South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

Author: khiwala54 (page 1 of 2)

SAATH Forum Condemns Hounding of Rights Defender Gul Bukhari. Demands immediate withdrawal of the FIA notice.

Washington, D.C.

The South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum denounces the attempt by Pakistan’s state functionaries to hound the Forum member Gul Bukhari.

We condemn in the strongest terms, the reported notice by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Anti-Terrorism Wing to our founder-member, human rights activist and journalist, Gul Bukhari, to appear before it or face terrorism charges and seizure of her assets in Pakistan. We find this fascist attempt to muzzle the voices critical of Pakistan’s civil-military hybrid regime, highly deplorable. Gul Bukhari is an upright, law-abiding citizen of Pakistan and the United Kingdom, who fearlessly raises her voice for the voiceless in her country of origin and champions progressive, democratic values and respect for human rights, the supremacy of constitution and the rule of law, across the board. This is not the first time that Pakistani state operatives have targeted Gul Bukhari. She had been abducted by the army’s operatives in June 2018, held captive for several hours and released only after the international and domestic outrage against her abduction. This imminent threat to her life forced her to leave Pakistan.

We deem the Pakistan’s FIA’s current attempt a scare tactic deployed to not only silence Gul Bukhari, who remains an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s current regime that is effectively a martial law masquerading as a democratic dispensation, but also other dissident voices who disapprove of the army’s highhandedness in Pakistan and its perpetual interference in the political process.

The SAATH Forum demands that the FIA withdraw its ludicrous and malicious notice posthaste. We stand by our Forum member and would defend her right to freedom of expression at any and all avenues. We call upon fraternal rights and advocacy groups, media organizations, political workers and international community to join us in protesting this continued hounding of dissenters in Pakistan. We resolve to hold the Pakistani State’s Intelligence Agencies responsible should any harm come to Gul Bukhari, her kin or her possessions.

Pakistani Dissident Attacked in Netherlands as State Crackdown on Dissent Grows

Washington: South Asians Against Terrorism & for Human Rights (SAATH Forum), a coalition of prominent democratic, liberal, nationalist, and progressive Pakistani dissidents, have strongly condemned an attack on Pakistani blogger Waqas Goraya in the Netherlands.

According to details, two men were waited for him near his house in exile, and attacked him as soon as he arrived there after work.

One of them made video of the attack while the other was beating Mr. Goraya. Talking to SAATH members, Mr. Goraya has accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and the Army for commissioning this attack.

The Dutch Police have recorded his statement and is investigating the matter.

“The attack has happened on the day when Pakistan’s strongest human rights group, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and its supporters world over was holding protest demonstrations in many capitals of the world and major cities of Pakistan, in memory of Late Defender Arman Loni who was killed by Pakistani security agencies one year ago,” SAATH said.

“SAATH is observing the conduct of the state of Pakistan with strong concern for prevailing human rights situation in the country. In last ten days, Pakistani government has arrested Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of PTM, charged him for sedition, cracked down on unarmed, peaceful protestors thrice and has humiliated and arrested National Assembly member and PTM leader Mohsin Dawar. SAATH members are of the view that the attack on Mr Goraya appears to be a part of this same streak of state overreaction and authoritarianism against its own citizens. This clearly, is an attempt to silence all voices of dissent.”

However, the attack on Mr. Goraya who is not living in Pakistan, is worrisome also because it sets a very dangerous precedent wherein Pakistani state is seen to be using its influence among the diaspora to attack and perpetrate violence against the peaceful Human Rights Defenders of Pakistani origin. Having dissidents attacked in foreign countries has been a very old playbook of authoritarian regimes as was seen in case of Jamal Khashoggi. Pakistan’s embarking on this path is doubly more troubling because the country has rogue elements both within and without the state and can put lives of hundreds of law-abiding dissidents who are living in western world, in clear jeopardy.”

SAATH urged Dutch authorities to examine this line of inquiry and make sure that not only the culprits are caught, but if their link with Pakistan’s security agencies is proven, the Government of Pakistan must be encouraged to take action against those agencies. We also demand from the Government of Pakistan to immediately release all the protesters and Mr. Manzoor Pashteen. SAATH expresses its deepest sympathies and solidarity with Mr. Goraya, Mr. Pashteen and the protesters of PTM who have been harmed in any way or have been arrested.

