen (R) Asif Yaseen Malik, Admiral (R) Tasnim Ahmed, Captain Rashid Nazir Ch and Rear Admiral Naeem Sarwar, SI(M); members of civil society such as chairperson HRCP Hina Jilani, managing director The Human Security Institute Iffat Pervez, director Center for Social Justice Peter Jacob, and executive director Paiman Trust Mossarat Qadeem; media persons such as senior journalist Absar Alam, senior journalist and TV host Wussatullah Khan; writer and senior columnist Ghazi Salahuddin, senior columnist Khursheed Nadeem, journalist and media trainer Aoun Sahi and digital broadcast journalist Sabookh Syed.

The event started with an inauguration ceremony where the endorsement campaign for the Charter of Peace was formally launched followed by an award ceremony for the first Pakistan Peace Award. The other activities of the festival included an art exhibition, poster competition, Theater, Musharia and Music Concert.

Inauguration Ceremony – Charter of Peace

Dr. Fizza Batool, the Project Manager, hosted the inauguration ceremony of the Pakistan Peace Festival, where she announced the start of an endorsement campaign for the Charter of Peace (CoP) – the document laying out key recommendations for countering violent extremism (CVE) and building sustainable solutions toward peace in Pakistan. Dr. Fizza compared the CoP with policy reports and briefs prepared by research institutions in the US to demand an International Organization amidst a global war and after the failure of the League of Nations. She held that it was a big dream but today we know that these reports were used as blueprints to develop the United Nations (UN) Charter proving dreams do come true. Dr. Fizza held that the purpose of this gathering is to have a similar big dream – to have a document demanding peace in Pakistan owned and endorsed by all Pakistanis. She called it a big moment as, for the endorsement of the CoP, they had been able to gather people from all pillars of the state.

Muhammad Amir Rana, Director PIPS, in his welcome remarks shared that the idea for organizing the Pakistan Peace Festival around International Peace Day was conceived with the objective of showing solidarity with people of all faith groups and nations celebrating peace around the world. He gave out details of the main activities of the day such as art exhibition, poster competition, theatre, mushaira, and music concert as an effort to spread the message of peace through varied mediums of expression. Talking on the CoP, he held that it is not an effort of a few scholars or academics but a result of several consultations with a diverse body of experts from exclusive segments of society such as legislators, religious scholars, media, youth groups, and civil rights activists. Hence, we are trying that the CoP gets endorsement from all segments of society and there shouldn’t be any clause in this document that contradicts the UN Charter, the Constitution of Pakistan, and the sociocultural norms of the society. He held that the CoP is drafted to be a comprehensive document and we are anticipating the endorsement with brief critical junctures over it.

Senior journalist Absar Alam commended the CoP and appreciated PIPS for inviting members of all pillars of the state to endorse it but held that the real test lies with its implementation. He held that from the austerity and quantity of laws in the country, one may assume Pakistan to be the most peace-loving and law-abiding country. However, practically, everyone abuses these laws in accordance with their power. He criticized society for being elitist, where an individual is valued with respect to the degree to which one can manipulate laws to enjoy a luxurious quality of life. He recommended establishing a culture of self-accountability and ending the blame game among institutions. He also pointed out the inability of the country to provide jobs and resources to the youth who make up to 60% of the society.

Convener SDGs, Minister of State & Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Rumina Khurshid Alam, asserted that the change begins from home and hence, peace is impossible without accepting diversity and differences at the individual level. She shared that she was brought up with a singular identity of being a Pakistani but had to face bullying for not having an ethnic or religious identity. She held that while religious practices should be encouraged at the societal level, individual identity must be defined around one’s country only. She held that while she does not claim that Pakistan has complete social harmony, the country is better in many ways from others as the challenges surrounding peace and harmony are present even in the most developed countries of the world. She also acclaimed the idea of Paigham-e-Pakistan where she worked alongside the Council of Islamic Ideology for its endorsement. She also tabled a bill for CVE in the Parliament which unfortunately was not accepted. Commenting on the CoP, she held that there needs to be more focus on social and civic responsibilities, giving our youth avenues to express and prove themselves, and promoting tolerance.

Senior politician and former Senator, Farhatullah Babar, held that dialogues are a pre-requisite to having peace in society and appreciated PIPS and Muhammad Amir Rana to conduct dialogue among different stakeholders. He called the Festival to be a continuation of the previously held dialogues to foster peace and harmony in the country. He recalled that while there were no peace conferences and festivals in the past, the country was at peace and now, unfortunately, despite having these activities, peace remains elusive in society. He questioned why despite these activities, we have failed to establish peace in society and answered that one prime reason could be the absence of tolerance. “Truth and wisdom cannot be monopolized by any individual or a single school of thought. It emerges only as a result of a discussion among a large number of people in which every individual lays claim to a bit of reality but not the whole truth,” remarked Farhatullah Babar.

