On December 6-11, 2012, Intersections staff members Eduardo Vargas and Robert Chase visited Pakistan to lay the groundwork for an upcoming conference among religious leaders from these two countries. Hosted by the International Islamic University in Islamabad (IIUI) and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), two institutions that are in partnership with Intersections in this project, Vargas and Chase were able to interact with students, faculty, community organizers and religious leaders in a variety of settings.
“The Pakistanis responded to our visit with great enthusiasm,” reported Eduardo Vargas upon his return. “We were able to engage in significant conversations about the issues that divide our two countries, but also about our common goals of increased peace and security between our people.”
Both Pakistan and the United States have increasingly struggled with global and domestic religious intolerance in the past decade. Anti-Muslim intolerance in the United States and discrimination against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan have grown, sometimes with violent consequences. Religious leaders, particularly those already committed to interreligious engagement, have a critical role to play in addressing religious intolerance and other issues that impact both a society’s own development and international peace and stability.
The proposed project, part of a wider effort called the US-Pakistan Leaders Forum, will address these issues by creating a consortium of key Pakistani and American religious leaders, the impacts of which would: (1) build relationships between individuals of influence in both societies; (2) reduce negative perceptions and distrust between Americans and Pakistanis; (3) develop an action agenda for building bridges of mutual respect and understanding in the hope that the relationships built and the work undertaken will have an impact on policy makers in both countries, thereby lessening the tension between us.
In addition to sorting through logistical concerns for the upcoming conference, Vargas and Chase made five presentations to groups ranging in size from 20 to 150 at both IIUI and LUMS. They also visited the University of Management and Technology in Lahore where they addressed scholars and religious leaders. Using techniques developed by Intersections, these “presentations” became animated conversations about issues ranging from media stereotypes to drone strikes to theology.
“It was striking how little contact Pakistanis have with Americans,” said Rev. Chase. “But, the hunger for genuine dialogue was evident everywhere we went, a hopeful sign for our world, and especially the relationship between our two countries.”