Pakistan’s disputes with neighboring India and Afghanistan periodically erupt in violence. Domestic attacks involving disparate terrorist and insurgent groups, and counter-offensives by Pakistan’s military, have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis over a decade and forced nearly 1.5 million from their homes. Sectarian violence against minorities is fueled by a narrow vision for Pakistan’s national identity that has been promoted by political movements and state institutions. The inability of state institutions to reliably provide peaceful ways to resolve competing interests has encouraged groups to see violence as a legitimate alternative. The violent instability of Pakistan, the world’s sixth-most populous nation, poses a threat to regional and international security. However, the country has expanded its economy and begun addressing energy shortages and investing in infrastructure, steps that have begun to boost the economic growth vital to improved stability.


The U.S. Institute of Peace has conducted research and analysis and promoted dialogue in Pakistan since the 1990s, and has had a presence in the country since 2013. The Institute works to reverse Pakistan’s growing intolerance for diversity. It supports local organizations that develop innovative ways to build peace and counter violent extremism through media, arts, and education.

USIP works with state institutions in their efforts to be more responsive to citizens’ needs, which can reduce sentiment for using violence to resolve grievances. It supports Pakistanis’ work on police and judicial reforms, and promotes women’s voices in the development of security policies. It works to strengthen democratic institutions and governance.

The Institute supports research in Pakistan to better pinpoint causes of violence, and has provided U.S., Pakistani, and international policymakers and practitioners with research and analysis. USIP convenes policy dialogues to inform policies and practices and help peacebuilding professionals share ideas that work.

USIP’s work in Pakistan includes:

Support for peaceful elections to counter sectarian violence. Following repeated violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Gilgit-Baltistan, USIP funded uElect, a youth-led nonprofit group, to encourage a peaceful regional election in June 2015. “Peace festivals” used traditional cultural performances to urge citizens to consider candidates’ competence rather than vote purely by sectarian affiliation. Voting was peaceful and the regional government has moved to institutionalize the campaign for future elections. For the 2013 national election, USIP supported PakVotes, a social media initiative that publicly disseminated validated information to counter election-related rumors rumors that have sparked violence.

Making police and the criminal justice system more responsive to public needs. Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Courts make few convictions. They are overburdened by cases that are not terrorism-related, are presented with unusable evidence, and lack a system even to archive earlier court judgments. USIP provided Platform, a Pakistani research organization, a grant to analyze more than 500 court decisions and suggest reforms. One concrete step: USIP and its local partners developed with police a set of standard procedures, which had not existed, for officers to secure sites of terrorist attacks and preserve evidence for investigators and eventual prosecutions.

Creating dialogues to bridge communal divides that breed violence. Pakistan’s separated school systems for children of poorer or richer classes—religious madrassas, low-cost private or public schools, and elite private academies—perpetuate social divisions. Students typically build no relationships with peers in other systems and can remain alienated from each other for life. USIP supported a local nonprofit group in gathering students from these disparate systems to discuss this problem and explore solutions. Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority and the largest madrassa federation called separately for replicating the dialogues.

Helping Pakistanis rebuild traditions of tolerance to counter extremists’ demands for violence. In Pakistan’s ethnically Pashtun northwest, an epicenter of extremist violence, religious militancy has eroded a traditional culture of music and poetry that favors free expression. USIP supported local cultural leaders in reviving performances that encourage tolerant coexistence and are shared via music videos. Separately, a USIP grant supported the creation of an animated series on the country’s most-watched TV channel that dramatizes, especially for children, messages of tolerance for diversity from Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The project has been expanded to schools, where students are engaged in discussions anchored in the cartoon’s messages.

Promoting the voices of Pakistani women seeking policies to help end “honor killings.” A thousand or more women are murdered each year for allegedly staining their male relatives’ “honor” by marrying men of their choice. Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Academy Award for her documentary on this brutality and on the legal loophole that let killers escape prosecution. USIP hosted Obaid-Chinoy to screen the film in Washington and discuss with experts ways to end this violence. After publicity around the film, Pakistan’s parliament changed the law to close the loophole. USIP has hosted Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for discussions with U.S. officials, scholars, and the public that have included questions on social justice and women’s rights.

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Pakistan Pursues a ‘Reset’ in U.S. Relations

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Even with U.S.-Pakistani relations badly frayed over the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s new government wants to seize an opportunity for a political solution of that war, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said October 3. A “new convergence” of thinking among the Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. governments is creating much of that opportunity, Qureshi said at USIP in his first visit to the United States under the two-month-old government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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As Pakistan faces a number of vexing regional and international challenges, Prime Minister Imran Khan will come into office with little foreign policy experience. Whether it’s repairing deteriorating U.S.-Pakistan relations or managing nuclear tensions with India, Khan’s ability to steer foreign policy will depend on his relations with...

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