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FIRD, CRSS address polarization in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, OCT 18 /DNA/ – Only through a dispassionate dialogue, can we approach and deliberate social issues normally hard to speak about – concerning religious diversity, equal minority rights, etc. – and promote understanding, mutual respect, and critical thinking as a protection against prejudices towards different/ minority groups and extremist narratives in the society.

This was the notion that figured prominently at the dialogue titled “Polarization in Pakistan and Our Responsibility”, organized by Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD) – a UK-based independent, non-governmental research and advocacy think-tank, in collaboration with Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) – an Islamabad based think tank, research and advocacy center.

Mr. Toaha Qureshi MBE, Founder Chairman, FIRD, noted that polarization in Pakistan is a deeply rooted issue that has persisted for decades, with divisions along ethnic, religious, and political lines, stymieing national unity and progress. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges its historical context, aims for inclusive policies, and involves dialogue characterized by a focus on discussing the solutions, not the problems. 

Prominent religious scholar, Maulana Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, underscored the importance of interfaith dialogue as a crucial means of fostering understanding, tolerance, and cooperation among people of different religious beliefs and backgrounds.

He noted that interfaith dialogue provides a platform for individuals of different religious faiths to come together, discuss their beliefs, and find common ground. This can help reduce misunderstandings and conflicts based on religious differences, contributing to a more peaceful and harmonious society.

Prof. Dr. Suleman Tahir, Vice Chancellor, Khwaja Fareed University of Engineering & Information Technology (KFUEIT) Rahim Yar Khan, noted that the educational curriculum plays a significant role in determining the state of polarization within the nation, as it not only imparts knowledge but also influences students, the future leaders, in terms of their values, beliefs, and perspectives that are key to social cohesion and peace. Back in the day, Pakistan’s curriculum for education had such features, but unfortunately, it is no longer responding to the social cohesion needs of the country.

The extent to which the curriculum reflects a diverse and inclusive representation of different cultural, religious, and social groups, or conversely, promotes a specific ideology, can have a profound impact on societal polarization. Educational policies that promote tolerance, diversity, and critical thinking tend to mitigate polarization, while those that emphasize a single perspective or exclude certain narratives can contribute to division and polarization within the country.

Our best opportunity is to sensitize the young members of society on the importance of having a selfless vision; one that recognizes citizens’ collective responsibility for communal development and prefers fulfillment of collective development needs of the community over selfish individual needs. The onus to prepare such visionary future leadership lies on all the stakeholders including parents, universities, and madrassas. The change that we envision can only be sown through self-accountability, discipline, and transparency.

“As for polarization in Pakistan, the media is just as important a stakeholder as the government and citizens. When it inadvertently strays from its intended role, into domains where it should not; outside its mandate, it then only leads to the propagation of negativity and amplification conflicts beyond their true scale. The ripple effect of such media behavior is significant as people grow disillusioned with the country’s political processes, leading them to disengage from cooperating with the state”, Dr. Farooq Adil, former advisor to the President of Pakistan, and renowned columnist.

Dr. Rafiq, Former additional secretary at the Ministry of Education, who worked with Wifaq-ul-Madaris Pakistan during his time in office, said that Madrassas in Pakistan are nurturing children with a strong emphasis on humanitarian and philanthropic values. These educational institutions boast the highest enrollment of students and play a praiseworthy role in society.

Our educational system and curriculum exhibit a concerning division, leading to significant disparities. This situation perpetuates intellectual and academic inequality, serving as clear evidence of societal polarization.

Dr. Ishtiaq Gondal from Punjab University, said that promoting respect and understanding among various religious and cultural groups is particularly relevant in a diverse society where multiple faiths coexist.A dialogue that is rational, objective, and not clouded by emotions can be instrumental in reaching solutions to complex socio-political issues.

Executive director CRSS, Mr. Imtiaz Gul said that mere lip service to social values is insufficient. Despite our preaching of the rule of law, it often remains unenforced. For a functional society, it is imperative that every stakeholder fulfills their respective responsibilities. When any segment or institution fails to serve its role properly, it can upset the equilibrium of our society. We should prioritize self-accountability and ensure that we fulfill our individual responsibilities diligently.

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