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peace rickshaw, aman saway, peace not pieces, Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, Pakistan Youth Alliance,
Pakistani artist Nusrat Iqbal puts final touches to a rickshaw in Karachi, Pakistan. -Photo by AP

KARACHI: Pakistani youth leader Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has a plan to counter the relentless message of violence spewed forth by extremist 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.

Radicals 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 US-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.”

Others cite snippets of Sufi poems, phrases from Islam's holy book, the Quran, or messages of interfaith harmony: “Respecting other religions brings respect for your religion.”

One of the most direct is: “I'm driving a rickshaw, not a bullet.”

To produce eye-catching designs for the rickshaws, Zaidi's organization enlisted the help of a truck artist in Karachi, Nusrat Iqbal, a celebrity in his field because he once decorated a bus in London and a tram in Sydney.

With initial funding of nearly $25,000 from a donor who did not wish to be credited, the group has decorated five rickshaws so far and has plans for 50 more in Karachi. It hopes to spread the fleet to Pakistan's other major cities as it gets more funding.

“I agreed to work on the program because everyone needs to do their part to spread peace and love in the country,” said Iqbal, standing outside his small shop in the middle of a truck yard in Karachi's dusty and poor Sohrab Goth area.

Hard-line groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa have long used rickshaws to promote their message, minus the colorful decorations. The group is believed to be a front for a militant organization that carried out attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

Many rickshaws in the eastern city of Lahore, where Jamaat-ud-Dawa is based, carry anti-India messages sponsored by the group, such as “War against India will continue until the liberation of Kashmir.”

Jamaat-ud-Dawa pays the drivers about $5 each to carry their slogans, said Zaidi.

The Pakistan Youth Alliance pays about $100 to decorate each rickshaw and is appealing to drivers to participate in the campaign by telling them they will attract more customers.

Pakistani artists prepare colorful panels for rickshaws in Karachi, Pakistan. -Photo by AP

While buses and trucks across Pakistan are often festooned with flowers, tigers, peacocks and other images made with colorful paint, stickers and metalwork, many rickshaws are relatively unadorned. Iqbal, the rickshaw artist, used similarly eye-catching decorations with a pro-peace twist.

One was covered with white and orange peace symbols, with the words “Peace Not Pieces” painted on the front in English. Another has images of local newspaper articles discussing violence in the country that are overlaid with colorful flowers and slogans preaching peace.

Some have signs that light up at night that say “Aman Sawary,” or “Peace Rickshaw,” along with a steel heart with wings that says “Love, Peace, Tolerance.”

Mohammed Salahuddin, a driver of one of the peace rickshaws, says the campaign has been good for his business.

“People like the design and choose my rickshaw over others when they have a choice,” he said.

Ironically, Salahuddin and another peace rickshaw driver interviewed by The Associated Press couldn't read the slogans painted on their vehicles because they are illiterate — a common problem in a country where the literacy rate hovers near 50 percent.

Mohammed Younis, a bus driver sipping a cup of tea in the Sohrab Goth truck yard, said he thought the message of peace sent by the rickshaws was vital.

“If people understood the culture of peace, they wouldn't be killing 50 people every day,” said Younis.

Zaidi said he is also in discussions with Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, about possibly putting a peace rickshaw in front of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

“We know that the rickshaws are not going to solve the problem of violence in Karachi, but hopefully they will play their part in building a culture of peace,” said Zaidi.

“On the tree of peace building, we hope they will be a leaf.”