Former Defense Secretary, Lt Gen (R) Naeem Lodhi, HI(M), held that peace is an end state but to achieve that goal one must establish a social, political, and economic just system. He held that judicial, educational, and social reforms. He held that the equality of economic opportunity is necessary to establish peace because the scarcity of resources brings discord and violence. He also highlighted the need to include health as one key element of peace. He agreed that all institutions must work within their defined boundaries, but it is equally important that political parties should bring democratic cultures within themselves. Finally, he held that there need to be media reforms to separate fake news from the real ones.

Dr. Qibla Ayaz, the Chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CCI), praised the comprehensibility of the CoP as it tries to address all possible factors hindering or damaging peace. He believed that our youth has been kept estranged from dialogue and critical thinking. So, while we consider them to be a stakeholder, we do not give their views on education or social system any credence. Our education system evaluates students based on classroom activities and any activity beyond classroom has been hindered by banning student activism. “When good is silent, the evil is empowered, so we must not let good lose its voice” he concluded.

Shahzadi Rai, a trans-rights activist and one nominee of the Pakistan Peace Prize, recommended adding a reference to the trans community in the CoP. She also criticized the ongoing campaign against the transgender act based on false propaganda without consideration of how it is impacting the community at large. She pointed out cases of 26 transgenders who have been asked to evacuate their rental houses and 3 transgenders who were killed in just a week after the propaganda campaign against the act started, owing to the growing transphobia in society. She criticized the role of religious political parties in falsely claiming the act to promote homosexuality or same-sex marriages, while the bill does not talk about it. She highlighted the absence of the trans community from main decision-making forums such as parliament and senate and reiterated the need to educate public on the law as necessary for its implementation.

The Chief Guest of the ceremony and adviser to the Prime Minister, Hon. Qamar Zaman Kaira, said that the dream of the country being a “state like a mother” had yet to come true. He emphasized on the need for collective efforts to bring peace and tolerance to society. “There are many people in the society who support values of peace and tolerance, but their voices are not reflected in the mainstream,” he said. Mr. Kaira underlined that the people with intolerant behavior had a representation in this class-based society. “We have yet to cover a new and long journey to bring peace and tolerance in society,” he said, adding that they would have to fight against their own behaviors. The adviser said that the society was still divided into ethnicities, sects and caste-based systems and the state, in the past, unfortunately used these divisions as a tool. He concluded that people would have to adopt the way that was espoused by the civilized world to bring sustainable peace in society.

Senior Program Manager at the Asia Center of the USIP, Imran Khan, presented the vote of thanks on behalf of PIPS and USIP. He held that the CoP mentions all key drivers of violence and extremism in the country be it weak democratic structure, socioeconomic inequality, gender discrimination, unavailability of economic opportunities, and others. He held that if he were to appraise the CoP, he would have called it very idealistic, but he also noted that almost all points cater to real issues, making it equally realistic. He thanked all guests of the ceremony for endorsing the collective effort of PIPS and USIP to promote peace in Pakistan through their presence and participation in the Pakistan Peace Festival.

Pakistan Peace Award Ceremony

The second activity of the Pakistan Peace Festival was the award ceremony for Pakistan Peace Prize. The host of the ceremony, Dr. Fizza Batool shared the context behind the peace award. She held that the Peace Award is an initiative by the PIPS to acknowledge the contribution of Pakistan’s civil society in peacebuilding, peacemaking, and deradicalization through their works in varied fields, be it educating people through their writings or research, bringing social justice and prosperity, advocating for gender, ethnic or racial equality or the on-ground resolution of conflict. Dr. Fizza announced that PIPS aims to keep this award an annual activity to be announced each year around International Peace Day (21st September). This year was the first and she thanked NCA for being the main supporter of this initiative.

Dr. Fizza introduced the jury members of the award as well as the process of nomination and selection of the winner. The jury members included:

  • Dr Qibla Ayaz, Chairperson Council of Islamic Ideology
  • Dr A. H. Nayyar, Physicist and Educationist
  • Hina Jilani, Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
  • Ghazi Salahuddin, Writer, columnist, and media person
  • Wussatullah Khan, Senior journalist
  • Dr Farzana Bari, Human Rights Activist
  • Romana Bashir, Women rights and minority rights activist

For taking nominations for the award, open calls for nomination were made on PIPS social media accounts, the magazine Tajziat and the public contacted the PIPS team with their nominees through calls and emails. In addition, the team made direct calls to more than 100 academics, civil society organizations, journalists, and writers from all over Pakistan to get nominations for the award. The compiled list which was composed of over 30 individuals was reviewed by Muhammad Amir Rana, Director PIPS, with the team to select 10 individuals with respect to the nomination criteria [residence in Pakistan and active work for peace during 2021-2022] and the effectiveness and sustainability of their work. All self-nominations were excluded.

