Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Top Pakistan Paper Profiles Open Minds

Leading English-language newspaper in the country reports on findings of a review of IWPR’s ground-breaking media project.
By The News International - Myra Imran

Pakistani youth link terrorism in the country with poverty, misinterpretation of Islamic teachings, lack of good governance and deteriorating law and order situation.

The analysis makes part of a report that gives detailed account of project findings titled ‘Open Minds Pakistan’. The project was implemented by Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and was conducted in Charsadda, Swat, Chitral and Karachi. Under this project, students from public schools and ‘madrassas’ attended the basic journalism training workshops and participated in school wide discussions on various current affairs. They also produced stories for publication in national and local newspapers, school newsletters and special hand written newspapers in their schools.

The basic objective was to develop critical and rational thinking and to enhance the analytical skills of youth and provide them with a forum for self-expression. Overall, students expressed strong support for peace in the country. None of them showed any sympathy for extremist views or militant solutions.

At the same time, many characterised the portrayal of Islam as a violent religion as shameful and misleading. The overwhelming majority of the participating students was aware of the current political situation of the country and expressed a profound interest in positive change. Additionally, many demanded the provision of basic facilities for general public and repeatedly mentioned inflation, lack of good governance and lawlessness as fundamental issues faced by the country. The students mentioned bomb blasts as inhuman acts that leave large number of children orphan. Some students complained that they cannot concentrate on their studies because of the disturbing news coming from different parts of the country. In stories and essays from Swat, students compared their communities before and after militants gained control of the valley.

They were hopeful after the military operation, but remained uncertain about the future. They said that news of bomb blasts in any area still frightens them, reminding them of their personal traumas they suffered during occupation of militants. An innocent question raised by a student in one essay from Charsadda spoke volumes of the frustration felt by youth from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the discrimination they face on the basis of ethnicity. The boy asked, ‘Kiya Pathan Dehshatgard hay?’ (Do you consider all Pathans as terrorists?).

Madrassa students tended to discuss topics related to extremism, terrorism and state responsibilities. A strong sense of deprivation was obvious in many of their articles. While agreeing to the negative impact of extremism, one participant made it a point to mention the discrimination faced by ‘madrassa’ students. He complained that there are no scholarships, free books and uniforms for them whereas the government provides all these facilities for public schools.

Another interesting aspect of the essays and stories was the excessive use of religious arguments used by the students to prove their point. Participants predominantly used religious quotes to substantiate their argument, a reflection of the general trend in which religion serves as the social foundation that shapes and attitudes in Pakistani society. Students from Karachi focused mainly on governance issues such as lawlessness, targeted killing and provision of basic facilities like clean water and better education. They urged for unity among people and suggested that it is time to forget mutual difference to save the country. The report recommends proper counselling facilities at schools to mitigate the psychological impact of terrorist attacks they have witnessed. It stresses to enhance interaction between public school students and ‘madrassa’ students and urges the government to listen to the voices of youth. 

Article republished from The News International .

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