On November 6 to 9, 2015, Peace for Life successfully convened in Bangkok, Thailand a conference and discussions to build interfaith solidarity for the people affected by the ongoing situations of violence and conflict in Pakistan. Leaders from a number of international and local faithbased organizations and universities participated in the event and together signed a communiqué urging the heads of Christian and Muslim communities in Pakistan to take a stand against all types of fundamentalisms and against militarised globalisation. The mission had five main objectives: 1) deepen the understanding of the main underlying causes of conflict and violence in the country; 2) determine entry points for Peace for Life’s solidarity work; 3) come up with a unity statement on the key geopolitical issues affecting Pakistan in particular, and the world in general; 4) conceive of ways on how different faiths and religious communities could collectively advocate for human rights; 5) develop strategies and concrete actions to strengthen international solidarity for justice, peace, and human rights in the South Asia region.
The interfaith solidarity mission, originally set to be held in Pakistan but moved to Bangkok owing to security restrictions, was hosted by the Asian Muslim Action Network. Board and lodging of participants and the space for the main gathering were provided by the United Church of Christ in Thailand. The Waldensian Church – Otto Per Mille provided the much needed financial aid to make this vision into reality.
FUNDAMENTALISM AND MILITARISED GLOBALISATION: PARTNERS IN TERROR
Pakistan currently faces several obstacles to peace. The armed forces of Pakistan and armed groups remain locked in some parts of the country; this has resulted in the displacement and deaths of tens of thousands of people. Repressive laws, including a law against blasphemy and practices induced by religious fundamentalism and deep-rooted patriarchy have escalated the violation of human rights, promoted violence against women and children, as well as discrimination and repression of religious and ethnic minorities. The challenges facing Christians in Pakistan, many of whom live in slums and are relegated to working menial jobs, are particularly acute in the rural areas.
Professor Junaid Ahmad of Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan underscored the vital role of raising the consciousness of Pakistanis to ensure peace and religious freedom in the country: “Religious militancy has polarized Pakistani society. It is important to raise the awareness of Pakistanis on how fundamentalism prevents us from effectively challenging the threat that is militarised globalisation,” he said.
Fundamentalist movements in Pakistan, indeed, have always served the Empire’s divide and rule game plan. In the 1970s the US sponsored fundamentalist movements in Pakistan such as Jamaat Islami to destabilise the national-populist regime of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had become an irritant for imperialism in the region. Jamaat Islami likewise provided the main force in training thousands of militants or so-called Mujahideen to fight against the Soviet Army and allied Afghan forces. Jamaat Islami, formed part of the larger network fundamentalist movements liaising with the CIA with the objective of weakening populist movements and governments that either tended to align with the former USSR or even pursued independent foreign policy. With the collapse of the USSR, and the emergence of a unipolar world, fundamentalist movements were cast as allies or enemies depending on their degree of acquiescence to the Empire’s aims. Currently, Jamaat Islami stands in the way of the Empire’s consolidation of power in Pakistan which has been very vocal of late against imperialism and the neoliberal policies of the Pakistani government.
Since 2002, hundreds of US drone strikes have claimed the lives of thousands of victims, including non-combatants. While the US government claims that these drone strikes aim at neutralizing local al Qaeda and Taliban franchises, in truth, the US seeks to secure its dominance and control through the defense of the puppet governments in Pakistan and elsewhere.
According to Dr. Kim Yong Bok, Peace for Life’s moderator, “Asia and the southern hemisphere is going to experience wars and continuing violence. The USA continues to create chaos in the Middle East and West Asia, Syria and Egypt. Fundamentalist movements are a consequence of the prevailing global economic disorder. The Empire’s primary objective is to secure its economic stranglehold of the region through military dominance as part of its Asian Pivot strategy.”
FESTIVAL FOR PEACE
Participants and organizers agreed to sustain and reinforce the momentum built from this gathering. A peace festival of Muslim and Christian youths is slated for this year. Peace for Life seeks to mobilise activist organizations of youth and women to form a visible and dynamic opposition to imperial and fundamentalist violence and to forge a new interfaith theology of liberation to combat all forms of discrimination and oppression in Pakistan. The festival will also signal the continuing work of Peace for Life in Pakistan.
Professor Ejaz Akram stressed the relevance for such solidarity for Peace for Pakistan in promoting genuine unity within the Islamic community: “The Empire does not like unity; and Islam is a painful example of how imperialism takes advantage of the disunity within the community. Unity is an ideal among Muslims. At the heart of this unity is solidarity; not uniformity but unity in diversity.”
The peace festival is targeted to be held in the Sindh province of Pakistan, a region with a population of different cultural and religious groups, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Bahais, and Sikhs. Organizers are preparing a wide range of activities for the festival including a symposium, dance and musical performances, theatrical plays, film showing, interfaith dialogue, art exhibitions, and sports.
“The peace festival provides an opportunity for individuals, local organizations, and our international partners for peace to gather to advance peace, harmony, and justice in Pakistan, and celebrate our common humanity,” said Omega Chifulya Bula, Peace for Life General Secretary.