By Shaheryar Zaidi

08 May 2014 - 14:23

Many young Pakistanis want to turn away from violence in their communities. Photo by Benny Lin on Flickr under Creative Commons licence.
'Many young Pakistanis want to turn away from violence in their communities.' Photo ©

Benny Lin, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and adapted from the original.

The British Council in Pakistan has launched a report examining how violence shapes young Pakistanis’ lives. Next Generation: Insecure Lives, Untold Stories presents 1,800 stories from young people across Pakistan, expert interviews, and a national survey on the effects of political, criminal and domestic violence. The British Council's Shaheryar Zaidi explains.

What is the report, and why is it important?

This is the third in a series of Next Generation reports, commissioned by the British Council to find out more about Pakistan’s young people. It’s one of the largest pieces of qualitative research ever conducted in Pakistan, collecting stories from young people throughout the country who have been victims, survivors, witnesses, or even perpetrators of violence. Young people are Pakistan’s most important demographic. There will be 14 million first-time voters in 2018 — a generation that has grown up in a country mired in greater internal conflict and violence than any generation before them. The report looks at how violence has affected Pakistan’s youth, and therefore how it might influence its future.

The report also shows policy-makers that Pakistan isn’t alone in dealing with this problem. Other countries have suffered from conflict and violence too, but have found ways to heal fractured communities, through policies that Pakistan could learn from. There’s been worldwide attention devoted to Pakistan’s domestic insurgency, but this report also stresses that much of the violence affecting young Pakistanis does not originate in political strife.

How was the data collected?

Through 100 local organisations and 400 researchers, we collected 1,800 stories from young people, and also carried out a nationally representative survey of 5,271 people across the country. The parts of Pakistan most harrowed by violence were under-represented in the data, because of the difficulty of accessing people there safely.

What’s the scale of Pakistan’s insecurity issue?

Pakistan is 157th in the 162 countries on the Global Peace Index. In the Global Terrorism Index, no other country other than Iraq has been so affected by terrorism. In the past decade, some 50,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives. But apart from terrorism, the country also suffers from non-militant violence. Pakistan’s murder rate is seven times that of China, and twice that of India. In 2012, there were 20,000 reported kidnappings.

Our research shows that 22 per cent of young Pakistanis have either been victims of violence or have family or friends who have been victims. Of all those surveyed, 16 per cent have been threatened with a gun or a knife; kidnapped; or abused physically and/or sexually. The impact of this level of violence has long-lasting consequences on people’s lives. Of the respondents who said they had experienced a traumatic violent event, nearly half (41 per cent) reported suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Money is part of the problem — and a lack of faith in institutions

Poverty appears to be part of the puzzle as to why Pakistan suffers from such violence. Most respondents (78 per cent) mentioned some kind of economic or resources-led motivation for violence and conflict.

There was also a deep distrust of ‘official’ law-enforcement — only 13 per cent of those surveyed said they would turn to the police or courts with confidence to resolve an issue or obtain justice. But respondents said that informal conflict-resolution institutions don’t provide a clear answer either. They were seen as both resolving conflict and fuelling it, playing a paradoxical role.

What sort of stories came out of the research?

Among the many different stories gathered in the report are those of drone attack victims, contract killers, and servants falsely accused of theft, to name a few examples. There are reports of severe violence caused by family feuds over dowries, acid attacks to disfigure victims as a means of retribution, police brutality, addiction. The stories shared by these young Pakistanis are deeply personal and moving. Some offer new hope, as they show how hard some members of the next generation are struggling to make their communities more resilient and establish a culture of non-violence.

What needs to be done?

Pakistan’s victims need a voice. The media does basic reporting, but doesn’t show what the long-term effects of violence are on the victims of violence. There’s a culture of ‘silent stoicism’, which means that young people don’t have a natural outlet to talk about their pain. Pakistanis would like those who have been killed in violence to be commemorated officially, to show the victims’ lives are worth remembering. One of the main challenges of dealing with the legacy of violence in the country, and the psychological effect it has had on Pakistanis, is that one-to-one counselling sessions are expensive and require trained manpower — resources that the country doesn’t have.

The report makes four recommendations:

1. Pakistan needs a large-scale public health programme to support the mental and emotional needs of survivors of violence, and victims’ families, and also to tackle the behaviour of people who carry out acts of violence.

2. The country’s media could benefit from a voluntary code of conduct on how to cover violent events.

3. Pakistan’s people, government, and the international community should create a non-partisan coalition that could reach across political divides to confront violence.

4. A Commission for Survivors and Victims, and a day and book of remembrance, would give a voice to people whose lives have been affected by violence and let them know that they haven’t been forgotten.

Find out more in the Next Generation report and about our society work in Pakistan.

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