IGE Promotes Peace among Faith Communities in Pakistan’s Volatile Frontier
Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), bordering Afghanistan, has been the scene of ongoing violent conflict and political controversy. In recent weeks, bombings along the Afghan border have surged, as have attacks on businesses accused of “anti-Islamic” activities. Meanwhile, the national assembly is debating an apostasy amendment proposed by the Islamist political party MMA (whose base is the NWFP’s conservative Muslims), imposing the death penalty on male converts from Islam. The amendment has led some international observers to suggest the “Talibanization” of the province.
Amidst this volatile climate, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) visited Pakistan’s NWFP from 24-28 May 2007 to promote peace and understanding. The visit was the result of a 2005 signed agreement between NWFP Chief Minister Akram Durrani (a freely elected MMA party member) and IGE President Chris Seiple.
While there, IGE co-sponsored an international conference on religion and peacemaking with NWFP-based Faith Friends, a local inter-faith organization. This first-ever conference featured presentations by leaders of the Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Shia minorities, and was attended by 40 prominent Sunni imams from throughout the region. IGE’s Josh White, addressing the crowd in Urdu, noted: “When I return to America, most people will not believe when I tell them that I was in Peshawar talking about peace with Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus and Christians. Their view is that Pakistan is very dangerousthe country of the Kalashnikov! But we know that this view is not right. . . . We have among us some different views on society and religion. But the call to plant peace is shared by all of us.”
IGE also visited, for the first time, the sixteen students in its Global Engagement Fellows Program at the University of Science and Technology in Bannu, on the border of lawless North Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Established in 2006, the Fellows Program creates an alternative to the sectarian violence, poverty, and illiteracy that permeate the area through holistic education rooted in religious tolerance training. All 16 students are the first in their families to attend college; 7 are women and 3 are from FATA.
Finally, IGE visited with the tiny Christian minority in Charsadda, who recently received death threats from Islamic extremists. These Christians expressed to IGE their gratitude for the ongoing love and support of their Muslim neighbors, and for the Chief Minister’s police protection. However, they remained scared. IGE encouraged Faith Friends to mediate the situation by holding an inter-faith dialogue in Charsadda and making a public statement against extremist threats.
IGE concluded its trip by expressing its gratitude to the Chief Minister and encouraging his continued efforts to protect minorities and counter violent extremism in the province.