Tackling violent extremism - Peace Direct

Tackling violent extremism

Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

In the last decade there has been a dramatic growth in extremism. Marginalised men and women are drawn in from around the world. From Paris to Pakistan, lives are destroyed.

Finding and supporting local peacebuilders who work in their communities offers a credible and important non-violent approach to tackling violent extremism, a point recently made by the Global Terrorism Index.

We support local organisations working to combat radicalisation and extremism in their local communities. It’s urgent and dangerous, and activists are at constant risk of being found out. But it ensures those at risk of recruitment learn to turn away from violence.

Tackling violent extremism

In places where bombs shatter lives and militants rule the streets, joining an extremist group can seem like the only option for survival. Children surrounded by militant messages can be persuaded to become weapons of war. Poverty, instability and a lack of practical alternatives leads others to join militant groups.

As the world grapples with the best way to combat extremist and stop radicalisation, local organisations in the grip of militancy are showing the importance of dialogue, early intervention and education.

Through personalised, local and peer-to-peer approaches, they tackle some of the root causes of extremism and violence and support young people at risk of recruitment to turn away from violence.

When the group of girls was walking out after the briefing Lalain seemed quite excited, when asked what got her so curious, she remarked that this is the first time I went inside a temple and learned about the faith of its people.
Photo: Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

Why it matters

Gulalai Ismail director of local organisation Aware Girls said: “The world has suddenly awakened to the problem of violent extremism but this is a problem we’ve been dealing with in Pakistan for many years. We have a lot to contribute and the world can learn from us.

“Any policy that creates more stigmatisation and alienation will do more harm. We try to give an alternative perspective of non-violence and pluralism. We talk about peace and how we see peace. These are young children and we should not see them as enemies.

“It will take time but we will have more dialogue with them. It’s been a huge success that these madrassas and children have opened up to us. Even if it is dangerous, we should talk.”

We are determined to support local people to combat radicalisation and extremism in their communities.


A man stands in front of an AMISOM convoy on the road connecting Afgooye to Baidoa. Previously a road controlled by Al-Shabab, AMISOM have sent forces to try and gain control of the entire stretch up to Baidoa. AU-UN IST PHOTO / TOBIN JONES.

AU-UN IST PHOTO / Tobin Jones

What we do


In Pakistan, in the deeply conservative tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we support local partner Aware Girls and their network of young volunteers who are dedicated to saving their peers from indoctrination and radicalisation. Aware Girls send out teams of peace educators to villages, towns and schools, to identify and dissuade individuals likely to join extremist groups. The work is intensive and personalised, undertaken at great personal risk.


In Somalia we work with local partner SADO to train young men and women at risk of militia recruitment to become mechanics, electricians and tailors – providing a practical alternative to a life of violence.


We work to reduce militarised approaches and lift up nonviolent approaches to preventing and addressing the problem of political violence and violent extremism, highlighting the work of our local peacebuilding partners in places like Pakistan and Somalia.


Voices from the ground: Sail's story

‘My name is Sail Muhammad and I am 19 years old. I saw that half of the children and youth in my village went to madrassas [Islamic religious schools] instead of regular schools. I knew that they were being exploited by Taliban and were being trained to become terrorists in the name of Jihad. Some of them had even been trained by militants. I wanted them to have a good education and do something constructive with their lives, but I did not know how to approach them as they were very conservative.

At the beginning of this year (2015), I found out about Aware Girls’ five-day training on peace. When I applied for it, they asked me why I was interested in the training. I told them that the people of my village were being converted into terrorists and I wanted to do something for them. I could not let them lose their lives to terrorism. Aware Girls enrolled me in the training and I was very happy to see that they were doing the same work that I wanted to do. They talked about peace, constitutional human rights and religious tolerance. By the time I had completed the training, I knew what to do to bring about peace.

I started talking to youth about peace and religious tolerance. Some understood my message while others ignored it. But with the passage of time, I had more youth coming to join me in the peace talks. With a small group of 15 young people, I created an organisation called ‘We Can Bring Peace’. We conducted a few sessions with the boys who had run away from their homes to be trained.

These sessions were very dangerous for us because these boys could tell the Taliban at any point and my own life would have been at risk. As a result of my efforts, several boys reverted back to their normal lives and six of them joined my cause. I have now 50 youth members in this organisation. We are giving tuition to students and organising positive youth activities like cricket matches to keep them engaged.

It has been four to five months since I attended Aware Girls’ training on peace and I have been able to bring considerable change in my surroundings.’

Updates from the field

Time is now for the U.S. to include, empower, and resource young peacebuilders globally

Peace Direct applauds the re-introduction of the Youth, Peace & Security Act of 2021 in the U.S.Read more »

Seven things we’re thankful for in 2018

2018 has been a year of growth, successes, challenges and learning for Peace Direct. We’re proud to have continued supporting local people to build peace in 12 countries around the world, and to shine a light on the efforts and resilience of grassroots action in many more.Read more »

UPDATE: Gulalai Ismail is a brave and inspiring peacebuilder

Peace Direct strongly condemns the arrest of Gulalai Ismail from Aware Girls on 12th October 2018. It infringes upon her freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and civic space in Pakistan more broadly.Read more »


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