SAATH FORUM

South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

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Pakistan Army’s Economic Interests Reason for Creeping Coup

Washington D.C: Pakistan Peoples Party Spokesman and former Senator, Farhatullah Babar, has said that the “creeping coup” in Pakistan is the result of the military trying to protect its “corporate economic interests,” which might not be protected in a federal and democratic system.

Speaking at the end of the fifth annual conference of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), Babar said, “In their hearts, Pakistan’s generals do not accept the country’s constitution. That is why they have built a national narrative that is against democratic values and puts the army above all institutions.

Babar called for changing the basis of Pakistan’s relations with India, which he said had been predicated on the resolution of the Kashmir issue as Pakistan wants it. “If China and India can have trade relations despite their conflicts, why can’t Pakistan?” he asked, hinting that good relations with India would help advance democratic norms and civilian supremacy in Pakistan.

Speaking at the virtual event from Islamabad, the former Senator said that the protests against the army that started in Pashtun tribal regions have now reached Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan army. Young people are discovering that “the emperor has no clothes,” he observed.

Babar lamented that Pakistan’s parliament was unable to hold the military accountable and was deprived of the most elementary information about the military’s spending and other matters. “The hybrid regime is fighting a hybrid war against the people of Pakistan by curbs on media and freedom of expression,” he added.

He expressed the hope that the exiled members of SAATH, a grouping of prodemocracy Pakistanis co-founded by former Pakistan ambassador the U.S., Husain Haqqani, and US-based columnist, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, could speak out about matters that can no longer be raised in Pakistan’s repressed media.

Mohsin Dawar, member of the National Assembly from Waziristan and a leading figure in Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), said that the regime was trying to bring the Taliban back to power and to break the bond between the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line.

Dawar also expressed concern about Pakistan’s survivability, adding that the people of Pakistan seem fed up with the army’s dominance and intrusion in all spheres of life. “If the political leaders fail, the people will definitely stand up against the dictatorship,” he observed.

Former parliamentarian, Bushra Gohar, said that young Pakistanis, lawyers, and women have started challenging the status quo in Pakistan and the repressive regime cannot prevail forever.

Gohar questioned “secret talks’ between Pakistan’s military leaders and U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, over the future of Afghanistan, which have serious implications for Pakistan’s Pashtuns. She called for demilitarization of the Pashtun region.

Resolutions passed by participants also condemned enforced disappearances and erosion of freedom of expression.

Most speakers also criticized Pakistan’s major political parties for compromising often with the military, instead of ensuring civilian supremacy under the constitution.

Haqqani and Dr. Taqi welcomed the recent formation of Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition political parties, and expressed the hope that “they would resist the Pakistani establishment’s totalitarian project and not just bargain for a share in power.”

Dissidents Blame Military Dominated Hybrid System for Pakistan’s Multiple Crises

Washington D.C : Dismissing Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “military puppet,’ prominent Pakistani dissidents, including former and current members of parliament, have blamed the military for the country’s fragility, insecurity, and inability to get along with neighbouring countries.

“Pakistan is under unannounced martial law,” Pashtun leader and former Senator Afrasiab Khattak told the fifth annual conference of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH).

SAATH is a grouping of prodemocracy Pakistanis co-founded by former Pakistan ambassador the U.S., Husain Haqqani, and US-based columnist, Dr. Mohammad Taqi. Previous annual conferences of SAATH have been held in London and Washington but this year participants met virtually.

Members of the group include politicians, journalists, bloggers, social media activists, and members of civil society, many of whom have been forced to live in exile in various countries. Pakistan’s security services have tried to disrupt SAATH meetings in the past and banned members living in Pakistan from traveling abroad but this year, the virtual format enabled several prominent dissidents still in the country to participate.

“This is the most dangerous martial law in Pakistan because it has vulgarised and distorted constitutional institutions,” Khattak said, speaking from Pakistan. “The current military regime is delegitimizing political institutions, going to the extent that intelligence agencies direct members of parliament when to attend sessions and when not to turn up to vote,” he said.

Haqqani noted that Imran Khan had recently publicly blamed him and SAATH for weakening Pakistan’s international standing. “Pakistan’s international standing is being lost due to its policies of encouraging extremism and suppressing freedom, not due to the activism of those fighting for human rights.”

