Invasion fears bring India, Pakistan closer

The Nation, Regional - Thursday, January 22, 2004

With the tragic example of the USled war against Iraq in mind, Indian and Pakistani leaders will walk into their peace talks next month ready to cooperate to fend off the threat of a foreign invasion of the subcontinent, a visiting former Indian ambassador to the Washington has predicted.

The improving relations between the two countries will eventually bring about a solution to the prolonged conflict in Kashmir, said Dr Karan Singh, a former maharaja of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"The Iraq situation made India and Pakistan realise that unless they act together, they will be more vulnerable to pressure of war from outside," Singh said.

"Although I'm not euphoric about these upcoming talks, there will be a substantial breakthrough and the two countries will move towards friendship in response to the changing world situation."

Singh's visit to Bangkok this week is part of a series of peacepromotion activities that began last November and continue until April entitled "Bridges: The dialogue towards a culture of peace". The Indian political scientist delivered his keynote speech on "Interfaith Dialogue as a Pathway Towards Peace" at Chulalongkorn University yesterday.

Singh said global society is now at the crossroads of two paths. One, which he said would result in the destruction of lives and civilisations, was the path of conflict, fundamentalism and fanaticism. The other, he said, was the path of a concerted and multidimensional quest for peace, leading to a sane and equitable world civilisation.

He said the interfaith movement down the latter path had its roots in the last century, but is not yet a central movement. His hope is to see it move the same way as the environmental movement, which grew from the periphery to the centre of human concerns, and which could be partly achieved through education.

The Indian scholar called for believers of different religions to discard fanaticism and fundamentalism and adopt a philosophy that accepts multiple paths to the divine.

"We may certainly believe and claim that our path is the most appropriate, but that does not justify our condemning or persecuting those who follow other paths," he said. "Let us accept with grace that for every religious belief, there is a majority of humankind which does not accept it."

Meanwhile, leading Thai philosopher and peace advocate Mark Tamthai brought to Singh's attention the need for intrafaith dialogue, saying believers of single religions often have difficulties understanding one another as well. He organised an informal meeting between Singh and different religious practitioners in Bangkok on Tuesday. Within Islam, for example, there are the Sunni and Shiite, while Christianity has conservative and liberal groups, he said. Different groups of Buddhists with differing ideas about the religion also clash.

"Sometimes the extremists and the liberals are alike in that they don't talk to each other," Mark said. "Maybe they think they already have the answer and the whole truth, so why bother with dialogue? So the question is how to make peace by engaging believers of the same religion to talk to and understand one another," he said.

Nantiya Tangwisutjit

The Nation