Comments (42) Closed

Goga Nalaik Feb 08, 2013 10:20am
Good initiative Ali Abbas, Keep it Up!
sri1ram Feb 08, 2013 06:44pm
Common slogans we find on Indian rickshaws are: 1. Horn OK please 2. Parents' or Mother's blessings 3. A daughter comes, progress happens. 4. Are you educating your daughter? I am. 5. Sabka Maalik ek 6. I love Yash (Success)
Adeeb Khan Feb 08, 2013 03:32pm
And that too in English! knowing the majority of our population can't read or understand English. Its a good idea but I really doubt the sincerity behind, as its seems to pleased the elite class with this idea and to bag some bucks in his pocket in the name of spreading peace.
Astro Feb 08, 2013 11:53am
Every little bit helps...
Stranger Feb 08, 2013 10:23am
I like the line - Peace , not pieces. A profound statement.
Gulbaz Mushtaq Feb 08, 2013 02:11pm
AHA Feb 08, 2013 07:02pm
One small step for a man, one giant step for ...............
Nair Feb 08, 2013 05:13pm
Architectural, the writer discusses about auto rickshaws in Pakistan promoting violence against India!!,!!
Nair Feb 08, 2013 05:13pm
Aren't art works anti Islamic???
Muhammad Khalil Feb 08, 2013 06:05pm
A great initiative! Let's spread, peace, love and harmony where all Pakistanis feel secure regardless of religion and factions. We have a fundamental obligation toward our minorities and as nation are ashamed of deeds to-date. Let's turn the wheel! Best Khalil
Rachit Feb 08, 2013 11:59am
"Radicals 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." When has this happened in 'India'? Violent slogans on rickshaws!- it's just not possible in India
karenmcfly Feb 08, 2013 11:44am
My eyes never got tired of admiring Pakistani truck art on buses and trucks. More of it on rickshaws is definitely welcome.
WeCare Feb 08, 2013 03:45pm
Good to know - Every positive work is worth encouragement.
Allaisa Feb 08, 2013 03:59pm
What he means is that "Pakistani Radicals have long used the rickshaws in Pakistan as a canvas to market slogans in support of religious warfare in neighboring India and Afghanistan and to foster hatred against the United States". Just a typo!
Junaid Feb 08, 2013 08:22pm
Writing the ' Peace, Love, Tolerence' message in english language gives me the impression that neither our national language 'Urdu' nor any local language (e.g. Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi , etc.) have any words for such feelings. Could it be that people have no trust in those words anymore?
areluctantpakistani Feb 08, 2013 11:20am
While it easy to be cynical, I wish these guys all the success possible. Given a choice I would definitely board one of these rickshaws over others.
adale Feb 08, 2013 04:31pm
"religious warfare in india and afghanistan" is to be read together. What the words mean is not what you understood.
SAIF Feb 08, 2013 02:33pm
Very good idea.however, messages should be in Urdu so the killers can read.
pathanoo Feb 08, 2013 09:28pm
It is a great idea. It is natural and will appeal to our better basic human instincts.
Indusonian Feb 08, 2013 10:37pm
No doubt, the art of decorating trucks and rickshaws is the best in this world.
farooq Feb 09, 2013 12:17am
very good idea.we all should encourage this.
Cool Monk Feb 09, 2013 12:18am
Are these Bajaj auto-rickshaws? In that case, "love, peace and tolerance" makes even more sense. That said, the internal terrorists and troublemakers in Pakistan will see this as a way to sideline their main occupation. Fearing joblessness, they will retaliate.
mohammad imran tahir Feb 09, 2013 01:44am
pretty soon the symbols will be declared unislamic and the rickshaas and their sawaris wajib ul qatal
B R Chawla Feb 09, 2013 03:46am
Bravo lage raho. One day it may lead to change of hearts. Chawla
Anwer Feb 09, 2013 04:03am
The language is not gonna work I think , if its targeting the radical elements then it must be in Urdu I dont think anyone including the rickshaw driver is getting the message. It good to have a dandy impression but not result oriented.
Canuck Feb 09, 2013 04:04am
Many years ago there was another man who started "Hair Peace." It is still talked about till today. One man or woman can sometimes make a difference. In this case between war and love. Hair peace guy was by the way was John Lenon (Beetles' lead singer.)
suleman Feb 09, 2013 04:37am
khanm Feb 09, 2013 05:19am
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
A Pakistani Feb 09, 2013 05:42am
Nice work, but who is he giving the message in English.......Americans, British Indians? just who? illiterate nationals of our country will give a damn of this message. I dont see any change coming through a Rickshaw, but still wish you success.
Lakhkar Khan Feb 09, 2013 06:12am
The article is about peace, not hate. Read it again, dope.
Tamreez Feb 09, 2013 12:14pm
Great work PYA! :)
Ijaz Feb 09, 2013 03:02pm
Dont be so pessimistic bro if you are really a Pakistani :)
Zee Feb 09, 2013 03:51pm
Atleast some one is doing SOMETHING. And something is still better than nothing. But I'd agree, how about they make this more pictorial and use Urdu statements instead of English.. You know those heart-touching serious Urdu verses that really make you stop and think sometimes, particularly Iqbal :)
Saad Feb 09, 2013 03:55pm
Surprise surprise, the Rikshaw walas are humans and have the ability to choose slogans to write on their vehicle. I don't think "radicals" have been painting on rikshaws, or forcing rikshaw walas to write anti-US, ant-india anti-Hell slogans etc. Why on earth do we come up with a conspiracy theory for everything?
A patriot Feb 09, 2013 04:34pm
A good initiative worth encouraging. Great job!
vinayak Feb 09, 2013 05:19pm
hi i am from chennai india. just wanted to say i love the pakistani truck art . ! so. personalised ! hope u guys do better work on the ricks as well.! :)
Jabal ul Tariq Feb 09, 2013 05:38pm
Peace symbol on the rickshaw is upside down :-)
Faisal Roy Feb 09, 2013 06:19pm
Rickshaw my friend is part of our national identity and Rickshaw drivers represent our society, They are normal people who simply want change in their city and country. You will be surprise to see the figure of literate Rickshaw drivers
Aquila Feb 09, 2013 07:34pm
Every little change will make a difference: qatra qatra darya banta hay!
Chump Feb 09, 2013 07:55pm
Salute to these vinyl artist.With no plotters you create miracles. I just love your art.
Avishek Roy Feb 10, 2013 05:29am
My friend, I am Indian...and I can't read/write in Hindi or Urdu..I can speak in these two languages though...I can read, write & speak by only two languages: English & Bengali (my mother language)...And this is the case for lots of other persons in India...That's why this has to be written in English.. :)
S.khan Feb 10, 2013 05:30am
It is hoped the message will be read and followed in its true spirit for peace and stability in the country. This is not a message of a rickshaw driver but a cry of the majority of Pakistanis are fed up from this blood shed.