Still recovering from the bombings in Brussels last week where Islamic State claimed responsibility for explosions that killed 35 people and injured even more, the world has endured yet another tragedy – this time centered in Pakistan.
On Easter Sunday, a Pakistani Taliban group set off a bomb in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in the city of Lahore. When the group later claimed responsibility for the attacks, they stated that Christians were the intended target. In reality, violent extremism affects much more than the “target”.
Victims’ families are torn, communities are shaken, the international community is mourning, but on its feet. The question on everyone’s minds is: How do we respond to such terrorism? What is the next move?
Instead of strengthening borders, preventing migration, or replying to attacks with more attacks, like many international leaders have been accustomed to encouraging, we can look to a group of young people in Pakistan for another alternative.
Pakistan has been riddled with extremist religious groups, affecting everyday life and especially putting youth and women at risk. In the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we work with a group of Pakistani volunteers called Aware Girls.
They surveyed over 1500 young people in order to gain insight on trends of violent extremism; about 46% of those surveyed agreed that violence is appropriate when used in support of religious or political ideology. By identifying trends like this, we can better address root issues and dissuade young people from choosing such violence.
Our partner, Aware Girls, has formed a network of young people, mostly women, to educate peers on peaceful practices and dissuade marginalised youth from turning to violence and extremism. This can mean training groups on conflict resolution or even one-on-one counseling sessions for individuals at risk of extremist recruitment. Hundreds of youth have been reached by these efforts, and by supporting this work on the local and community level we are having far-reaching impact.
The global population has been forced to face terrorism in all corners of the world. We have spent an innumerable amount of time trying to understand – why? Why the senseless killing? Why the park? Why the metro? Why now, why them, why us? The issue is, there is no answer. The senseless killing cannot be made sense of.
We cannot react to hate with division or violence, which will only breed more violence. Let us instead turn inward, and focus on strengthening local communities and their efforts to build peace, like those of Aware Girls.
By assisting local people who are so intimately connected with the problems their countries and communities face, we can prevent radicalisation and violent extremism. Increasing these peace efforts now will save lives later, and hopefully someday soon, no one will have to fear going to the park to celebrate their Easter Sunday.