Soft Power, Woman Power: Forging a New Security Paradigm in Pakistan

   •    May 7, 2012

This article was originally published by Global Post.

It was a unique Christmas party. Eight madrassah students in Peshawar, Pakistan took giant homemade cards, cake and flowers over to the US Consulate last year. The students and diplomats sat and talked for four hours, facilitated by teachers who provide English language and computer skills to the Islamic schools.

“This is the first time that these boys are connecting to and being exposed to a world outside the madrassah,” said Sameena Imtiaz, executive director of Peace Education and Development (PEAD), a non-profit foundation in Pakistan that has been working with madrassahs since 2005. “It wasn’t easy to build this relationship. It has taken a long time for them to trust us.”

It was a small step towards bridging what seems to be an ever-growing divide in the polarised post-9/11 world, where bomb blasts and security advisories have drastically reduced people-to-people contact between Americans and Pakistanis — opening a rift extremists can exploit.

The Amn-o-Nisa visit is “helping shift the US narrative on Pakistan, and particularly, the role women can play as change agents in the country,” observes Allison Shean, senior training specialist and program officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security. “Throughout their time in DC, the delegates offered concrete solutions for how the United States can better engage on the ground in Pakistan. Policymakers were responsive to their requests and appreciated hearing perspectives that are often left out of debates on US foreign policy.”

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