By Kamran Chaudhry
A Christian Pakistani lawmaker has appealed to Pope Francis to support dialogue efforts aimed at resolving tensions between his country and archrival India.
Sunila Ruth, a member National Assembly of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, asked the pope to “actively support and call upon the Indian government” to join dialogue efforts to help end the conflict between the nuclear-armed nations.
“As a member of national parliament, representing the Christian community of Pakistan, I appeal to Your Holiness to actively support and call upon the India government to effectively back the call of dialogue and negotiation, as stated by the prime minister of Pakistan,” stated Ruth in his letter sent on March 1.
“I sincerely believe that the international Christian Churches can play an effective role in convincing India to come back [to the] peace table which is imperative to break the chains of hatred and mistrust which has prevailed for decades,” she wrote.
“Kindly keep the political leaders in your prayers, for God’s wisdom and courage upon them to struggle in hope for peace and reconciliation. May the peace of our Lord be upon both countries,” she concluded.
Ruth sent similar letters to other international religious leaders including Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, Archbishop Antje Jackelen of the Church of Sweden, and Dr. Mathews George Chunakara General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia.
The escalation of the crisis came after 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed in India-controlled Kashmir in a Feb. 14 suicide attack that was claimed by Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad).
The releasing of a captured Indian Air Force officer by Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 1 has helped reduce tensions. The wing commander was downed during a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian warplanes over the ceasefire line in the disputed Kashmir region on Feb. 27.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting “a freedom struggle” in Kashmir against the Indian administration. Some groups have also taken up arms in an effort to separate Kashmir from India. An estimated 100,000 people have died, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after Muslim militants began an armed struggle in 1990 to free the region from Indian rule.
The conflict dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended. Both countries claim Kashmir in full and have fought at least three major wars and regularly exchange artillery and small-weapons fire across a disputed border.
With the recent escalation, civil society and church organizations in parts of Pakistan have called for peaceful dialogue between the two countries.