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PIPS holds Consultation on “Promoting Narratives of Diversity, Inclusion, and Peace among Youth” in Quetta

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized a two-day consultation on “Promoting Narratives of Diversity, Inclusion, and Peace among Youth” on 14th and 15th March, 2023 at Serena Hotel, Quetta.

The consultation consisted of four sessions on different themes, which was attended by politicians, academics, provincial government officials, journalists, lawyers, rights activists, civil society representatives, and students, among others.

The speakers at the consultation called for ensuring rule of law, justice, equality, and fair distribution of resources to promote diversity, and inclusion among the youth, especially of Balochistan.

The experts underlined that no policy for the Baloch youth was in force at present. They further said that the present system of education has failed to provide any skills to the youth that could help them compete in the job market. They added that after the 18th Amendment, Balochistan should be allowed to form its own curriculum keeping in view the requirements of the local youth.

The speakers argued that Baloch youth should be engaged and their problems be addressed at relevant platforms. They called for initiating a dialogue with the youth and making a youth-friendly education policy. They also urged the Balochistan government to take steps to form the province’s own higher education commission.

Session I: The Challenges of Navigating a Multicultural and Multiethnic Society

Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana moderated the session that discussed building cultural awareness and developing understanding of the dynamics of multiculturalism among youth; and incorporating Balochistan’s religious and ethnic diversity into education to improve youths’ social skills to interact in a multicultural setting. It also deliberated on strategies for curbing religious and ethnic prejudices among youth; and empowering them to become advocates of multiculturalism.

Opening the discussion, Rana said that the purpose of the exercise was to give all recommendations and main discussion points the shape of a document to disseminate the same among policymakers, and legislators. This will help them make changes in the present educational curriculum and to make a comprehensive policy for the well-being of youth, he added.

Director PIPS posed a question to the participants whether nationalist politics’ tendencies promote diversity, and support multiculturalism or lead towards exclusive identity? “What is the level of interaction of people having nationalist ideology with those who have different political and religious thoughts?” he asked.

Central Chairman of Baloch Student Organization (Pajjar) Zubair Baloch taking part in the discussion claimed that nationalist, and Baloch student politics was not based on religious extremism, and ethnicity but its struggle was for the weak and unprivileged segments of the society. He underlined that their fight was between “zalim” (oppressor) and “mazloom” (oppressed) and not against any language and ethnicity. He added that the only solution to the problems of Balochistan was redressal to the injustices done to its people.

Dr Jahanzeb Baloch, Associate Professor at Area Study Center for Middle East and Arab Countries of the University of Balochistan, said that the present educational system didn’t accept diversity. “We even try to stifle diversity if it is being promoted somewhere.”

He said that even multiculturalism in the society was considered a taboo. “The multicultural and multiethnic system cannot be developed in the society because there is historical silence in the syllabus about people living with different religious, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversities in the region.”

Educationalist and poet Ali Baba Taj said that after the 18th Amendment, the provinces were facing problems to handle the education sector. He said that there was a precarious situation in the education sector in Balochistan as major universities of the province were lacking funds to give salaries to the staff. “The higher education and schools as well as formal and informal sectors of education are facing crisis”. He urged the need to develop a multicultural and multiethnic society adding that the province was doing nothing to develop a curriculum in this regard.

Dr Nasrullah Khan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Center for Peace and Development, Balochistan, speaking on the occasion said that Balochistan was a multicultural and multi-national province but it was not being recognized at any level, neither by state nor political parties and student organizations — a reason of all problems. He said that they had never recognized that there was beauty in diversity in religion, ethnicity, and language. “There are weaknesses in the state structure and its governance, but we ourselves don’t want to work in the given space,” he said.

President Balochistan Council for Peace and Policy Dr Mir Sadaat Baloch said that there was no consensus on the concept of nationalism as the people sitting in Islamabad labelled the nationalists as sub-nationalists. “We all people sitting here are confused about culture because the state has told us that religion is bigger than culture.”

Sadaat Baloch said that youth were facing an identity crisis. He criticized the Single National Curriculum and remarked that any such curriculum was not only a recipe of disaster for diversity but also would kill inclusion among youth as well. He urged that youth should be allowed to form their own perspective and to encourage them to learn interpersonal skills, civic sense, and non-violent communication.

Farman Ali Shah, Focal Person of Policy Planning and Implementation Unit (PPIU) of the Balochistan government, said that education was not the preference of the state as the curriculum was outdated with many mistakes. “We all, both government and society, have to play our role to make education a preference,” he said.

Shah said that many ambiguities existed after the 18th Amendment. The centre always denied giving funds for education considering it a devolved subject but it still imposes education policy on the province, he added. “We are still confused about the powers of the centre and province (in the education sector).” He said. He informed the participants that PPIU has formed Balochistan Education Sector Plan 2022-25, which was being implemented at ground level.

