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City Spotlight: Mardan

The second biggest city in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan, Mardan has long been a vital trade centre as well as a gateway to Taliban-influenced Swat. Mardan officially became a Strong Cities member In March 2023, following participation in the South Asia Regional Hub inaugural workshop. Sharing his priorities in engaging with peers around the world, Mayor Himayat Mayar noted that, “[Mardan] has always stood for peace whether it was rehabilitating refugees and internally displaced people” and expressed a particular interest in developing local government engagement with youth, women and marginalised communities and well as continues sharing of good practices and experiences related to refugees and displaced persons.

What is the local government concerned about?

With the settlement of over a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the wake of internal counterterrorism operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the significant numbers of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Mardan has faced sustained challenges to peace, security and cohesion. It has had to absorb as many as 1.5 million IDPs alone, all in the face of limited resources. Larger than and adjacent to the security-fragile and extremism-prone districts of Charsadda, Nowshera, and Swabi, Mardan continues to find itself in the crosshairs of extremist organisations vying for influence in the region. The lynching of a Mardan university student by a mob of fellow students as well as provocateurs made international headlines and further underlined the need for urgent attention and support.

How is the local government responding?

Faced with these realities, the mayor’s office in Mardan has remained focused on the expanded functions of local governments in Pakistan and has highlighted the need for local mandates for prevention and resilience. It has provided a platform in Mardan where local government officials and community leaders have come together to address complex crises, which could help inform the development of a future potential mandate around violence prevention and social cohesion. Examples include district level “peace committees” and local government contributions to help settle IDPs. The mayor’s office remains focused on education and on engaging youth and women. It has led a district public assembly organised under the ‘Jazba Program’ of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan in Town Municipal Administration (TMA) Hall and has convened multiple ‘Jirgahs’ and ‘Jalsas’ – town hall meetings – to address challenges faced by youth and women.

What’s next?

Several NGOs and civil society organisations operate in Mardan on refugee and displacement priorities, as do international organisations such as UNHCR. With a particular focus on supporting the city to build an inclusive and tolerant environment that espouses non-violence, the city seeks support for training and capacity-building of local government officials, connections to other cities that face similar challenges and have lessons to share, and access to technical and financial resources for local programming and community engagement. In addition, Mardan seeks support to ensure the voice of its mayor and local government is included in federal government planning decisions for the region, especially on the issues of security and prevention, as well as measures to meet the needs of refugee and displaced communities.

Is your city a Strong City?

Strong Cities membership is open to local authorities at the city, municipal or other subnational level. Membership is free of charge.