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Aliya Harir

Aliya Harir is the Pakistan chapter convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (which literally means "beginning of friendship"), an initiative for building peace and friendship between India and Pakistan, two long-standing rivals. In this role, she has developed, designed, and delivered programs based on citizen diplomacy that facilitate people-to-people contact, address mutual hatred and suspicion, create a culture of peace and understanding among people of both countries, educate them about the issues of conflict, highlight the issues of victims of conflicts and thus build a belief in dialogue and peaceful ways of conflict resolution. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is one of the most popular voices on Indopak peace and, being the head of this initiative from Pakistan. Aliya has a major role in this. She leads the Pakistan team, encourages other youths (especially women), gives them responsibilities, and is also presenting a beautiful example of empowering women for peacebuilding and conflict resolution. She is doing all of this voluntarily for no monetary compensation. Though she always gives credit to her whole team, it is also true that her presence always encourages team members to do their best. Leading this initiative since the start, conceiving ideas and strategy, reaching out to people and executing the real tasks on the ground with the involvement of the team has really become fruitful in bringing about ‘first-ever’ accomlisments through this campaign, such as the first-ever classroom connection, first-ever peace calendars, first-ever concept of Aman Chaupals, first-ever virtual peacebuilding course, in addition to regular activities. With a majority of women coordinators, she has established Aaghaz-e-Dosti chapters in Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Toba Tek Singh and Islamabad with a good network of coordinators and volunteers. Through her contribution, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has become among one of the most-read blogs on peace and most active pages and groups among social media. The efforts of Aaghaz-e-Dosti were even cited in a research thesis and was featured in Op-Ed of newspapers in addition to other newspaper reporting. Her skills and commitment in organizing activities have built the peoples trust in Aaghaz-e-Dosti and have brought the presence of many eminent names to Aaghaz-e-Dosti activities from time to time. Aaghaz-e-Dosti, through its activities, has provided peace education to thousands of youths of various age groups and in urban and rural both regions through its ground and online efforts and is continuing to connect many more.          

She additionally works as the Programs Coordinator for the annual Global Youth Peace Festival in Chandigarh, India that brings together people from all over the world. She annually juries, facilitates, mentors, and leads peace delegations for participation in the program. She has led such delegations three times and has visited India (the supposed enemy of Pakistan) a total of four times, thus contradicting the popular perception that Pakistanis are unsafe in India. She has also helped young people in India challenge their pre-built perspectives about Pakistan and shaped their thinking in working for peace. As she describes it: “Every time I make the news of my visit public, people try to strengthen around me the fear of something they have not even seen, but I now have come to the realization that every time I crossed the boundaries of fear, I found love on the other side.” Additionally, she is working on a project at Aaghaz-e-Dosti to document Indopak cross-border marriages, which she eventually plans to shape in the form of a book. In her role as a researcher, she aims to understand how political conflict mediates and is mediated by love and marriage which are otherwise conceptualized as personal.

Currently, Aliya is the youngest fellow of a three-year dialogue project called "India-Pakistan Relations: A Long-Term Transformation Vision" by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Germany, which brings together 60 Indians and Pakistanis thrice a year in a third country to work towards a new narrative explaining why change is needed and how it can be brought about. She is also the youngest member of the social media team of Aman ki Asha (hope for peace), a joint campaign by two leading media houses of Pakistan and India. She is alumni of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program under which she spent a semi-year in the United States for academic and cultural exchange at Troy University, Alabama. Back home, she ran for a leadership position at the alumni network and was elected as the Youth Director of Pakistan – US Alumni Network to facilitate and mentor young alumni in giving back to their communities. She also serves as the Country Representative for the International Forum for Democracy and Peace, Turkey.

India and Pakistan were divided along communal lines 69 years ago and there is still a lot of hatred, jingoism. Aliya has openly faced criticism from people on both sides of the border. From being called spy to traitor, the challenges have been numerous.
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