Prominent members of SAATH include former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former ambassadors Husain Haqqani and Kamran Shafi, and columnists Dr Mohammed Taqi, Rashed Rahman, Marvi Sirmed, Gul Bukhari, and Taha Siddiqui, and activists Rubina Greenwood, Saghir Shaikh, and Nabi Bukhsh Baloch.

Pakistan Dissidents Criticise Hurried Legislation to Extend General Bajwa’s tenure

Washington: Prominent Pakistani dissidents have expressed dismay at hurried legislation to legalise the extension in tenure of Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa.

South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of prodemocracy Pakistanis, issued a statement voicing concern at the manner in which the govt and the main opposition parties “rushed through parliament” amendments to the Army Act “without debate as to the desirability or necessity of such legislation, and without due consideration to the implications of such an action on the future of democracy in Pakistan.”

According to the statement, “It is a fact of history that the desire to perpetuate personal power, army chiefs of Pakistan have time and again disrupted the democratic project in Pakistan. While in the past the military has carried out coups, and its chiefs have extended their tenures themselves by force, and while one example also exists where the president of Pakistan extended the tenure of an army chief under duress, there is no example of parliament undertaking such an adventure.”

SAATH condemned “the unprecedented surrender of the political class & the sacred House that represents the will of the people” and attributed it to “political expediency and personal short- term gains” of Pakistan’s political leaders. “Such actions should have no place in a genuinely democratic dispensation,” the SAATH statement concluded.

Prominent members of SAATH include former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former Ambassador Kamran Shafi, former editor of Daily Times Rashed Rahman, journalists Taha Siddiqui, Gul Bukhari and Marvi Sirmed and activist Gulalai Ismail.

SAATH 2020 ‘Pakistan’s Challenge: Democracy, Human Rights, and Justice’ Declaration

The fourth SAATH Conference convened in Washington DC, USA on January 3-5, 2020 in a climate of worsening human rights and the principles of democracy, not only in Pakistan but also throughout the region in which Pakistan is located.

The latter developments include the abrogation of Article 370 in Indian Held Kashmir, the introduction of a Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India, and the escalating tensions between the US and Iran in the wake of the assassination of Iranian commander Qasim Soleimani, all of which potentially threaten destabilisation of the region entire as well as further abroad.

In Pakistan, we the members of SAATH express our concern and condemnation of the incremental squeezing of freedoms and human rights across the board.

As a grouping of pro-democracy thinkers, writers, and activists from Pakistan, dedicated to the Universal principles of human rights, SAATH visualizes the establishment of a democratic, secular, peaceful and progressive Pakistan.

To the end, SAATH members agree:

That Pakistani society is composed of multinational, multicultural and multi-linguistic groups coming together (within the meaning of the 1940 Resolution that led to the creation of Pakistan) to forge a social contract of willing and equal partners for the purpose of constituting a decentralised federal polity that recognises, accommodates and celebrates their historical and cultural identities.

That amongst other things, a decentralised federal system must include the recognition of the people’s right, first and foremost, over natural resources, and the recognition of all languages spoken in Pakistan as national languages along with Urdu.

That the recognition of the multinational character of the state, supplemented by a decentralised and consensus-based democracy, is important to put an end to the endemic ethnic conflict in Pakistan and instill the spirit of unity and true brotherhood amongst the various national groups in the polity.

That while aspiring to achieve the above ends, it is important to promote the political culture of constitutionalism in Pakistan, i.e., the idea that the powers of the state and governmental institutions are not absolute but limited – that the fundamental human rights of the citizens serve as absolute limitations on the powers of governmental institutions.

We are also disappointed in Pakistan’s mainstream political parties and their willingness to continuously cede space to military intervention and abridgement of democratic freedoms. These parties must practice internal democracy and acknowledge that democracy is not just seeking office through elections.

Pakistan’s mainstream political parties must stand up for civilian supremacy, constitutional governance, and rule of law and not be content with power of patronage granted to them through elections that are often manipulated by the permanent state estbalishment.

