WASHINGTON: The Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s efforts to encourage peace in Pakistan ended in an armed attack, but he still believes dialogue is the best path with the Taliban.
The globe-trotting yogi, known for his flowing hair and beard and perpetually sunny disposition, had brought his Art of Living Foundation to Pakistan in 2004 in hopes of encouraging stress relief through breathing exercises and non-denominational meditation.
Armed gunmen burned down the center in Islamabad in March after charges by some in Pakistan that yoga, rooted in the spiritual history of historic rival India, conflicted with Islamic values.
But Shankar said that he remained convinced that dialogue was the best way to handle the Taliban. He voiced concern over the Pakistani military’s offensive in lawless North Waziristan where nearly 370 militants and 12 security personnel have died.
“Annihilation of them is not the way. Dialogue is the way,” Shankar, clad as always in white robes, told AFP on a visit to Washington.
The military campaign “will only cause more bitterness. Violence can only bring more violence,” he said.
Shankar declined to discuss future plans of the Art of Living Foundation in Pakistan, citing concerns for practitioners on the ground. But he encouraged more Pakistanis to speak up for non-violence.
“I cannot go and do anything in Pakistan. People in Pakistan should fight against, should stand up against terrorism,” he said.
The guru – who is not related to the late sitar legend Ravi Shankar – has also taken his peace campaign to Iraq where in 2007 he met Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and encouraged reconciliation among Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. The Art of Living Foundation brought young Iraqis to India for training as “peace ambassadors”.
Shankar voiced fear that Iraq has since lost the chance for peace. Sunni extremists in recent weeks have launched an offensive against Maliki’s Shia-led government that has killed nearly 1,100 people.
“It is very gloomy, very gloomy. We have lost a very good opportunity to unite after the war,” he said. “The divide and mistrust has gone, I think, beyond repair. But still I hope for some miracle.”
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