Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan

On November 30, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), hosted a discussion which highlighted major findings in a new study sponsored by the USCIRF and conducted by the ICRD.

Entitled “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” the study examines social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks, and explores linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities and subsequent acts of discrimination. Knox Thames and Azhar Hussain discussed how Pakistan’s public schools and madrassas negatively portray the country’s religious minorities and reinforce biases which fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities. Panelists also discussed pedagogical methods in Pakistan’s public school system and its madrassa system, and the perception of religious minorities by students and teachers, as well as offering recommendations on education reform and the incorporation of religious tolerance in the classroom.

A discussion with

Knox Thames
Director of Policy and Research
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

Azhar Hussain
Vice President
International Center for Religion and Diplomacy

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz
South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

Knox Thames

Before coming to the Commission in 2009, Mr. Thames worked in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the US Department of State, and was the lead State Department officer on religious freedom issues in multilateral fora, such as the UN and OSCE. Mr. Thames also served as Counsel for six years at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), where he was the point-person on religious freedom matters, on issues involving refugees and internally displaced persons, and focused on democracy and human rights in Central Asia. In 2004, Mr. Thames was appointed by the State Department to serve as one of the two U.S. experts on the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Mr. Thames earned a J.D. with honors from the American University Washington College of Law. He also holds a Master’s in International Affairs from the American University School of International Service. An author of numerous articles on a range of human rights issues, his book International Religious Freedom Advocacy was released in August 2009 by Baylor University Press.

Azhar Hussain
Mr. Azhar Hussain is the vice president for Preventive Diplomacy and Director of the Pakistan Madrassa Project at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy. The Madrassa Project has trained over 2700 madrassa leaders throughout Pakistan to date. Mr. Hussain previously served as senior consultant to the Mexican Ministry of Education and adjunct professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey. He has worked in cooperation with the US Institute of Peace, and provided educational and intercultural consulting services for numerous multi-national organizations. Mr. Hussain delivered presentations to the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom among others. Furthermore, Mr. Hussain conducted training and development initiatives around the world. He was also the winner of the 2006 Peacemakers in Action Award from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Mr. Hussain holds a MA in International and Intercultural Management from the World Learning SIT Graduate Institute.

Shuja Nawaz Reacts to NATO Raid in Pakistan

Highlight - Nawaz

South Asia Center director Shuja Nawaz appeared on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show to provide commentary on the latest setback in US-Pakistan relations following a raid by NATO helicopters and fighter jets that attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing 24 Pakistani troops. 

Listen to NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show segment “Deadly NATO Airstrikes and Their Effect on U.S.-Pakistan Relations and Afghan War Strategy”

Watch the PBS NewsHour segment “After Deadly Raid, How Can Pakistan, US Ratchet Down Tensions?”

Rethinking Indian Policies Towards Pakistan

On November 14, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University hosted a discussion with Bharat Karnad, senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and author of India’s Rise: Why it is not a Great Power (Yet)

Security concerns between India and Pakistan have persisted since their independence and issues such as Kashmir, nuclear weapons and water security have restrained relations between the two neighbors. Mr. Karnad will discuss how the Indian government can ease tensions and normalize relations by taking unilateral, symbolic, and substantive actions. These actions include removing the nuclearized short-range ballistic missiles from forward deployment and restructuring the armor/mechanized Indian forces near Pakistan’s border to reduce suspicion from the Pakistani army without hurting Indian security. He will discuss these ideas in depth and explain what actions India, in particular, can take to reduce the Pakistani army’s suspicions and to reorient its threat perceptions.

Mr. Karnad is an expert on Indian security policy and earned his BA and MA from the University of California Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, respectively. He has been a visiting scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and was a foreign fellow at both the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and the Henry L. Stimson Center. He was a member of the First National Security Advisory Board of India, and has served on the National Security Council for the Government of India.

A discussion with

Bharat Karnad
Senior Fellow, National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Introduced by

Thomas Lynch, III
Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies
National Defense University

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz
Director, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

Pakistan and India Cracking Barriers of the Mind

About bloody time, some would say. The news that Pakistan’s cabinet has approved Most Favored Nation trade status for long-time adversary India will also be greeted by the usual wry comments by skeptics and cynics on both sides of this volatile border. But though Pakistan may not have broken any barriers it may have cracked a few.

Consider that India had already given Pakistan MFN status, putting it on the back foot in trade negotiations. But Pakistani analysts and officials maintained that India’s non-tariff barriers made a mockery of the MFN. Pakistan’s military and civilian governments lacked the will to open trade with India, in the process missing out on huge income gains from trading with a neighbor and allowing its industries and consumers to benefit from less expensive products and inputs in numerous categories of tradable goods and services. Until now. 


Give credit to the civilian government for finally giving birth to an obvious and necessary condition for Pakistan’s future growth. As India speeds away at 9 plus percent annual growth, Pakistan is heading in the opposite direction—3 percent or less. Trade alone will not solve its problems but even after the elephantine gestation of the MFN decision the government seems to be listening to its economic team and reason. And, if India starts lowering its NTBs, it may stop Pakistan from resorting to them. 

Why is this such a big deal? Because the most cited obstacle to better relations with India was the powerful Pakistan military. The civilians did not wish to buck the military’s views, it was said. Now it seems the impossible has happened, either with the military’s approval or without. An objective devoutly to be wished has emerged from Islamabad. 

What adds to the import of this first step is another statement by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that Pakistan wishes to tie into India’s power grid to facilitate sharing of electricity.

A natural corollary will be greater collaboration on water issues. Both India and Pakistan have serious problems in how they manage water, both internally and with each other, sharing water from rivers that rise in the Himalayas and come into India and then Pakistan. Joint investments in water and power projects, especially if undertaken by private investors under a joint water commission that takes forward the idea behind the Indus Water Treaty, may provide the ultimate market solution. But standing in the way of such powerful dreams are two powerful and suspicious bureaucracies that have stymied free travel and cross border investments till now. They may yet nullify the MFN decision by a war of non-tariff barriers and red tape. 

Yet, amidst the plethora of Track 2 efforts between Pakistan and India there is a growing momentum among concerned citizens, and even among the militaries that the status quo of “no war, no peace” is not favoring either country. At the Atlantic Council, we are doing our bit to “wage peace” in the region. But in the end it is the people and governments there that have the power to effect change for the better. 

Against that background, cracking open the locked gates at the Wagah border between these fractious neighbors and keeping them open day and night seems the best option. Two cheers then for Pakistan and India free trade. Confound your critics and militants. Don’t botch this opportunity… for the sake of future generations.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within.