That the security institutions of the state have weaponised national security legislation to curb dissent and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of Pakistan. The national security legislation includes but is not limited to the colonial-era provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) relating to Sedition and Waging War against the State; Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; The Defence of Pakistan Act, 2014; and Cyber Security Laws, etc.

SAATH calls upon the government to dismantle the entire body of repressive national security legislation in order to turn Pakistan from a national security/police state into a prosperous, free and politically stable one.

That the security agencies must close torture cells and black sites, known as internment centres, and either bring cases against thousands of detainees before the regular courts of law to stand trial or release them unconditionally if there are no cases against them. The security agencies must put an end to enforced disappearances and account for thousands of missing persons and those extra-judicially killed.

For that reason, there is a dire need for the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring closure to the victims of state-sponsored oppression.

That the Pakistan military must put an end to the continuing use of extremist militant groups as instruments of foreign and domestic policy and for that matter treating the western border of the country as the strategic backyard of Pakistan.

That in order to establish the supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and civilian control over the military, we call upon the government of Pakistan to withdraw all officially lodged appeals against the decisions of the higher judiciary in the following cases:

(a) The decision of the Peshawar High Court setting aside the award by military courts of capital punishments to more than 70 individuals on charges of terrorism in utter violation of due process of law and derogation of fundamental rights of the accused under the constitution and international human right instruments to which Pakistan is a signatory;

(b) The decision of the Peshawar High Court striking down the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation, 2011 (for FATA and PATA), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Continuation of Laws Act, 2019, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Action in Aid of Civil Power Ordinance, 2019.

(c) The decision of the Special Court finding the former President General Musharraf guilty of high treason on charges of subverting the constitution.

SAATH also extends its solidarity to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a non-violent movement that demands the formation of a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to investigate the war crimes committed against Pashtuns such as extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances during the past 18 years.

SAATH demands an end to extra-judicial killing and enforced disappearances in all parts of Pakistan, especially in Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sindh; the production of all missing persons in the courts giving them their due constitutional right to free and fair trial; and the accountability of those responsible for enforced disappearances.

SAATH rejects initiatives to build a Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River and demands that all decisions affecting the peoples of historic entities in Pakistan should be subject to the people’s approval. SAATH also demands that all collected funds the ‘Dam Fund’ be used to rehabilitate the peoples of the Indus Delta region who have been affected mostly with the damming and water appropriation in the Indus River System.

SAATH demands that the CPEC project should be reconsidered in light of the views of the peoples of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh. As currently conceived, this project benefits China only and seems like a ploy to control valuable natural resources, displace populations, and leave the smaller provinces with irreparable environmental damage.

SAATH also calls for end of oppression in Balochistan; end of paramilitary presence on the University of Balochistan campus grounds; and independent judicial inquiry into harassment and blackmail of students, especially targeting female students on Balochistan campuses.

SAATH supports the demand to end of ban on student politics and elections for student unions.

SAATH recognizes that peace in Pakistan is inextricably linked with peace in Afghanistan and peace in the region. Pakistan should revise its Afghan policy of strategic depth and devise a new policy based on social, economic and academic cooperation between the two countries.

SAATH 2020 Conference ‘Pakistan’s Challenge: Democracy, Human Rights, and Justice’

The 4th annual conference of the SAATH Forum took place from January 3-5, 2020 in Washington DC. Titled ‘Pakistan’s Challenge: Democracy, Human Rights, and Justice’ the prominent speakers and participants were Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former Ambassador Kamran Shafi, Editor and Human Rights Advocate Rashed Rahman, Author Arif Jamal, journalists Gul Bukhari, Taha Siddiqui, and Marvi Sirmed, and exiled women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail.

2018 SAATH “Pakistan After the Elections”Conference Declaration

Noting that the space for debate in their country is shrinking, several prominent Pakistani dissidents currently living in various countries gathered from December 14-6, 2018 in Washington DC  to discuss ways of ensuring greater support for pluralist ideas, human rights, and democracy in Pakistan.

“Terrorism and international isolation, not dissent, are the real threats to Pakistan but unfortunately Pakistan’s establishment refuses to recognize that reality,” declared former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, while opening the two-day deliberative conference titled ‘Pakistan After the Elections.’

