Eye-catching rickshaws promote peace in Pakistan

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi

Pakistani youth leader Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has a plan to counter the relentless message of violence spewed forth by radical Islamic groups in his country _ and he is stealing a gimmick from the hard-liners' own playbook to do it.

His weapon: the three-wheeled motorized rickshaws that buzz along Pakistan's streets carrying paying customers.

Radical Islamists have long used the rickshaws as a canvas to market slogans in support of religious warfare in neighboring India and Afghanistan and to foster hatred against the United States.

Zaidi is turning that strategy on its head with a fleet of rickshaws emblazoned with peace slogans and decorated with colorful designs similar to those found on many trucks and buses in the country.

''We need to take back this romanticized art form and use it for peace sloganeering and conflict resolution,'' said Zaidi, head of the Pakistan Youth Alliance.

Pakistan could certainly do with more peace. Domestic Taliban militants and their allies have waged a bloody insurgency across the country in recent years that has killed thousands of people. The nation is also home to many militants who have focused their fight on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and have battled India for control of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Zaidi chose to begin his ''peace rickshaw'' project in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, a swirling cauldron of 18 million people wracked by ethnic, political and sectarian violence. Over 2,000 people were murdered last year in the city, located on Pakistan's southern coast.

The Pakistan Youth Alliance held workshops with over 200 students in some of Karachi's most conflict-prone areas to come up with designs and slogans for the rickshaws.

Some take common Urdu street expressions, such as ''Hey dude, don't tease,'' and give them a peaceful twist: ''Hey dude, don't fight.''

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