During the early months of 2004 the last of the series of meetings were held on various Thursday evenings to provide insight on the regions of 1) China, 2) South Asia and 3) Iraq and the Middle East. The last two events were especially crowded - held at The Terrace at Greenhill Country Club in Wilmington - and highlighted the most significant and current world events related to the USA-led war against terrorism and specifically our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you have interest in the program on the Middle East, due to the foresight and efforts of one wonderful student intern at the Del WTC, the event on the Middle East was videotaped and will be available for viewing via the Del World Trade Center website sometime in the near future.
Mr. Bob Wilkinson, State Dept. rep for South Asia, gave a general overview
of the varied issues and interests in the following countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangledesh, Myamar, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Because the Pakistan Christian Post is most concerned with Pakistan from all the countries of this region I will outline a lot of remarks I found interesting from that part of the session:
1) The USA is committed to assisting the countries of S Asia to develop with dignity. We will continue to work with the countries people and leaders to help develop the basic principles of freedom for each individual and nation. Our main reason is, as Secretary Powell has stated (paraphrased), "because these principles are far greater than ourselves" (greater than the USA or any person).
2) Pakistan is a key ally to the USA for this entire region, and assists the USA on many levels, not just on the war against terrorism.
3) A primary goal that existed before and will continue beyond the current
focus on terrorism is to help improve each citizen's access to educational, economic and democratic opportunities afforded by the Constitution of Pakistan. The USA and Pakistan are currently working to outline a 3 year assistance program to help meet this goal.
4) The resolution of problems regarding Kashmir and relations with India remain a significant concern to the USA. The cease-fire agreement made with India in April 2003 has unfortunately not held and a wide-ranging dialogue is needed to ensure all voices and issues surrounding this area are addressed so the problems can be resolved without further military conflict.
5) The USA and Pakistan are scheduled to hold very high level talks in Islamabad in the near future about all the above issues, but perhaps most important is to address concerns about the issue of Pakistan's nuclear program and capabilities.
At this point, you readers are probably already saying - ok, but what about all this didn't we know already from current news media? Can you really say these talks sponsored by People to People impact anyone and especially the minds of Americans?
If you are asking these questions I would like to present to you the following example. The beauty of these sessions is mainly that after each speaker's presentation there is significant time given to questions from the audience. So during the Q&A session that followed this session on South Asia, one anglo-American gentleman posed the question - "But how does the average Pakistani really feel about Americans and especially about our involvement overseas?" Although it appeared (to me) that even our State Dept. representative could not adequately answer this question, except for stating that indeed, the hospitality of Pakistani's to foreigners is well-known through out the world, wonderfully, a Pakistaniwho became an American citizen only a few wweeks earlier and hails from large and prominent family in the Muslim community on the East Coast, Mr.Mohammed Malik, was there to meet the man who posed this question and advise him that the average Pakistani is very welcoming of the average American and would gladly invite them into their home if they visit Pakistan and treat them with the highest respect. As most others in theaudience confirmed, it is mainly the US government actions and not knowing the policy that concerns people overseas.
So the interaction of "people to people" after the main talk is what makes the difference - in that average people can meet to share and discuss openly their feelings and concerns and hopefully from this become life-long friends. And then these friendships will begin to build the peace between nations, simply because as people get to know other people are just people exactly as ourselves, with loved families, homelands, homes, jobs, good minds and struggling daily through life just as ourselves, but surely with the same dreams and basic ideals of respect, caring and hope for peace. So by meeting at People to People we all learn it is possible to develop a better world by committing to understand each
other better first before jumping to concluusions about the attitudes an values of another person or culture we do not know. This is why I personally am so committed to being a 'ambassador' for the organization called People to People and I truly wish every person reading this article would consider joining or forming a chapter (for students or adults) in their city.
Although there were many other significant comments made about the other nations of South Asia, I would like move on and close by noting one very significant remark made at the earlier session on China.
The State Dept. rep, Marc Daniel Koehler, gave insights into a region of China that is probably totally unknown to most in the USA - the XINJIANG province closest to Pakistan's border. The Chinese government and USA are especially concerned about actions and capabilities of the Uyghur (pronounced veeger) Muslim terrorists/freedom fighters in this region, who are suspected of harboring weapons and perhaps aiding the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Of course, because of world-wide changes in economics and the exploding population in China, the USA is very interested in establishing and maintaining good relations with major companies in China, as well as the government leaders.
But the most important factor brought out by the China speaker is the reason the US government gives a significant amount of time to the cause of human rights and religious abuses in China is specifically because 90% of ALL the mail received by the President, his cabinet, senators, house reps, and state dept. reps is specifically about these issues in China!
Therefore, what does that say to those of us interested in bringing to light and improving the conditions of the 3 million Christians in Pakistan, as well as cases of abuse and intolerance we hear about in other countries? In short YOUR VOICE AND YOUR LETTERS COUNT! So if you REALLY want to help your Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters suffering in backbreaking, slave-labor brick-making jobs under the hot sun - if you want to improve their access to education, fair employment and most especially to change the electoral process and impact the religious climate in Pakistan, SPEAK OUT, CALL, WRITE, AND VOTE on these issues. What I heard was the mind and heart of average USA citizens truly DOES impact the policy of our leaders here and overseas, so if the issues of Pakistani Christians are important to you, let your local, national and world leaders hear about it!!
So my greatest hope is that through this article I have presented some basic information about this very wonderful organization called People to People but that even if you can not join or create a chapter for whatever reason, that the ideas presented through this article will inspire you to go out and make an effort to meet at least one of the neighbors around you that hails from another country and that you will make an effort to become friends with this person and their family. Perhaps begin by simply talking about the weather and other basic "chit chat" as you pass on the street, in the store or when you attend a school event for your child. Then move on to invite them to your home for chai/tea and simply talk about sports, music, their home country and city, and if you can do so calmly, perhaps even politics and religion! Because if we can begin to meet and truly become friends then one day there will be no need to write 'protest letters' as suggested above or to be fearful about telling someone we do not know that we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, Zoarastrian, Eckenkar - whatever! Once we begin to see other people as just people, like ourselves, the problems of the world created by those who do not see others as people, but as objects for their terrorism can and will simply disappear!
Below is information and background on the People to People movement. You can find complete details on upcoming events, or how to contact or form a chapter anywhere around the world at ptpi.org. People to People International is a voluntary effort of private citizens promoting international understanding through direct people-to-people contacts. PTPI is a private sector, not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) organization headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri USA.
The purpose of People to People International is to enhance international
understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures. It will cooperate with any and all other organizations which are of similar nature and purpose.
People to People International is dedicated to enhancing cross-cultural communication within each community, and accross communities and nations Tolerance and mutual understanding are central themes. While not a partisan or political institution, PTPI supports the basic values and goals of its founder, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.