Mahnoor Baloch, lecturer at the University of Balochistan, said that the university curriculum was not up to the mark. She opposed the semester system saying it didn’t match their system and has proved counterproductive. “The teacher is not fulfilling the needs of the student and the quality education is almost zero.”

Senior journalist and author Yar Jan Badini objected that people were being asked about their mother tongue and not ethnicity in the on-going digital census. He feared that this would decrease the number of Baloch people in the province in the final count. He explained that Baloch people speak many languages including Balochi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Brahavi, Khetrani etc. He stressed that they have to preserve all ethnicities, languages, and cultures.

Former President of the Balochistan Professors and Lecturers Association Hameed Khan said that national or cultural diversity was a privilege and blessing, which unluckily had become a curse for the people of Balochistan. He said that every diversity, be it in the form of ethnicity, language, and religion, in Balochistan was being exploited by different foreign states to make the province a battlefield of proxy wars. He said that the state itself has been crushing diversity in Pakistan in the name of religion, and language.

Khan said that there was space available for bringing reforms in the education sector, which has now shrunk further in the present political and economic crises. He remarked that the Balochistan government should have at least formed its own higher education commission after the 18th Amendment so that they could make their own syllabus and education policy.

Central Vice President National Party Dr Ishaque Baloch emphasized that diversity used to give strength to the state but unfortunately the latter did not recognize the former in the context of Pakistan. “The problem begins when the state doesn’t recognize that Pakistan is a diverse state.” He said implementation of the Constitution in letter and spirit can be the ultimate solution to their major problems.

Session II: Balochistan Youth Policy: Current Status, Challenges, and Opportunities

Programme Manager PIPS Ahmed Ali moderated the session, which discussed Balochistan Youth Policy, its status, obstacles, and opportunities; youth engagement in legislation with focus on participation; youth rights; and creating opportunities for improved youth participation in politics, and governance.

Dr Siraj Bashir, Director Research at Balochistan Think Tank Network, claimed that Balochistan has no youth policy as a draft was prepared in 2015 but it was not finally approved. He said that the youth make 52 percent of the total population in Balochistan and this entire population has no direction. “We have no policy to engage youth,” he said, adding that then no one should blame that youth have slipped from their hands.

Dr Nasrullah Khan, CEO of the Center for Peace and Development, Balochistan, said that the draft of youth policy was lying pending with the parliamentary committee which has yet not approved it. He said apparently that policy was a duplicate of youth policies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as he policymakers wanted to introduce the same with some changes. He said that the main theme of the policy was to give technical skills to youth to give them opportunities in the CEPC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects and newly-built industrial areas of the province.

Nasrullah in his critique on the policy draft said that it did not mention educating youth about their political, social, and economic roles. “It also did not address the demand for improving the quality of education.”  He proposed that youth policy should stress on giving job opportunities to youth in the private sector including industry, agriculture, and livestock besides giving them training to do such jobs.

General Secretary National Party Jan Muhammad Buledi said that Pakistan youth has lost confidence in the state and all other forces. He said that youth thought that they were not a priority as neither they were under discussion nor there was some planning for them. “Due to this reason, youth are missing in all political and social activities.”

Buledi said that youth did not find space for themselves in education, jobs, politics, and political parties. He claimed that the last Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had slashed the higher education budget by 50 percent. He said that the situation of education in Balochistan was worst among all provinces due to the low number of schools, and their long distances from localities.

He urged the political parties to engage youth and give them due space while the state should give them confidence. He said that even the entire Pakistan has no practical policy for youth and underlined that any upcoming government in Balochistan should introduce a policy in this connection.

Professor Sher Zaman, Managing Director Balochistan Education Foundation, viewed that the government had very weak regulations over private schools. At the same time, he admitted that private schools provide a result-oriented quality of education and have contributed more as compared with the public sector. He said 2,400 government schools in Balochistan were closed and 2,500 were partially opened. “Balochistan should form its own higher education commission.” He urged that political parties should make education one of its priorities.

Dr Tariq Baloch, President Balochistan Professors and Lecturers Association, called for identifying those areas where youth were being exploited only to shut them down to make a good youth policy. He said that bureaucracy in Balochistan has placed the province’s education expenditures under the head of the non-development budget unlike the world practice that education was placed under the development sector.

Baloch argued that the province should rectify this mistake to bring all spending on education under the development budget because this sector was involved in human resource development. He deplored that the higher education of Balochistan has a budgetary allocation of Rs 12 billion and out of which, general cadre colleges get only Rs 3 billion. Only a meager amount of Rs 330 million goes to the province’s science colleges in which 14,000 students study in first and second shifts, he said. On the other hand, the Balochistan Residential College (Cadet College) in district Loralai gets a budgetary allocation of Rs 170 million in which around 500 students study while students are separately charged as well, he remarked. He insisted on the need to set priorities of funding in the education sector.