Haqqani said that the heavy-handed suppression of diverse views in Pakistan would not end the country’s economic crisis nor would it help the government’s stated purpose of projecting a positive image for the country. “The best way to have a positive image is to build a positive reality, one that is free of the taint of terrorism, external dependence, and lack of democracy,” he said.

Attended by prominent scholars, journalists, bloggers, and social media activists, many of whom now live in exile, the conference ended on Sunday with an event addressed by U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman, Chairman Emeritus of the Asia subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The conference is the third to be organized by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of prodemocracy Pakistanis co-hosted by Haqqani and US-based columnist Dr. Mohammad Taqi.

Earlier SAATH conferences were held in London in 2016 and 2017. This year, organizers scaled down the conference’s size as some of the forum’s Pakistani participants were legally barred or intimidated by authorities from participating.

Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) member of the National Assembly, Mohsin Dawar, was detained at Peshawar airport as he was leaving Pakistan a few days ago. He informed the conference organizers that the government had unlawfully stopped him from attending the meeting.

“Pro-democracy Pakistanis, including liberals and Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, Seraiki, and Muhajir nationalists see the appointment of Imran Khan as Prime Minister as a virtual military takeover, with a very poor civilian façade,” SAATH said in a press release announcing the event.

“In our discussions, we hope to address questions such as where Pakistan stands in the aftermath of the 2018 elections, what are the consequences to Pakistan of mainstreaming terrorists and terror groups, and how might the weakening voices for reform and a liberal vision be strengthened,” the press release added.

Dr. Taqi said that freedom-loving Pakistanis needed to join hands “to create space for intellectual and political discourse.”

“The Pakistani press remains in chains, electronic media is being coerced into submission, journalists are being hounded by the deep state, and the political parties have been tamed into submission,” he observed, adding that “resistance would continue to the Pakistani establishment’s totalitarian project.”

Moot reaffirms faith in liberal Pakistan, opposes mainstreaming of militants

Murtaza Ali Shah, The News

October 15, 2017

Pakistani government has been urged to take responsibility of all its citizens and protect their fundamental rights enshrined and guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan.

The call was made at the second annual “Pakistan: The Way Forward” conference organized here under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

Several prominent liberal and progressive intellectuals, human rights and social media activists and public figures spoke during the conference on their vision of a liberal and democratic Pakistan.

The speakers debated at length the policies of Pakistani government in many areas including domestic and international and expressed concerns at the current affairs of things, calling on the authorities to change the course.

The speakers said that the space for free thinking and honest debate has shrunk and advocates of liberal, secular, progressive ideas and pluralism have come under attack from extremist groups.

Many speakers pointed out that the human rights situation has gone worse in the whole South Asian region including India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan where forces of right-wing have taken control of decision making at the cost of vulnerable sections of the society.

They said that that while Pakistan has seen tremendous improvement in many areas over the last many years, it was not right that many groups and communities remained under threat and human rights denied to them.

The speakers expressed concern at attempts to mainstream extremist and banned organisations and made reference to the electoral gains two candidates made in NA120 by-election in Lahore.

Rashed Rehman, senior editor and human rights advocate, told this scribe that these groups posed direct and clear threat to the democratic system of Pakistan.

“It’s a dangerous development that these groups are being brought into politics. These groups don’t believe in democracy at all.”

It was discussed that to establish a true democracy in Pakistan, the federating units must be given maximum powers and the National Finance Commission Award should be giving more resources to provinces for local development as well as devolution of power.

The conference agreed that Pakistan needs a new national narrative, based on progressive ideas and detaches from religious extremism and militancy. Many participants complained that media has been used to issue fatwas on the dissenting voices.

Husain Haqqani told this scribe that those critical of current government policies are as patriotic as anyone else and they only wanted a pluralistic and progressive Pakistan.

He said that while the views of the liberal thinkers and intellectuals are open for criticism but it was not right that the dissenting voices were termed anti-Pakistan and agents of foreign forces.

He said growing intolerance posed threat to Pakistan and played out against Pakistan’s interests at the global level.

A joint declaration called on Pakistan government to listen to fresh ideas espoused by broad-minded Pakistanis and end relying on ideas peddled by the right-wing elements.

