Conflict divides in Pakistan have widened in recent years in the context of increasingly contentious state-citizen relationships, and a society polarised along regional, communal, and sectarian lines. Some communities have become subject to the influence of potentially violent radical elements, and peace is increasingly fragile. In addition, safe spaces for voices that advocate for peace within civil society are limited, in part a reflection of intensified conservatism and withdrawal from negotiated settlement within society itself. These conflict risk factors are compounded by an economy that has seen a reversal in economic growth, threatening further under-development and instigating social unrest.
In order to strengthen the peacebuilding impact of the private sector in Pakistan, International Alert, in partnership with Responsible Business Initiative (RBI), has initiated Plural Business Partnerships for Peace in Pakistan project- a pilot project to understand and strengthen the capacities of key business change agents. This initiative is supported by the European Union, which is interested in identifying new innovative approaches towards peacebuilding in Pakistan.
Building on Alert’s international experiences in private sector engagement for peace within the South Asian region, the project intends to address economic drivers of conflict by promoting reform of inclusive economic governance policies, and conflict-sensitive business practices to ensure more equitable distribution of economic opportunities. International Alert and Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) will work with UN Global Compact Pakistan Local Network (UNGCPLN) as well as with selected academic and civil society organisations to implement this project. Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) is Pakistan’s only CSR-specific think tank and enabler, directly involved with research, appraisal, benchmarking, sustainability disclosures, multi-stakeholder engagement, training and capacity-building interventions on sustainability and responsible entrepreneurship in the business sector.
Jointly organised by International Alert and RBI, a roundtable was held on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 in Lahore, Pakistan to discuss the scope of business partnerships for peace in Pakistan. The roundtable was the first in a series of activities that will be organised during the next two years as a part of this project. The dialogue brought together participants from the business chambers, civil society organisations, academic institutions and the government. Dr. Markus Mayer, Programme Manager South & Southeast Asia, introduced International Alert’s work to stakeholders in Pakistan and shared international experiences in supporting business for peace in conflict-affected countries. The discussion focused on the following questions:
- What are the main socio-economic issues contributing to conflict that businesses could/ should address?
- What experiences have the businesses had in dealing with various kinds of conflicts and what mitigation methods have they adopted?
- What are the strengths and opportunities of the business sector in engaging in peacebuilding activities?
- What are the challenges and constraints for business to engage in peacebuilding activities?
The concept of the project was well received by the participants and they appreciated the innovativeness of the approach in addressing conflicts in Pakistan. The establishment of a Project Advisory Committee was discussed at the event, with key stakeholders showing a keen interest in joining the Committee. The Advisory Committee will provide strategic guidance and strengthen the inter-sectoral approach of the project. The roundtable event will be followed by a research exercise led by RBI to map the interests, capacities and enabling environment of the business community, at both national and local levels, to engage in peacebuilding.