Several speakers, including Rubina Greenwood of the World Sindhi Congress, Tahira Jabeen from Gilgit-Baltistan, Shahzad Irfan of the Seraiki Movement, and Rasool Mohammed of Pashtun Council of America emphasized that various nationalities in Pakistan were being oppressed and denied their rights.

Irfan said that military intervention in politics reinforced Punjab’s dominance and was a key factor in oppression of national and religious minorities.

Greenwood said that the only way for Pakistan to win over the Sindhi and Baloch people would be recognize that Pakistan is a multi-national state. She said that “Sindh is a historical entity that cannot be divided, or its identity denied.”

Jabeen called for ending “73 years of political, constitutional, social, economic, geographical and cultural isolation of Gilgit Baltistan” and an “autonomous set up.”

Shia rights activist, Jaffer Mirza, lamented anti-Shia violence and blamed the authorities for legitimizing anti-Shia politics through legislation, especially the Tahaffuz-e-Islam (Protection of Islam) Bill.

Former ambassador, Kamran Shafi, who is also a retired military officer, said, “The higher ranks of the Pakistan Army must realise that a truly elected government must be in place to bring Pakistan from the brink where the current regime has brought it.”

“All that the COAS, General Bajwa, and ISI have to do is to step back from politicking, and let politics be,” Shafi said, adding that it was “the only way out of the morass our poor country finds itself in.” He added that even in the colonial era, the British Indian army was subject to civilian supremacy.

According to Dr. Taqi army rule had taken Pakistan from one disaster to another. “The narrative of patriotism has been framed around the army and competing worldviews about Pakistan and those who do not fit the army’s parameters are ostracized as rebellious, treasonous, and even blasphemous.

Prominent speakers and participants in the conference included Pashtun women’s activist Gulalai Ismail, exiled journalist Taha Siddiqi and Tahir Gora, and human rights defended Marvi Sirmed.

SAATH welcomes the APC and formation of PDM

Washington DC:

We the members of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH) welcome the joint communique adopted by the All Parties Conference (APC) on Sunday. We congratulate Pakistan’s political leadership for initiating the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and posing a strong joint front against the undemocratic forces. We reiterate our support to PDM and our commitment to meaningful democracy and civilian supremacy.

We applaud Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for hosting the historic event, Mian Nawaz Sharif for speaking boldly and bluntly exposing military’s interference in political affairs, Maulana Fazlur Rahman for his consistent attempts to bring opposition parties together, and all Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi nationalist parties and groups for coming together to save Pakistan’s dwindling democracy.

We appreciate the fact that political leaders highlighted the disturbingly intensified trend of enforced disappearances especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh. However, we are highly disappointed to see that the PDM leadership failed to demonstrate strong enough condemnation and to generate seriousness towards rising violence against religious minorities and women.

We want to record our protest to the government for censoring Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s speech and cutting it off from the broadcast media. This practice of gagging the media and political dissent constitutes outright hypocrisy when the Prime Minister is fond of claiming on every international forum that Pakistani media was ‘freer than western media.’

We are outraged to see military officials feeding to media and misleading people about a meeting that the Army Chief convened a few days before the APC on the pretext of creating political consensus about some policy decisions pertaining to Gilgit Baltistan. Using this information to discredit political parties, appears to be a desperate effort by the military leadership to overcome their embarrassment over a clear stance that these parties took against undemocratic practices of military establishment.

We do hope that political parties will now not bow down before the pressure exerted by the undemocratic forces, and would rather, expose the antics employed by the latter. We want to emphasize upon the PDM leadership to follow up the resolution with mass mobilization and assuming leadership role in exerting honest plan of action for strengthening democracy and posing decisive resistance to military’s interference in political domain.

The SAATH Forum condemns abduction of Matiullah Jan. Demands immediate release

Washington DC:

The South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH) strongly condemns the abduction of Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan from the capital city of Islamabad. SAATH also endorses the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)’s and the change.org petition that demand for the Federal Government to take immediate measures for the safe release of Matiullah Jan.