The declaration said that a “steady diet of conspiracy theories” had harmed Pakistan and it was time to revisit such policies which encouraged reactionary forces.

It said that a only a pluralist Pakistan at peace with itself would have a positive global and local image and for this purpose the decision makers should engage with those who believe in a liberal, secular and progressive vision of Pakistan.

Pakistani liberals, exiles say country faces global isolation

Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times,

October 15, 2017

Proxy wars in the neighbourhood and alleged official support for extremism are some of the reasons Pakistan is facing the risk of global isolation, a two-day conference  attended by over a hundred leading activists from Pakistan and elsewhere resolved on Saturday.

Titled ‘Pakistan – A Way Forward’, the conference was organised under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

Organisers said London was chosen as the venue of the second such conference because of alleged threats to free expression in Pakistan “where hundreds of people are extra-judicially disappeared”.

More than half of the liberal participants with anti-establishment views arrived from Pakistan while the rest were exiles from Canada, United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom.

The resolution adopted at the end of the conference said: “Pakistan faces the risk of global isolation because of its continuing proxy wars in its neighbourhood, widespread obscurantism, growing intolerance, lack of rule of law, along with official support for extremism and general disregard for human rights”.

One of the sessions was titled ‘Finding peace with our neighbours’, where participants agreed that Pakistan could become a normal country only after normalising relations with neighbouring countries, especially India.

Haqqani said that ties with India should not be held hostage to any single issue: “No nation can survive permanent hostility with its largest neighbour”.

The resolution mentioned a catalogue of alleged misdeeds on the part of the Pakistani establishment, and called for a “new national narrative that is based on the consent of its people rather than on religious hatred, militarism and militancy”.

“It is sad and disconcerting that instead of dealing with these issues with the help of fresh ideas espoused by broad-minded Pakistanis, the Pakistani state continues to appease or nurture religious extremists, propagate or allow the propagation of religious extremism and allow it free spread in society, and persistently misinform the people of Pakistan about the realities of our country”, the resolution said.

“Instead of facing these harsh realities, the Pakistani people are fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories and exaggerated threats to national security from other nations and countries”.

“The Pakistani state, regrettably, expresses a continued willingness to engage with religious extremists and terrorists, and sometimes even talks of formally inducting Jihadi terrorist groups into the state’s paramilitary structure and lately, mainstreaming extremist and terrorist organisations, but remains hostile to liberal, progressive and nationalist groupings within Pakistan”, it added.

Besides Haqqani and Taqi, participants at the conference included former editors Rashed Rehman and Abbas Nasir, Senator Latif Afridi, author Arif Jamal, poet Atif Tauqeer, social activist Marvi Sirmed, and ‘Aman ki asha’ advocate Beena Sarwar.

Some of the participants represented Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, and Muhajir nationalist groups. Conference organisers said future plans included setting up two secretariats, one in Pakistan and the other abroad.

Dissent is patriotic: Pakistani liberals say in unison

Marvi Sirmed, The Daily Times

October 15, 2017

More than a hundred prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals and public figures from Pakistan expressed grave concern over the widening repression of critical, dissenting voices to the state’s narrative, resulting in shrinking space for liberal, secular, progressive ideas and pluralism. They resolved that Pakistan needed a new national narrative based on the consent of its people rather than on religious hatred, militarism and militancy.

The participants of a conference concluded that there were constant threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in addition to the systematic victimisation of NGOs, human rights defenders and dissenting groups and individuals. It was noted with concern that major political parties were demonstrating an inability to prioritise protection of human rights and social justice. Coupled with this was highlighted the issue of increasing threat of Pakistan’s global isolation as a consequence of the continuation and expansion of proxy wars in South Asian region.

The conference rejected the idea of unchecked and blind policy of ‘mainstreaming’ the militants and terrorists and termed it a “particularly dangerous development and a threat to the democratic polity”. Alongside, the challenging of the democratic mandate of the elected government by un-elected institutions of state was identified as a “serious source of apprehension”.

