Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

More than 50,000 people have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the last decade. In the turbulent border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, these are an everyday occurrence.

Extremist groups have great influence over social and political life, and often actively recruit in schools and madrassas. Young people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment.

In the deeply conservative tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we support local organisation Aware Girls, a network of young volunteers, dedicated to saving their peers from indoctrination and radicalisation. The work is intensive and personalised, and is done at great personal risk.

Pakistan: Country overview

Pakistan continues to experience high levels of instability and violence in multiple parts of the country.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north west of the country, the Pakistani Taliban still exert influence and conduct attacks against government and military targets.

Violence against women is endemic, and women’s rights and voices are rarely acknowledged.

A mix of religious extremism in society, economic insecurity, lack of good governance and exposure to a culture that promotes radicalisation means young people are at risk of responding violently to issues in the community, and of being recruited by militant and extremist organisations.


Stopping young people turning to extremism

We support Aware Girls to reach out to individuals at risk of recruitment by militant groups and dissuade them from a life of violence. Aware Girls send out teams of peace educators to villages, towns and schools, to identify individuals likely to join extremist groups and use an individualised peer-to-peer approach to change their minds. We also support their work strengthening the participation of women in political processes.

Gulalai in Pakistan overlooks the process each group is going through and identifies reasons for why they are failing to bring the stick down to the ground.
Image: Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

Aware Girls run targeted workshops, aimed at training young people in conflict resolution, non-violence and countering violent extremism. Young people learn to understand their role in developing their own narratives to counter violent extremism.

Once trained, these peace activists go into schools, universities and madrassas and talk to other young people about peace, non-violence and the negative role of militant groups. Others run their own local campaigns or create their own youth groups with the aim of pulling young people away from militancy.

The founders – two sisters – believe firmly in women’s rights and champion these too. At the last national elections, in 2013, they led all-female teams of polling station monitors to ensure women were allowed to vote freely and without intimidation. Last year two young female trained activists ran in local elections and won their seats, a remarkable achievement in an environment where women’s rights are rarely acknowledged.

Gulalai and Saba Ismail have spoken at the UN, to governments, policy makers, NGOs and journalists about their work. Aware Girls is a powerful example of the impact local organisations can make.


Jehangir says: ‘Aware Girls’ training was transformational for me, it opened my mind to pluralism and non-violence, I learnt that this country belongs to people of all religions, sects and ideologies and no one has the right to use violence to reinforce their faith.

Being part of the network, I also learnt that peace is not possible if women are not able to enjoy their rights. In the by-elections in our village I mobilised my mother to cast her vote.

Our whole family was against females voting but I took a stand and my mother became the first woman of our family to ever cast her vote.’


In their words: Jalal's Story*

My name is Jalal* and I live in north-west Pakistan. I always liked reading and from early childhood I would read anything I could get my hands on. Later, I read books on Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Indian-Pakistan partition which had a strong impact on me as a person. I started writing stories in the children’s section of a newspaper which was circulated in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

When the Taliban began taking over our area, I didn’t know what to do. But I did know how to write, so I began writing against them.

The Taliban used to collect funds for constructing mosques and they started conducting three day training sessions. These were supposed to be about religion but really they would preach hatred against the army and other people. I was never very religious so I was not attracted to them.

Slowly, they took the best students of my class, brainwashed them and used them for their own gains. One by one, I lost most of my friends to the Taliban. They were used to carry out suicide attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan and Waziristan, just across the border from Pakistan.

Writing against the Taliban did not seem enough. I felt the need to somehow stop the Taliban. So along with a few of my friends, I began educating youth about peace and conflict resolution. I advised them to stay away from extremist groups.

Read the full story

*Name changed for security reasons.

Photo: Dania Ali/Star Foundation/Aware Girls



Local approaches to preventing violent extremism in Pakistan

The field of ‘countering violent extremism’ (CVE) is a relatively young and fast-evolving one. Its origins in the security and defence arena, combined with a dominance by Western-based institutions and researchers, has resulted in little focus on locally-led peacebuilding perspectives and strategies.

This report aims to redress that balance by highlighting local analysis and solutions following a consultation held in September 2016 with Pakistani peacebuilding practitioners and academics.

Download the report


News from the field

Blogs, stories, reports and opinion

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On Wednesday 14th November the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on atrocity prevention. Our US Senior Representative addressed Members of the United States Congress. Read more »

Research and in-depth analysis

From our website Insight on Conflict