Chairman Human Right Commission of Pakistan Ms. Hina Jilani announced the award on behalf of other jury members. In her remarks, she said that the importance of the Peace Award was that it was going to give recognition to the efforts of civil society. Democracy is not just the name of the right to representation and elections, it comes with a package of values based on rule of law and civil rights, she added.

Final 10 nominees for the award included: Amar Sindhu (Sindhi writer, professor, and proponent of women rights in Pakistan); Dr. Amjad Saqib (Executive Director of Akhuwat Foundation); Dr. Pervaiz Hoodbhoy (Nuclear physicist and social activist); Jalila Haider (human rights attorney and founder of We the Human); Mr. Khursheed Nadeem (Scholar, media person, social activist, and author); Mossarat Qadeem (Founder and Executive Director of the PAIMAN Alumni Trust); Peter Jackob (Director of Centre for Social Justice); Shahzad Roy (Famous singer and philanthropist); Shahzadi Rai (Karachi based trans rights activist); and Zafarullah Khan ( Civic educator and is the former Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services). Of these, the jury chose Ms. Jalila Haider as the winner.

Ms. Jalila Haider, the iron lady of Balochistan, is the first female attorney of the Hazara community, an ethnic minority group in Baluchistan, Haider is a strong supporter of protecting the rights of vulnerable communities and peacebuilding through rule of law and justice. She is a political activist serving as a member of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), a leader of the Balochistan chapter of the Women Democratic Front (WDF), and a leader of Baluchistan’s branch of the Aurat March. She has campaigned against the enforced disappearances and killings of Baloch and Pashtun political workers and has led protests and sit-ins against the ethnic cleansing of the Hazaras.

She is currently actively working on the ground for rescue and relief efforts for flood affectees in Balochistan which has been hit the hardest by the floods. According to some estimates, over 60 percent of the damage to infrastructure in Pakistan has been in this province, and her work in a province where most NGOs cannot reach is commendable. Jalila announced that the award money of 400,000 will be utilized in the flood relief work.

In her winner speech, Jalila held that she shares the award with all nominees who are individually working in their capacities to bring peace and stability to the country. “We all should continue our efforts to improve the quality of life of the vulnerable and enraged segments of the society so as to ensure equality of resources and opportunities in the country.” She thanked the public for her nomination and the jury members for selecting her from an eminent list of nominees.


Art Exhibition

One key activity at the Peace Festival was the art exhibition. Ambassador (R) Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States along with the first Peace Prize winner Ms. Jalila Haider inaugurated the art exhibition. Over 25 artists exhibited their artwork on peace comprising photographs, paintings, and sculptures.

Live Theater: Breaking the Wall

Gatha Art Group by Mafkoora Research and Development Center Peshawar performed a live theatre titled “Breaking the wall.” Director by Wagma Feroz, the play highlighted the irrationality behind violence and revolves around a woman whose son is among the missing persons and a man trying to break a wall. The main cast of the play included Naeem Mukhlis and Roma Khan and almost eleven supporting actors participated in it. The play was interactive, and the audience was inquired questions about why people opt for violence and what better options are available to resolve them peacefully.


Mushaira on Human Dignity and Respect

A mushaira on the theme of social harmony and human dignity was also part of the festival. Renowned poet Iftikhar Arif was the chief guest of the Mushaira. Other senior poets that participated in the Mushaira included Jalil Aali, Dr. Waheed Ahmed, Sajjad Azhar and Abid Sial. Using poetry as a medium, the poets highlighted the importance of human empathy and tolerance in bringing peace to society.

Poster Competition

A poster drawing competition was also organized on the theme of imagining the peaceful future of Pakistan where 18 young artists participated. In just a few hours, they created some surprisingly good pieces of art and came up with innovative ideas on what peace means to them. Some notable themes in the artwork included cultural diversity, tolerance, and social harmony. The jury reviewed the artwork and decided three winners from 18 participants based on the originality of the idea and creativity. Dr. Waheed Ahmed presented the award to the winner and held that such a competition can encourage our youth to participate in positive activities.

Music Concert

The festival ended with a music concert where five young singers performed. The idea was again to give positive activities around music and art to Pakistani youth so they can express themselves and positively use their energy.

Cultural Dance Performances

To celebrate and endorse the cultural diversity of Pakistan, dance groups representing Punjabi, Saraiki, Pathan, and Balochi cultures danced to the tunes of folk music.