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When will we learn?

Opinion

May 10, 2019

Right now I am waiting at the passenger lounge of Istanbul Airport for my flight to come back to Pakistan. This newly-constructed airport is no doubt an amazing masterpiece. The state-of-the-art hotel rooms are also competing all other world class hotels even of New York and Heathrow airports.

Turkey is our brotherly country which was once a superpower just one century ago. However, today's Turkey prefers to ensure the prosperity and betterment of its people which is even reflected through the new airport present in front of me.

The purpose of my visit to Turkey was to catch a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan, to attend the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue. The government of Azerbaijan, in partnership with UNAOC, Unesco, UNWTO, the Council of Europe and ISESCO has hosted the international conference under the motto of 'Building dialogue into action against discrimination, inequality and violent conflict'.

On the occasion, various international delegates were invited to express their views for promoting cultural dialogue and to shun the practices of extremism. Deputy Speaker of National Assembly Qasim Khan Suri led the Pakistani delegation. Besides myself, it included Member National Assembly Malik Amir Dogar, Special Assistant to Deputy Speaker Bayazid Kansi, and Assistant Director PR Tanveer Hussain Malik.

The government of Azerbaijan, especially President Ilham Aliyev, deserves congratulations for successfully organizing the international conference. The Azerbaijani president in his welcome speech emphasized to determine an effective strategy to ensure the establishment of a peaceful human society.

Nada Al-Nashif, the Unesco envoy, stressed the importance of fostering youth participation in decision-making and in processes for ensuring peace and security. Sevil Alirzayeva, chief of staff at the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), highlighted the alarming rise in hate speech, xenophobia and other forms of bigotry across the globe. Manuel Butler Halter, executive director of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), was of the view that tourism is in fact an important driving force for intercultural dialogue.

After the international conference, we also availed the opportunity to visit public and historical places. I was highly impressed by the simple nature and high morals of people of Azerbaijan. Being Pakistani citizens, we were greeted with special love and respect on most of occasions.

Muslim-majority Azerbaijan is located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is also the largest and most populous country of South Caucasus. The mountain range of Caucasus (Koh-e-Qaaf), which is also known as the hometown of fairies in our Urdu folk stories, acts as natural boundary between Asia and Europe.

However, this beautiful country also faced many regional conflicts throughout its rich history. The region came under the influence of Greeks, Sasani, Arabs, Mongols, Persian, Turkish and Russians in the past. After World War I, Azerbaijan also receive the honour to establish the first Muslim parliamentary democratic state. Unfortunately, as a result of the Soviet invasion, Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union.

Like other former Soviet occupied states, the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan also enabled Azerbaijan to achieve independence in the 1990s. However, a war with neighbouring Armenia broke out. Even today, despite resolutions passed by the UN, the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the southwest of Azerbaijan is still occupied by Armenia.

Since 28 years of independence, Azerbaijan has learnt a lot from its past and developed itself as a secular peace-loving republic state. During my visit, I observed that mosques as well as churches and other religious places were equally attended by people. Azerbaijan is also an active member of various international prominent organizations, such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the Turkic Council, the Non-Aligned Movement and Nato.

During our visit to the Pakistan embassy, we acknowledged that Pakistani Ambassador in Baku Dr Saeed Khan Mohmand is playing an active role to develop cordial relations between Azerbaijan and Pakistan. On the occasion, we also reviewed various measures taken by Pakistani envoy to strengthen cultural, trade and economic ties with Azerbaijan.

It was very interesting for me to observe how Azerbaijan and Turkey, both Muslim majority countries, succeeded in developing themselves in a very short time. Both countries are also promoting interfaith harmony and projecting a positive image through such conferences at the international level.

When will we learn to end violence, discrimination, hate speech and extremism from our society? We need to ensure the right person at the right place. We must consider promoting faith tourism on a priority basis.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the

Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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