"I told Islamic leaders they should thank the churches and Christians in Europe and the US for their stand on military violence against a Muslim country," said the foreign minister of Pakistan, Mr Mehmood Kasuri, to World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser during a March 8 meeting between the ecumenical leader and Pakistan government officials.
Raiser met with the president of Pakistan, General Pervaiz Musharraf, the prime minister, Mir ZafarUllah Jamali, and Mr Kasuri, who agreed with Raiser that, despite what some media are saying, the conflict around Iraq cannot be considered a clash of civilizations. The meeting took place on the Islamabad leg of a three-day visit (7-9 March) to Pakistan; the visit was the last stage of a four-nation Asian tour.
During meetings with church leaders and representatives of Pakistan's Christian community, Raiser heard about their fears of possible backlash in case of war against Iraq. The Christian community is worried that military strikes in Iraq could lead to renewed attacks against local Christians, hospitals, schools and other institutions. Christian leaders also complained about a general trend towards intolerance and discrimination in the country.
Raiser raised these issues with the Pakistan government officials. He told President Mushurraf that although he appreciates the present government's measures to restore a joint electoral system, he is concerned about blasphemy laws and the fact that those responsible for killing Christians and attacks on churches and other institutions have not yet been brought to trial.
Raiser also mentioned the possibility of setting up an independent minorities commission as an advisory body to look into the minorities' grievances. President Musharraf said that he appreciated the Christian community's contribution in all fields of national endeavour, particularly health and education.
Ambassadors of reconciliation
The four-nation Asian visit was meant to assure Christian communities living in minority situations that they have the support of the world wide ecumenical family. But Raiser also advised the Christians to take a proactive approach to dialogue and not to get caught in a minority complex. Christians should be ambassadors of reconciliation, he said.
In a meeting with church leaders and with the Christian Muslim Federation International, he suggested that differences between the two communities should be resolved through dialogue to foster close relations and maintain international peace. Together with Muslims, Christians should try to determine what constitutes a viable relationship between church and state, and forge a common vision and understanding of the status of religion in society.
Raiser visited Lahore, Islamabad and Gujranwala. In Lahore on 6 March, he inaugurated a National Council of Churches ecumenical centre. In Gujranwala, he visited the seminary and, amidst tight security, attended an ecumenical service at the Swift Memorial Presbyterian Church. Gujranwala is close to Chianwali village in Daska District where an attack by Islamic militants on the Presbyterian Church on 25 December 2002 killed three young girls and injured twenty others.
Church leaders in all the three cities thanked the WCC general secretary for visiting them at this critical juncture, and despite fears of a possible outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East.