Sim­i­lar Bat­tle­grounds

South Asian youth meet in Is­lam­abad to dis­cuss com­mon prob­lems and find com­mon so­lu­tions.

Southasia - - REPORT -

South Asia is of­ten mis­taken for re­gions that it is not. The av­er­age per­son tends to di­vide Asia into East Asia and the Mid­dle East and quite of­ten one is con­fronted with ge­o­graphic claims (such as the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that Pak­istan lies in the Mid­dle East) that are hi­lar­i­ous and de­press­ing. Faced with such obliv­i­ous­ness, South Asian youth are un­der twice the pres­sure they should be as res­i­dents of a third world de­vel­op­ing re­gion. A crit­i­cal ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, usu­ally ig­nored by the rest of its global coun­ter­parts, South Asia stands at a cross­roads wherein it has to stand united if it must avoid fail­ing. While from Bhutan to Nepal, In­dia to Pak­istan and Sri lanka to Bangladesh, it might be a very di­verse col­lec­tion of peo­ple, it al­ways comes as a sur­prise - and a pleas­ant one at that - to know how sim­i­lar these peo­ple ac­tu­ally are. All coun­tries that fall un­der the um­brella of South Asia have sim­i­lar mind­sets, short­com­ings and prob­lems and, there­fore, so­lu­tions.

On April 8, 2016, some 200 del­e­gates - all young stu­dents - gath­ered in Is­lam­abad for a three-day In­ter­na­tional Youth Ac­tivism Con­fer­ence. Del­e­gates from all over South Asia flew into the Pak­istan cap­i­tal to dis­cuss and de­bate com­mon con­cerns. The Con­fer­ence was or­ga­nized by PUAN - Pak-U.S. Alumni Net­work - that aims to build on the shared in­tel­lec­tual, so­cial, cul­tural and demo­cratic val­ues of the peo­ple of Pak­istan and the United States to pro­mote trust and un­der­stand­ing and to con­trib­ute to peace and pros­per­ity of the two coun­tries through youth ex­change. PUAN has brought to­gether del­e­gates from all over South Asia to Is­lam­abad to fur­ther the cause.

The young peo­ple con­nected quickly as friends and as youth ac­tivists

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By Noorus Sabah Tauqeer fight­ing on sim­i­lar bat­tle­grounds. Over three days and twelve in­ter­ac­tive ses­sions with two panel dis­cus­sions and six out­reach projects, the 200 young South Asians bonded on sim­i­lar grounds, learn­ing to deal with sim­i­lar is­sues. The ses­sions cov­ered ed­u­ca­tion, hu­man rights, cli­mate change, ex­trem­ism, in­ter­faith har­mony, po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ments, so­cial me­dia, so­cial entrepreneurship, lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cam­paign de­sign, fund rais­ing and dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling and vis­ual diplo­macy. Com­mu­nity ser­vice projects in­cluded tree plan­ta­tion, em­pow­er­ing women and meet­ing with acid at­tack sur­vivors, cel­e­brat­ing cul­tural her­itage and ses­sions with chil­dren hav­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

The top­ics were rel­e­vant, given the re­gion is re­plete with is­sues like re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance, hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion, ex­trem­ism, etc.

So­cial me­dia is a tool that all South Asians ac­tively use to voice their opin­ions; so­cial entrepreneurship is an­other area that has taken hold of South Asian youth. Do the is­sues of gen­dered vi­o­lence, abuse and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion hit the same nerve in all South Asians? Del­e­gates came to the con­clu­sion that it wasn't just in Bangladesh that blog­gers were be­ing hacked to death for ex­press­ing their opin­ion or it wasn't just in Pak­istan that prom­i­nent peo­ple were gunned down for stand­ing up for the mi­nori­ties, or it wasn't just in Afghanistan that women were stoned to death in public, based on mere al­le­ga­tions.

United against com­mon en­e­mies, the South Asian lead­er­ship of the fu­ture en­gaged in net­work­ing, made new ac­quain­tances and learned things rang­ing from lan­guage and cul­ture to how to come to terms with the so­cial and cul­tural chal­lenges they are fac­ing. Evan Ryan, the US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for Ed­u­ca­tion and Cul­tural Af­fairs at­tended the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony, along with Dr. Pervez Hoodb­hoy and Erin Mol­nar Mains, the U.S. Em­bassy's As­sis­tant Cul­tural At­tache.

South Asia has al­ways fought back and stood its ground. The di­verse re­gion shares more than bor­ders: it shares prob­lems and it must share so­lu­tions.

The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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