Youth in region need critical thinking and unity for change

By Rasheed Khalid
May 20, 2024
Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Asif Ali Khan Durrani. — X/TOLOnews/File

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Asif Durrani has said that not arms but critical thinking, unity and passion for change can drive the youth of this region forward who need an inquisitive mind to question socio-economic injustices.


Mr Durrani was addressing a gathering of Afghan and Pakistani youth leaders hosted by Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) here as part of Pak-Afghan Youth Peace Initiative – Building Bridges, Improving Perceptions. The Initiative is a track III diplomacy effort supported by the US State Department, Global UGRAD Pakistan and IREX.

The initiative aims at fostering goodwill and improve public perceptions between Pakistani and Afghan youth through dialogue, interactive workshops, community engagement and meetings with key stakeholders to discuss practical aspects of enhancing youth diplomacy and media interactions.

The envoy urged the youth from both sides to take an active role in regional development by focusing on their education, skills and personal growth as they are the future leaders of the countries. Regarding the socio-political situation in Afghanistan, he said that the pursuit of common interests in a fair socio-political environment is intrinsically linked to unity. By fostering solidarity, empathy and collaboration, Afghans, especially the youth, can create a more just, developed and equitable nation where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to the greater good.

The youth of Afghanistan has the opportunity to change Afghanistan’s decades-long label of “conflict zone” and take an active part in nation-building.

The participating Afghan youth voiced their concerns on the issues facing the education landscape in Afghanistan, particularly for females, the delays in visa issuance for Afghan students studying in Pakistan as well as the challenges faced by those who have to return to Afghanistan due to their illegal status or expiration of the visa.

Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, former MNA, also joined the discussion where she underscored the significant role youth dialogues play in fostering unity between Pakistan and Afghanistan and that engaging the youth from both nations is crucial for bridging diplomatic gaps and building mutual understanding. She highlighted opportunities for youth engagement, such as academic exchanges and collaborative projects, which can help bridge diplomatic gaps.

A vital point of her address was the importance of supporting women's education and their involvement in politics and law in both countries. She drew attention to the economic and psychosocial challenges faced by Afghan women as education remains banned for them in the country.

Ms Mehnaz lauded Pakistan's efforts in educating Afghan refugees and shared statistics, noting that currently, 1.4 million Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan, with 50,000 enrolled in primary education. She stressed the importance of continued support for Afghan refugee youth’s education in Pakistan and urged the international community to help Pakistan create a more enabling academic environment for them.

Imtiaz Gul, Executive Director, CRSS, noted that with the tons of information available in the offline and online space, youth have a huge onus to critically evaluate every bit of information they come across for its authenticity before disseminating it.

Elsa Imdad from CRSS concluded that Track III engagements and youth participation are only effective if the Track I stakeholders take ownership of such efforts and give agency to youth in the policymaking.

The forum concluded with policy recommendations aimed at fostering better relations, such as establishing educational corridors to empower women and ensuring their involvement in decision-making.

They also suggested forming youth committees to address common challenges and prioritised collaboration over discord in diplomatic efforts. Additionally, there was a call for increased youth engagement for peace and unity and for promoting political maturity among young leaders. Strengthening academic exchanges and addressing longstanding issues in trade and transit – which are one of the major issues causing bad blood and negative perceptions - were seen as crucial steps.