D.I. Khan: As a member of the global community, Pakistan is signatory to international treaties and declarations including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and as such the citizens in general and the youth in particular should know what their country’s international obligations are. These views were expressed by security analyst, Muhammad Amir Rana, during a workshop with university students from D.I. Khan, Tank, and Waziristan. Amir Rana said the world nations adopted the UDHR as a common standards for human dignity and basic rights after immense human tragedies caused by the WWII. He underlined the significance of the UDHR, and urged young people to acquaint themselves with the basic rights provided in the UDHR. However, he warned that constant vigilance by the citizens was essential for the state to respect human rights because in the end the common man is the ultimate keeper of public interest and guardian of the fundamental rights and freedoms. At the workshop, university students were also asked to read out documents such as the UDHR and Paigham-e-Pakistan etc. to their fellow participants.
The students were also briefed about effective uses of social media. Sabookh Syed, journalist and editor of IBC Urdu, talked about how the social media could be empowering for the ordinary citizens and enable them to reach out to power holders in the country. Unlike the traditional media, the social media provides opportunity for instant two-way communication between the state and the citizens. He said the social media is a relatively freer realm where fabricated news stories also abound, and taught workshop participants how to spot and expose fake news. According to Sabookh Syed, the social media has given the people a greater sense of freedom with regard to expression of ideas and thoughts. Syed had also filmed the destruction of the Hindu shrine in Karak, and interviewed eyewitnesses to the incident. He discussed the tragic incident with university students, and highlighted its broader consequences for communal relations within the country and Pakistan’s image abroad. It is every citizen’s duty to stand up to bigotry, violence, and injustice in the society because negative incidents have collective influence on the citizenry in one form or another.
The workshop was also addressed by columnist and social critique, Yasir Pirzada, who observed that critical thinking skills were conspicuously lacking amongst the Pakistani youth. He said the onus for improving their thinking skills largely lies with the youth themselves because the education system has not been able to instill these skills in the students. He urged the students to read books beyond the traditional syllabus in order to deepen their understanding of how the world works. Our young generation must be open-minded, and accepting of constructive criticism, he said. Criticism, if taken positively, can become a stepping stone to mental and intellectual elevation. Pirzada said a common intellectual flaw among people was that their opinions were often inspired by impressions rather than verifiable facts. “Mistrust your impressions because your impression may be a victim of sensory illusions”, he told students. The human being is blessed with a sophisticated machine i.e. brain, and that brain should be put to use to improve cognitive abilities, he added. Mr. Pirzada noted that it was a common experience to come across people who construct their thoughts around mere hearsay despite having the ability to verify a piece of information through modern means of communication like the internet.
Likewise, speakers also explored the freedom of expression and the media’s attitude towards the disadvantaged communities in Pakistan. Addressing the participants, veteran journalist from D.I. Khan, Aslam Awan, said the religious, ethnic, and lingual minorities were full citizens of the state and loyal sons and daughters of the land. However, he said that unfortunately states around the world have used their minorities for statecraft, exploiting them for political objectives. According to Aslam Awan, Peshawar and Karachi were once home to many people of Jewish faith. But, that religious community gradually vanished from these cities despite the fact that they had immense contribution to the development of these places. Commenting on media’s role regarding minorities, Awan said the media have limitations both in highlighting the plights of the minority communities and helping address their issues and grievances. Similarly, Pakistan’s famed humorist and writer, Gul Nokhaiz Akhtar, said the media is not always driven by humanitarian or public interest considerations. The modern media is a commercial industry with billions of investment and inherent commercial interests alongside a focus for public interest. Mr. Nokhaiz said oftentimes the public held exaggerated views of how powerful media was, or how it could force the government to act in a specific manner. Against the common belief, the governments usually do not respond or react to news. Unless there is a risk of public agitation, the authorities do not usually act on newspaper or television stories, he said.
Towards the end part of the workshop, the participants were divided into groups of five and given simple questions to deliberate upon. After brainstorming issues of interfaith relations and diversity, the students presented their opinions on these questions. The two-day educational and training workshop on ‘Youth for Interfaith Harmony’ was organized by the Islamabad-based think tank, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). The workshop was part of the nationwide workshop series to promote interfaith harmony and diversity amongst young university students.