Sadia Badini, member of the National Party and teacher, said that youth didn’t have the right to speech in Balochistan. She demanded that the right to speech should be made the main component of any upcoming youth policy and emphasized for giving scholarships to Baloch youth.

Session III: Youth and Social Media

Senior journalist Imran Mukhtar was the moderator of the session with media persons and students of journalism. The session explored social media’s influence on youths’ perception of themselves and the world around them; and impact of misinformation overload on youth; and how media can fact-check fake news.

The participants also deliberated on the role of social media in shaping up the social, and emotional characters of young people; anti-social behaviors among youth including cyberbullying and hate speech; and challenges in enforcing responsible social media use.

Daniyal Butt, Quetta-based journalist and visiting lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication in the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), insisted that social media was playing a major role in perception building of youth and shaping up their minds. At the same time, it has become difficult to draw a line between factual information and propaganda due to frequent flow of unverified information on social media, he added.  He said that the mass communication departments at universities should include new courses of social or new media in the curriculum to empower the students with new techniques and practices of journalism.

Butt held that social media was so far unregulated media and existing laws against hate speech, fake news, and cyberbullying were very weak. He said that many online tools were available to check fake news and traditional media organizations should enhance their use. He also advised the establishment of some authority to regulate social media.

Former president Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Shahzada Zulfiqar said that there was no denying the fact that social media has been expanding with each passing day and youth had been largely relying on it. “There is an anarchy within the society due to an abundance of fake news on social media.” On the other hand, the traditional media is facing polarization as every TV channel or media house is supporting certain political parties or political thoughts, and there is a very thin line between truth and propaganda, he also said. He advised the journalism students to report facts keeping aside all their prejudices.

Saleem Shahid, Bureau Chief of the Dawn in Quetta, concluding the session said that everyone in the session has shown concerns about the negative side of social media. He said that social media became popular because Pakistani journalism had been facing restrictions during different martial regimes. Even political governments extended policies of dictatorial regimes, he added. “So when social media thrived, people got the chance of catharsis.”

Shahid argued that social networking platforms should actually be named as “social forums” and not media. “Media is a different thing in which processes of editing, and filtration of information at different stages are involved.”

The veteran journalist held that the positivity of social media has been suppressed due to its negativity and political parties have a major role in this connection. He emphasized that the importance of social media has not decreased and there would have been anarchy in the society without it. “There is a need for regulating and monitoring social media under the law.”

Session IV: Public Education and Employability among Balochistan Youth

Programme Manager PIPS Ahmed Ali supervised the session in which the members of academia discussed contemporary formal and non-formal modes of learning and their utility for developing employability skills among youth.

The participants also talked about encouraging critical, and innovative thinking among youth; promoting entrepreneurship among them; and creating economic opportunities for them through technical and real-life learning.

Dr Bashir Ahmed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology in the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), said that the critical thinking element was missing among university students due to basic flaws in primary and high school level education. He said that the students also lacked internship facilities.

Dr Mohammad Riaz, senior researcher at the Bureau of Curriculum in Balochistan, underscored the need to promote conceptual learning and discourage rote learning in the education system. He said that after the 18th Amendment, this had yet not been decided whether the curriculum would be finalized by the federal or provincial governments. He added the centre usually prepares curriculum for the province without knowing about its ground realities. He proposed to establish skill development centres in the universities to make up for any certain deficiency of a student. He said that certification programmes should be initiated to enhance capabilities of students besides promoting skill-based education and need-based research in universities.

Professor Dr Aurangzaib Alamgir of the Department of International Relations in BUITEMS underlined that diversity couldn’t be achieved without ensuring rule of law, justice, equality, and fair distribution of resources among the youth of Balochistan. He said that the training element in the education system and university culture was missing. He called for engaging students in activities, and research but deplored that no funding is provided to university teachers for this purpose.

“Employability always leads to social cohesion,” said Dr Fozia Baloch, Assistant professor and incharge chairperson at the Department of Education in BUITEMS. She said that university teachers used to face a lot of problems and challenges as new entrants lacked basic skills that they should have learnt at school level.

Dr Baloch went on to say that their students didn’t get opportunities to enhance their knowledge, which was the basic problem of their education system. She added that they only utilized all their energies to translate the knowledge into different languages while studying at different levels, from school to university. She stressed for enhancing technical and professional skills among students and called for moving towards specializations at university level.

She criticized the policy of opening university campuses in every tehsil or district saying this discouraged diversity, inclusion, and social cohesion. She called it negative strategic planning. She also highlighted that the role of PPIU was very important in Balochistan and added that the unit should strengthen its capacity and improve its coordination.

Winding up the discussion, she proposed forming technical and industrial advisory boards at BS and MS level programmes to get advice on requirements of the job market. She also called for introducing short and diploma courses to increase skills among youth.