The participants unanimously emphasised that the federating units must be given not only maximum political autonomy but also control over their natural resources, in order to establish true democracy in Pakistan. The forum demanded that the provinces should activate the provincial finance commissions, allocate maximum resources to the local governments and the local governments should be given 25 percent of the royalty and the profits of natural resources exploited from their respective areas. It was announced in the concluding session that the South Asians against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH) forum would set up two secretariats, one in Pakistan and the other abroad for the diaspora, to help wrestle the idea and identity of Pakistan away from the “obscurantist forces”. Moreover, before the next year’s conference, a similar gathering would be organised in Pakistan in order to involve more like-minded people from within the country in the debate.

Talking to Daily Times, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US and convenor of SAATH forum, said that like last year, the gathering had to be arranged away from Pakistan this year too because of the threats to the security of free thinkers in the country. “I wish from the core of my heart that every Pakistani were safe and secure in Pakistan irrespective of their views, ideologies, ethnicity, religion and sect,” he added.

Dr Taqi, Pakistani-American columnist and the co-convenor of the conference, said while talking to Daily Times that there were multiple ways to the same destination. “I firmly believe in the axiom that ‘My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right’; dissent is patriotic.”

Moot kicks off with vows to make Pakistan a progressive, secular country

The Daily Times

October 14, 2017

A liberal, progressive, nationalist and secular vision is needed for Pakistan to overcome threats of international isolation, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States said on Friday.

He was speaking at the opening day of a three-day moot organised by the South Asians against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH) Forum in London.

SAATH is a network of liberal, progressive, and left leaning Pakistanis based across the globe and the Forum is the second in a series of annual events started in 2016.

“We must now change the narrative that only religious extremists or intolerant bigots represent Pakistani patriotism,” Haqqani said.

“We consider our Armed forces as our own, but we also want our Armed forces to consider us as their own as well,” he said.

Haqqani criticised the tendency of dismissing critical voices and said, “No Pakistani wants to break or damage the country, but there may be some who may not agree with the preeminent narrative on how state institutions are to function and how they need to behave with their own people as well as with the rest of the world.”

These opinions should not be equated with treason or collision with the state, he added.

Referring to recent development and economic rankings of the country, he highlighted that Pakistan stood among the poor performers. “The best form of patriotism is to have a desire to change these rankings for the better,” he said. Haqqani also stressed the need for involvement of Baloch, Pakhtun, Sindhi, and Siraiki nationalists in the mainstream discourse. He said such efforts would promote feelings of inclusiveness among these communities.

Inaugurating the conference, veteran journalist Rashid Rehman said that a strong liberal and secular front was needed to fight the menace of extremist ideologies in Pakistan. He proposed that a conference secretariat should be established in Pakistan, besides an international secretariat that would help ensure that Pakistani diaspora in different countries could remain involved in the debate about the future of the country.

As delegates registered for the meeting, they recalled with concern that several prominent liberal Pakistanis had been physically eliminated or forcibly made to disappear in the recent past. “This state of affairs is why we are meeting here in London,” said an organiser.

Participants also criticised the policy proposal on mainstreaming of militant groups like Jamaatud Dawa and Lashkar-i-Taiba, which has announced a political front Milli Muslim League.

Co-organiser Dr Taqi said the focus of the gathering was to find ways for mainstreaming tolerance instead. “The threat of Pakistan being declared a state sponsor of terrorism was real and required a 360-degree change in policies, not gimmicks,” he said, “the facade of democracy in Pakistan is being eroded and invisible hands are expanding their role.”

During the three-day event, the participants will discuss the way forward for the liberal forces in Pakistan to provide an alternative narrative on Pakistan’s state and society.

Among the prominent participants of the conference are Wajid Shamsul Hassan, former Pakistani High Commissioner to UK; Prof Amin Mughal, leading Pakistani professor and intellectual based out of London; Dr Sarfaraz Khan, a professor at the Area Studies Centre in Peshawar; Aimal Khattak, a peace activist and son of late Ajmal Khattak; Abdul Hameed Bhashani, a Kashmiri barrister based out of Canada; Farhat Taj,a professor of social sciences based out of Norway; Beena Sarwar, a senior Pakistani journalist; Lakhu Lakhani, a senior leader of the World Sindhi Congress; Pakistani journalists Mehreen Zehra Malik and Taha Siddiqui; and rights activists Mohsin Dawar, Mazhar Arif, and Fahim Baloch.

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