Sharpton Headed to South Asia to Help Raise the Peace

Not to be outdone by Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is traveling to the Mideast this weekend, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday he plans to travel to India and Pakistan to try to ease tensions between the nuclear nations on the verge of war.

Sharpton said he is motivated by hero Mahatma Gandhi, the late Indian leader who promoted passive-resistance to overthrow the British empire in the mid 20th century.

Though the State Department has warned Americans to leave the region, Sharpton said going to help Gandhi's homeland was his "moral imperative."

"We're not trying to be contradictory, but we're raising a different point of view," said Sharpton, a wanna-be presidential candidate in 2004. 

Sharpton commended the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has agreed to meet with leaders from India and Pakistan during a summit of Asian countries in Kazakstan this week.

Governments can negotiate with aid packages and policy, Sharpton said. His delegation would address the moral and religious aspects of the regional conflict, he said.

He said his small delegation will include experts on conflict resolution. The group plans to meet with religious leaders in the two countries when they depart in the next two weeks, Sharpton said.

The India-Pakistan crisis has reached fever pitch and officials from around the globe fear that any escalation of the conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries, could lead to nuclear war.

The State Department has no official opinion on Sharpton's trip, according to spokesman Len Scensny, who said what Sharpton is doing "is on his own initiative."

Sharpton said he spoke with consular generals from both India and Pakistan in New York and said both sides were optimistic about his visit.

Late last week, Fox News reported that Jackson was headed to Israel to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials over the ongoing conflict there. Jackson is not an official representative of the State Department, but has known both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Perez for many years.

Though Jackson does not appear to have any future political ambitions, Sharpton has formed an exploratory committee for a possible 2004 presidential bid. He was traveling through South Florida Monday to speak to the black community about 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, who was missing for 14 months before the state agency assigned to her case knew she was gone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.