Remarks to the 6th National Youth Peace Festival

The Honorable Rana Masood Ahmad Khan, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports, Tourism, Government of Punjab

The Honorable Shaista Pervaiz Malik, Member of National Assembly

The Honorable Sardar Vickas Hassan Mokal, Member of Punjab Provincial Assembly and Chairman of the Punjab Youth Parliamentary Caucus

Mr. Mohammad Shahzad Khan, Executive Director of the Chanan Development Association

Mr.Qaiser Roonjha, Chairman Chanan Development Association

Representatives from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Distinguished guests and youth leaders of Pakistan,

Assalamu alaikum.

It is an honor to be here today to address such a dynamic group of over 600 young people. Pakistan’s youth comprise 67 percent of the population. You represent Pakistan’s future. And anyone lucky enough to spend time with you would see that Pakistan has a very bright future. You are here because you aim high, you are committed to achievement, and you want the best for yourselves, your families, schools, and communities.

I am gratified that the Umeed Jawan project supports this effort. With over 60 civil society members, Umeed Jawan has engaged youth in activities that promote positive values and national unity in their local communities.

I also recognize the efforts of the Government of Punjab and Pakistan’s Parliament, well represented here today, to support civil society initiatives such as this one that provide a positive counter-narrative against intolerance and extremism. Since the tragic events of December 16, the Federal Government and the Punjab government have both shown outstanding leadership in confronting the central security challenges facing Pakistan in our time. This initiative, to develop young voices that will promote national unity, tolerance, and respect, is one more step in the right direction.

By working together, civil society, the government, and individuals such as yourselves can help build a more peaceful and tolerant Pakistan.

And I want you to know that the United States stands as Pakistan’s partner in these efforts. We seek to empower young people as economic and civic actors. We encourage governments to respond to youth issues. And we directly connect with young people around the world to inspire positive change.

One concrete example of this partnership is education. Quaid-i-AzamMohammad Ali Jinnah was a vocal proponent of education and its importance for developing the nation. He said, “Pakistan is proud of her youth, particularly the students, who are the nation builders of tomorrow. They must fully equip themselves by discipline, education, and training for the arduous task lying ahead of them.” Education is the foundation of economic development, political stability, and personal self-fulfillment, and so it is naturally a main pillar of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. At the United Nations last fall, President Obama spoke directly to young people across the Muslim world about the need to stand together to combat violent extremism that threatens peace and stability. He said: “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance…You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed — good schools, education …then societies will flourish.

In the last six years, the United States government has invested over $600 million to expand access and improve the quality of education in Pakistan at all levels. That money has: built or refurbished over 1,000 schools; sent thousands of Pakistani students, academics, and professionals on exchange programs; trained more than 7,000 new teachers and helped to re-train almost 60,000 others through short courses; awarded more than 2,500 scholarships to talented but low income and disadvantaged students to attend local universities; and created partnerships between U.S. and Pakistani universities—benefiting schools such as the University of Gujrat, Lahore College for Women University, and Kinnaird College for Women. We are also building state-of-the-art faculties of education at five universities in Punjab to train the next generation of Pakistani teacher. Beyond that, nearly 5,000 Pakistani students attended university in the United States last year, many of them on Fulbright Scholarships. Indeed, Pakistan has the largest Fulbright program in the world.

I’d also like to highlight the American Consulate’s youth councils, which join the ranks of the existing 67 U.S. State Department-sponsored youth councils around the world. Formed in 2013, these youth councils have supported underprivileged students’ education, given hope to young cancer patients, campaigned against gender-based violence, and promoted freedom of expression and religion. These activities have made a difference in communities across Pakistan.

The National Youth Peace Festival, now in its sixth year of activity under the auspices of Mr. Khan and the Chanan Development Association, will help Pakistan grow into its peaceful and prosperous future; a future characterized by national unity. I encourage you to participate actively in all segments of the program and be ambassadors in your own communities for the concepts that you will learn. Each segment of the program is vital to your development as community leaders, from democracy, to role models, to discussion of Pakistan’s National Action Plan.

The session on interfaith harmony and countering hate speech will help you lead your communities in accepting and celebrating Pakistan’s diversity of cultures, traditions, and religions. As Ambassador Olson has recently stated, the United States strongly believes that the freedom to practice one’s religion without fear of intimidation, coercion, or any form of reprisal is a basic human right, both in Pakistan and throughout the world. Here in Pakistan, we have seen that same commitment. In 2013, for example, members of the Muslim community formed human chains around a Christian church to demonstrate solidarity against senseless sectarian violence.

I hope that you will reflect on the themes presented to you during the conference and share your experience with your home communities. We should not let ourselves be defined by our differences, but forge common ground, committing ourselves to work together in the steady pursuit of progress and national unity. This is the message of the National Youth Peace Festival. Please join me in realizing its vision.

Khuda hafez.