Our nation’s regional security interests depend on engaging and empowering communities that will foster peace and stability. Civil society networks are a vital resource for successful peace-building and countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives. In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, tribal, cultural and faith-based networks are leading organic initiatives to refute radical ideologies at the community level and are therefore, best positioned to become partners for the US and the international community in preventing terrorism.
Af-Pak Peace-building Initiatives
WORDE has been leading a comprehensive survey to explore the capacity of civil society to promote peace and stability in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Our research is primarily conducted through intensive field research led by WORDE Specialists and trained social scientists. To date, our team has traveled to over 75 cities and villages in the region to conduct interviews with hundreds of tribal elders, local religious leaders and civil society activists. The findings of this research have been published in an exclusive five-part series with Foreign Policy Magazine’s Af-Pak Channel, as well as WORDE publications. Moreover, our Specialists have been interviewed by Voice of America (Serbian, Pashto, and Dari, and TV Ashna), the Guardian and the Associated Press.
Our work indicates that community and faith-based organizations are uniquely positioned to prevent radicalization at the grassroots level. Our reports identify best practices, and provide recommendations for policymakers and the international community to strengthen and expand these local efforts. Supplementary directories have also been published, exclusively for policymakers, which highlight the work of organizations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. These resources are intended to guide policymakers and development experts interested in partnering with local civil society actors. We believe that fostering these partnerships will prevent further radicalization, reduce terrorism, and stabilize the region.
Our findings have been broadly disseminated through public presentations and private briefings for senior policymakers in the National Counter Terrorism Center, Department of Defense, the State Department, US Agency for International Development, and the US Institute of Peace. The research has also been presented to RAND Corp, the Global Forum for Counter Radicalization in Paris, and the EU/US Expert Meeting in Brussels on Pakistan and Pakistani Diaspora Communities hosted by the European Commission together with the US Mission to the EU. Most recently, in November 2013, WORDE specialists participated in the “CVE Community of Interest Conference” to discuss US Overseas CVE Engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In addition to conducting research, WORDE has provided local community leaders with training and support for their peacebuilding endeavors. In recent years, in partnership with the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at George Mason University, WORDE co-sponsored two conferences to network hundreds of religious scholars from Afghanistan and Muslim leaders from around the world to strengthen the potential for religious leaders to pave Afghanistan’s peaceful future. Recently, in September 2013, a WORDE Specialist was invited as the keynote speaker for a High Peace Council conference with religious community leaders.
Identifying Afghanistan’s Civil Society Networks
In June 2012, WORDE launched a study to explore the capacity of local civil society organizations (CSOs) to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan and to determine mechanisms for strengthening their programs. Our team carried out fieldwork across 35 cities, towns and villages in 15 provinces in Afghanistan. Interviews were conducted with both faith-based and non-faith based groups, however our analysis focused largely on what we refer to as “traditional Muslim networks” – the largely apolitical Sunni and Shi’a faith-based organizations that have historically made up the core of civil society. Our research indicates that these networks can play a critical role in peacebuilding, disseminating counter-extremist messages, mediating conflict, and promoting inter-ethnic social
Our report, Afghanistan 2014 and Beyond: The Role of Civil Society in Peacebuilding and Countering Violent Extremism, outlines some of the best practices to date, challenges and recommendations for overcoming them as well as exploring how the US and the international community can best leverage the efforts of Afghanistan’s civil society. In addition to the report, we have also published a directory, “From Community Building to Countering Extremism: A Guide to Afghanistan’s Civil Society,” exclusively for stakeholders, which includes close to 100 civil society groups – from human rights organizations to madrasa networks –with detailed entries on their capacity and geographic scope.
Our objective is for the analysis from this project to serve as a primary resource for US government officials and international NGO’s interested in identifying Afghan civil society organizations and activists with whom they can implement institutional capacity-building programs and thereby strengthen the moderate voice. Overtime, these partnerships have the potential to prevent further radicalization, reduce terrorism, and stabilize Afghanistan’s security situation.
Pakistan’s Civil Society: Alternative Channels to Countering Violent Extremism
WORDE has conducted a groundbreaking study across 35 cities and villages at risk of violent extremism — from Peshawar, Swat, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), southern Punjab, interior Sindh and Karachi — to explore civil society’s capacity to counter violent extremism.
The team has identified over 100 civil society organizations with the potential to a) promote peace and social cohesion, b) counter radical ideologies within a cultural or religious paradigm, and/or c) conduct humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected regions. These organizations and their peace-building initiatives are highlighted in our WORDE Report, “Pakistan’s Civil Society: Alternative Channels to Countering Violent Extremism,” and a supplemental directory* for policymakers, “From Community Building to Countering Extremism: An A-to-Z Guide of Pakistan’s Civil Society.”
“Pakistan’s Civil Society: Alternative Channels to Countering Violent Extremism” begins by exploring the rise of extremist groups in Pakistan and the avenues through which they increase their influence in society. The next section discusses government-led initiatives to counter extremism. This is followed by a broad overview of the scope and capacity of Pakistan’s civil society. Efforts to build public awareness and counter violent extremism are discussed along with challenges and limitations. The final section of the report provides recommendations for US policymakers on the potential of building the capacity of Pakistan’s civil society to improve the efficacy of existing initiatives and encourage the creation of new projects.
In addition to the WORDE Report, a supplementary 275 page directory, “From Community Building to Countering Extremism: An A-to-Z Guide to Pakistan’s Civil Society will be available for policymakers upon request.
The findings of this project have been broadly disseminated throughout the US Government, the media and the Pakistani American community.
*Policy briefings and a copy of the directory are available for policymakers upon request. Click here to request.
Exclusive Series for Foreign Policy Magazine
- The Battle for Pakistan’s Soul, (September 1, 2011), focuses on jihadi recruitment methods throughout militant hotspots in Southern Punjab.
- Pakistan’s Most Powerful Weapon, (October 21, 2011), explores anti-Taliban public awareness campaigns led by religious networks and community development organizations to spur grassroots efforts to counter violent extremism.
- Evicting the Taliban from Swat, (November 2, 2011), highlights how local communities used civil society organizations, the media, political structures and the military to create a national social movement against the Taliban.
- Out-Recruiting Pakistan’s Extremists, (February 29, 2012), discusses youth efforts to stem radicalization in Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s Bid for Tolerance,” (September 26, 2012), a photo-essay.
In addition to interviews by Voice of America (Serbian, Pashto, and Dari, TV Ashna) and the Associated Press, the Foreign Policy Magazine’s AfPak Channel has published an exclusive five-part series of articles written by WORDE Specialists Mehreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad. The articles have been cited by Pakistan’s largest daily, Dawn, and reproduced on several popular international blogs.
The Foreign Policy Magazine series includes interviews with former militants, parents of kidnapped children, community activists, jirga members, and religious scholars — highlighting the lessons they’ve learned, and the challenges they face to create a bold social movement to promote peace.