“Had the earthquake struck a day earlier or later, we would have been in the middle of it” said Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE). When the earthquake struck, Mr. Seiple and the IGE delegation were in Bannu, southwest of Peshawar, just north of Pakistan’s tribal zones along the Afghan border. They had been in the most northern part of the country the day before and were scheduled to return the next day. The IGE team was in Pakistan for ten days, meeting with political and religious leaders in Pakistan’s rugged North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most heavily affected by the earthquake.

“The earthquake represents a chance for the world to rediscover the humanity of Pakistan, move past the negative stereotypes and see anew the historic traditions of tolerance and respect,” said Seiple, en route to further meetings in neighboring Uzbekistan.

IGE, a Christian think-tank based in Washington, D.C., hosted a NWFP delegation this past summer, headed by NWFP’s Chief Minister, Akram Durrani. IGE arranged for the delegation to meet U.S. State and Defense Department officials as well as Congressional leaders.

Second, discrepancies among ordinances and guidelines on religious freedom must be clarified in order to train officials comprehensively. Progress made in educating and training government and church officials about last year’s guidelines on religious affairs separately is not as effective as joint classes at district and commune levels, where church and government officials would train together on implementation of national legislation.

With the death toll approaching 40,000, Seiple urges the international community to mobilize assistance, and to work through local authorities. IGE has given $10,000 dollars to the NWFP Emergency Relief Fund, established by Chief Minister Durrani.

In support of its religious freedom work, IGE has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NWFP government that commits both parties to promoting religious freedom in the context of sustainable socio-economic development. 40% of NWFP’s population, for example, lives on less than one dollar a day.

Seiple, an expert in Central Asian politics, points to the opportunities that might arise from this tragedy. “In the context of our common humanity, it is IGE’s great hope and prayer that Americans will see Pakistan not as the home of terrorists but as a place to be engaged according to common values. It is also our hope that this tragedy will continue and strengthen the ongoing peace talks between India and Pakistan.”