An Interfaith Harmony Project in Pakistan
June 4 2010: The Cavish Development Foundation (CDF) of Pakistan has been active in the area of peacebuilding in regions of country where such work is much needed. Here, the Director of CDF, Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, explains to our Pakistan Local Correspondent Zahid Shahab Ahmed why a development organization has felt it necessary to move into peacebuilding.
The Cavish Development Foundation (CDF) of Pakistan has been active in the area of peacebuilding in regions of country where such work is much needed. Here, the Director of CDF, Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, explains to our Pakistan Local Correspondent Zahid Shahab Ahmed why a development organization has felt it necessary to move into peacebuilding.
As their name might suggest, the Cavish Development Foundation (CDF) is a development organization, but one that has taken a specific interest in peacebuilding issues. I asked Director Hassan Nasir Mirbahar why the CDF decided to work on matters of interfaith harmony and peace in Pakistan. Mirbahar replied “there are no two opinions about the fact that development is only possible if peaceful conditions prevail, as there is a strong link between peace and development. Pakistan had a history of violence based on religion and faith, and the situation has even deteriorated in the post 9/11 scenario. CDF being a development organization felt a strong need to start efforts for the promotion of peace and social harmony under these circumstances. This was also necessary for the development work that CDF and many other civil society organizations were doing”.
There were certain reasons or incidents that attracted the attention of CDF towards the districts of Khanewal and Rajanpur to implement its project on interfaith harmony. As the projects aims to promote interfaith harmony, social co-existence and peace among religious minorities and the Muslim majority, I wanted to know whether the project areas had experienced any conflict between the local religious communities. Mirbahar gave the following reasons for implementing the pilot phase of CDF interfaith harmony project in the chosen areas: “Pakistan society contains a huge diversity of culture, ethnicity, religions and beliefs. With any diverse society, there are chances of misunderstanding and conflicts among different groups. And Pakistan is no exception to this, be it sectarian violence among Muslims throughout country, the language riots, or the continuous violence against non-Muslims, from Shanti Nagar to Gojra. Therefore, there was a dire need for starting efforts in promoting social harmony among these groups. We chose to start working on interfaith issue which is getting serious day by day due to the ongoing war on terror and increasing militancy in Pakistan. Although increasing militancy was not a main reason for selecting these districts, there was some history of interfaith conflicts in both districts. In Khanewal, the Shanti Nagar incident had taken place between Muslims and Christian populations, whereas in Rajanpur there have been cases of tensions among Shia and Sunni Muslims. However, it remains the fact that these conditions are prevalent in almost among all the districts of the country. CDF just wanted to start from somewhere and therefore chose Khanewal and Rajanpur as pilot districts.”
There were encouraging responses from the participants at the launching ceremony of the project in Islamabad on 10 April 2010, with representation of members from different religious institutions. Father Arshad of Fatima Jinnah Church, Islamabad said that he has attended many programmes which claimed to be working for interfaith harmony, but that the CDF programme was the only one to really depict interfaith harmony in its letter and spirit. He added that we saw people from different faiths performing here today and caring about each other. He extended full support for the project and CDF in taking the agenda of interfaith harmony forward. Naeem Iqbal, Chairperson of CDF’s Board of Director, said that “CDF has taken this initiative for making Pakistan a safer and peaceful place for everyone and we don’t consider it project but our sincere effort to achieve this goal.” He added that “the CDF will leave no stone unturned to continue its efforts for the promotion of interfaith harmony and peace”.
CDF has a plan to expand the project to other areas of Pakistan. This is a pilot project and based on successes and lessons learnt so as to plan the expansion. Also, CDF plans to organize a national conference and puppetry theatre on interfaith harmony and peace.
CDF conducted five days of training of the two youth groups from both districts in April 2010. The groups were brought together in Islamabad where they were given not only training in making puppets and running a puppetry theatre show but a major focus of the training remained on transforming the youth into peace and harmony activists.
Each group has a membership of 15 people with a gender balance and a diverse representation in terms of education, beliefs and religion. Mostly they are students from colleges and schools. Some of the members of the youth groups have previous experience in various art forms like dance, maintaining and theatre and others have passion for learning arts, particularly puppetry theatre. CDF developed criteria according to which the organisation is mainly looking for youth between age of 15 to 20 years from schools and colleges.
In addition to youth groups, in both districts, CDF has created district peace committees (DPCs) with the intention of creating forums that can make long term efforts for promotion of interfaith harmony and peacemaking within these districts. The members of the DPCs include social activists, political workers, academics and religious leaders from all major faiths and religions.
Mirbahar hopes that the DPCs will steer the entire project process at the district level. The DPCs and youth groups will work together on deciding locations for conducting puppetry theatre performances as well. Besides, youth groups will be involved in district-level dialogues which the DPCs will organise with different stakeholders/actors.
It is a relevant and valuable project in a country faced with violent clashes between the religious communities and sects, therefore it is hoped that CDF will be able to expand the scope of this project by learning lessons from the pilot phase.