When something seems so out of reach, yet the determination to achieve it is present, how can you not go for it? That’s the risk and sacrifice facing many who seek a more peaceful and equitable society in the estimated 180-million-populated South Asian country of Pakistan.
The Muslim-majority country has nuclear weapons capability, has one of the world’s most powerful military presences, has ties to China, has battled neighboring countries India and Afghanistan, and has a rollercoaster-like relationship with the United States. Several recent incidents, including finding and killing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, drone attacks, and a consistent Taliban presence contribute to Pakistan’s political, economic and social volatility.
It’s enough to make most question the validity of a truly peaceful future in Pakistan. Spending time, though, in Casa de la Paz, “The House of Peace,” at the University of San Diego Kroc School of Peace Studies and hearing Rehana Hashmi, Rubina Feroze Bhatti and Muhammad Aslam Khan discuss their work and connections to peace and equality networks in their native country is a big dose of inspiration.
Rubina Feroze Bhatti
“What peace is, for me, is a life without fears, insecurities and a society with equal access to resources, equal opportunities and the presence of something, not the absence of something,” envisioned Bhatti, who is from the Sargodha district of the Punjab province.
Bhatti won the 2011 Woman of Courage Award, along with former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, from the National Women’s Political Caucus, an award given to women from diverse backgrounds who exemplify women’s leadership and demonstrate courage by taking a stand to further civil rights and equality. A 2009 Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Woman PeaceMaker (pictured, below left) and one of 1,000 international Nobel Peace Prize nominees in 2005, Bhatti is in the PhD Leadership Studies program at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences.
A founding member of Taangh Wasaib Organization (TWO), a rights-based development group working for harmony and equality through programs and issues pertaining to women and minorities, Bhatti’s peace vision has been aided by her education prowess and desire to serve and empower others at home.
“When I see Pakistan in such a critical situation, the work I do counters it. I believe in it and realize how important it is what I’m doing,” she said. “I believe the people of Pakistan are really powerful people, they’re resilient and they will change the world, change their situation. The people who support my work strengthen me. I’m a peacemaker and I have strong belief. War can never be a solution. My hope is in my people. Because I experienced so many good things in my life and in my community, that is what I expect from others. They can make it, they can make a difference, they can make change.”
Hashmi, who just completed her stint as an IPJ Woman PeaceMaker this month, is the executive director of Sisters Trust Pakistan in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan.
A native of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) and raised in the Balochistan province, Hashmi has seen Pakistan’s political upheaval since childhood. Her father was jailed for his political activism. As she grew older, she began to voice her concerns, too.
At 17, her activism led to protests at school and serious reprimands from officials. She didn’t stop. At 25, she made her presence felt by defending human rights, notably women, in the district of Chitral. Her work there helped women find their own and collective voice with the creation of 160 organizations. She created two national networks, one to support women’s political rights and another to create a health workers network giving valuable education to more than two million women about reproductive health services with a link to more than 3,000 paramedics. Her current organization, Sisters Trust Pakistan, helps victims of domestic violence and girls to break free of religious fundamentalism and forced marriages.
“A leader is one who is liberating herself or himself from fear, the fear of anything,” Hashmi said in a Sept. 24 talk. “Even the threat of the Taliban, fear of media and most of the time, fear over here. If you can overcome fear over here, then the world fear is nothing. I strongly believe if you’re willing to die for a cause, your fear of death will go.”
Hashmi’s time as a Women PeaceMaker helped her slow down, share her story with an assigned peace writer, and recharge before resuming her deep commitment.
“It’s the hope and my belief in what I am doing,” she said about what keeps her going. “It gives me hope and strength that the world will change. Even small change is a source of inspiration. I believe that whatever I’m doing, it is right. It is a belief in myself and my work that gives me more strength and more courage.”
Muhammad Aslam Khan
Khan arrived at USD in August. The Fulbright Scholar is in the 2013-14 KSPS master’s degree cohort . Born to poor parents in Murgha Zakariazai, a village in district Pishin, Balochistan, Khan’s educational track has been vitally important to his personal development. He hopes to use his journey to instill its importance in others. Pakistan’s illiteracy runs high, reportedly 56 percent among all adults and as high as 70 percent in rural areas. This fact immensely hampers Pakistan’s future because a less-educated society prevents progress.
“I’ve had challenges in my life. I started in a Balochist school where I sat on rugmats under the shade of trees and I’ve made it all the way to USD as a Fulbright Scholar,” he said. “Life is full of possibilities, very strong possibilities. The hope Rehana mentions, the strength that comes from believing there is something within you that can’t be lost, is very important.”
Khan’s education opportunities have been critical. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Government College University in Lahore. He participated in a global undergraduate exchange program to study aspects of American politics at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2011.
Experiencing the American education system and society gave him an incentive to seek solutions back in his community. Khan joined activist groups that increased development. He’s a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies, which examines human rights protection and social development. He’s founder and president of the Institute for Development, Education and Advocacy (IDEA), a non-profit organization registered with the Social Welfare Department of Balochistan, which encourages social development and prioritizes education for rural youth.
Advocates of a Brighter Future
Although Hashmi has since returned to her valued work in Pakistan, Bhatti and Khan are in the U.S. They are determined to get the most from their USD academic experience and use it as a tool for good.
Bhatti is soon to start work on her dissertation on peace leadership. She intends to interview human rights defenders in Pakistan to learn about their leadership strategies to foster a culture of peace. “I want to bridge my work and education. I will interview nonprofit leaders and explore what their successful strategies have been when they’re at risk or face a hostile environment.”
She’s also fond of an American educational system that is “very participatory, very interactive, thought-provoking and you’re developing critical thinking. When you can question things and answer, that is a level of freedom and equality.”
Khan likes to bring an “indigenous voice” to the classroom. His interest is in international law and human rights within his USD program, but he wants to deepen his cohort’s understanding of Pakistan, too.
“They know it’s Pakistan and there is terrorism, but it’s so much more than that,” he said. “It’s about people who are resilient to the problems of sectarianism, illiteracy, poverty and multiple issues in our country.”
— Ryan T. Blystone