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An initiative of the
International Association for Human Values

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Women's International League
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Art of Living Norway – www.artofliving.no

Peace and Reconciliation in South Asia – Challenges and Opportunities
International Conference, Oslo, Norway, 10th – 11th April 2008

Globalization has brought people across the world nearer to each other. It has also brought civilizations and cultures closer together, providing novel arenas for more intense dialogue and more communication platforms for mutual and sustained understanding. The notion that ours is a global neighborhood has become reality.

Along with the awareness that the global neighborhood is now upon us, there is the realization that any war, conflict, serious disturbance, or oppression in any one part of the world affects every other part of the world.

Globalization means the interconnectedness and fellow-feeling of people in situations of suffering and want.

Misery in any corner of the global neighborhood affects the peace and well-being of everyone else. We can justifiably quote the American peacemaker Martin Luther King who famously said that “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere’’. However, there are still forces that focus on a fragmented world and emphasize old positions, historical events, divisive concepts and views that fuel conflicts around the globe. Is it possible to counteract these forces and build a new, cohesive civilization in which deadly conflicts will not survive and more harmony in diversity prevails, which will lead to a greater understanding and acceptance between cultures? This Conference on Peace and Reconciliation in South Asia will aim to find answers to these questions and to establish a new avenue to overcome these well-known intra-national problems and issues confronting South Asia.

South Asia is a turbulent, complex region with a prominent place in the global map of ethnic conflict. It is characterized by multi-ethnic societies with striking internal divisions along linguistic, regional, communal and sectarian lines, externally linked to one another across national boundaries. Even though it has a common cultural background and shared political experience, many groups have been fiercely fighting with each other, challenging the national governments and frustrating their nation-building efforts, such as in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (South East Asia) and Malaysia.

India, the largest democracy in the world, is plagued with violence from Naxalites, variously referred to as extremist Maoists revolutionaries. One third of the districts in India are currently under their influence and many observers consider Naxalite violence as the greatest threat to the Indian nation. Why such an extremist movement thrives in an open and democratic society is a puzzle to many.

There seems to be no question that everyone in the country wants democracy. The issue is how to achieve stable democracy in the face of unremitting political violence and religious extremism, problems that have continuously disturbed the country since its creation as a nation-state. In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, the violent conflict of the last three decades has by now claimed around 80,000 lives. The economic costs have also been immense. A similar violent conflict that exists in Nepal has resulted in terrible brutalities.

The military regime in Myanmar/Burma is considered a totalitarian dictatorship because of its absolute denial of fundamental rights and freedoms to the Myanmar people. The prolonged absence of democracy and human rights in this Buddhist country has long been on the high political and diplomatic agenda of the international community. Not so notorious is the issue of human rights violations in Malaysia, an economic powerhouse in its own right in the region. Serious concerns have been raised about how ethnic and religious minorities are systematically oppressed and marginalized.

Such problems in these countries have certainly received their fair share of international attention and mediation efforts to realize immediate as well as long-term solutions.

Although the underlying issues involved are many (conflict along ethnic and religious lines, extremism, violence, and oppression), Asia has certainly the cultural and civilization resources at its disposal to help resolve these problems.

All these conflicts and violence are occurring in South Asia despite the fact that the Gandhian principles of non-violence originate from this region, and world’s largest democracy, India, has a central place in South Asia. Then, what is the missing link to achieve peace in this most volatile region, despite interest from all sides and the long-term engagement from the international community? How can we integrate economic, social and environmental development with peace and security issues in this region?

The Conference on Peace and Reconciliation aims to establish a new avenue to overcome the well-known intra-national problems and issues confronting South Asia. This new avenue to peace and reconciliation draws from the ancient well of human values and spirituality in the region. As South Asia re-discovers the power of its rich heritage, more and more faith-based resources are being developed and deployed to address the political issues and international problems that globalization has brought out into the open. Faith-based tools and resources, such as non-violence, compassion, eco-friendliness, acceptance of differences, sincerity and integrity, prayer and meditation are values that can serve the mission of healing and reconciliation between conflicting groups anywhere in the world today.

The goals of this conference are:

  • To recognize the crisis in South Asia and the urgent need for more stability, security and good governance for promoting stability in this region.
  • To bring together representatives from South Asia, as well as Western experts, and those who have been involved in mediation efforts in the region, to facilitate the dialog that is necessary and explore novel approaches to bring lasting security, stability, development and peace.
  • To discuss the need to focus on each individual in society, as peaceful individuals do not contribute to conflicts. How could this be achieved?
  • To articulate and explore the faith-based resources and values offered by the two ancient religions of Buddhism and Hinduism in the setting of contemporary social and political problem-solving for peace and development in South Asia.
  • To explore long-term possibilities for the creation of a new security mechanism in South Asia.

The Conference will primarily focus on the following countries:

India: The largest democracy in the world, it is plagued with Naxal violence
Sri Lanka: The conflict of the last three decades has by now claimed around 80,000 lives
Nepal: National reconciliation with Maoist rebellion
Myanmar/Burma (South East Asia): Good governance and the military junta