Jan was abducted this morning outside the school where his wife teaches, in Islamabad. The footage from the school CCTV shows that men in plain clothes and uniforms forcefully took him out of the car and beat him before taking him away. This is a known modus operandi of Pakistani intelligence agencies and the same has been observed and reported in many previous abductions of those critical of Pakistani military.

We at SAATH forum are deeply concerned at increasing attempts to silence the media and suppress independent voices by such abductions. Matiullah Jan has an exemplary journalistic career and he always stood against the powerful people. He is an effective voice on missing persons and enforced disappearances in Balochistan, Sindh and Pashtun areas.

In past, Matiullah Jan was attacked by unknown assailants in Islamabad when he was driving his children back home. He thankfully survived that attack. He is also one of the six journalists who faced investigation by a Pakistani intelligence agency just because they posted photo of their murdered Saudi exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pakistani Academics and Scholars Condemn PM for Calling bin Laden a Martyr

Washington DC, 29 June.

South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistani intellectuals and activists, has expressed dismay and alarm, at the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, referring to the death of the International Terrorist Osama bin Laden at the hands of United States Navy SEALS on May 2nd, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as his ‘Martyrdom’.

A statement by SAATH said, “What makes this doubly disgusting is that Imran Khan made this claim on the floor of Pakistan’s National Assembly on June 25th, 2020. For, another Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yusaf Raza Gillani, had in selfsame National Assembly on May 9, 2011, denounced Bin Laden as a terrorist and had welcomed his elimination.”

According to the SAATH statement “It should be noted that in addition to the havoc wreaked on 9/11, and later upon the wider World, Bin Laden was directly responsible for the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans during the years he was plotting his terrible schemes whilst remaining hidden in Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf probably known to certain people in Pakistan’s Intelligence Services.”

Further, as the SAATH statement noted, “Many people explain his classification of Osama as a ‘Martyr’ to Imran Khan’s known proclivity to be appreciative of extremist, Jihadist thought, therefore coming to be known by the nickname ‘Taliban Khan’ some years ago, a nickname which has stuck.”

The SAATH statement asserted, “However, there could be a deeper, even more sinister reason: that of putting the West, specially the United States on notice, now that the endgame in Afghanistan is in sight, and the state of the Pakistan economy is in shambles. In other words this might well be a ploy to inveigle more money out of Pakistan’s traditional donors.”

*Pakistani Academics and Scholars Targeted for Political Views*

Washington DC, 24th June. The South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistani intellectuals and activists, is alarmed by the growing trend of targeting academics and scholars in Pakistan. While the tendency to control and censor the academic environment and scholarship is not new, but this wave of intensified attacks is worrying for all pro-democracy forces of the country.

The recent cases of abrupt dissolution of employment contracts of college and university professors, e.g., world renowned physicist and pro-peace activist, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy; Ammar Ali Jan known for his progressive views and open support for human rights movements for the Pashtun, the Baloch and other marginalized communities; Prof. Zaigham Abbas, the prominent political scientist and critic of state policies; and Mohammed Hanif, playwright, novelist and opinion writer for world renowned publications. All of them have been shown the door by hurriedly terminating their contracts or refusing to extend them.

SAATH is also concerned about the recent wave of shunning the critical academic voices on the pretext of blasphemy. Most recently, Professor Sajid Soomro of Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur (Sindh) was arrested on unsubstantiated blasphemy allegations. Subsequently, Dr. Arfana Mallah, prominent feminist, human rights defender and professor of Chemistry at the University of Sindh Jamshoro was targeted with smear campaign and allegations of blasphemy. Earlier, Junaid Hafeez, a Fulbright scholar and lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University, was sentenced to death after allegations of blasphemy in classroom. These allegations when drawn against academics and teachers create an irreversible sense of insecurity and fear among teachers and scholars losing their ability to research and teach with independent mind.

SAATH members also express their strong concern over harassment of academics and scholars by the state misusing the law. Prof. Ismail Khan among various other young teachers especially from the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement as well as those having Baloch and Sindhi nationalist leanings have been targets of this kind of harassment since long. Not only the academics, scholars, and authors have been targets of smear campaigns, their work has also borne the brunt of state’s wrath over the dissenting views these individuals and their writings express. Over last couple of years, the practice of banning the books or preventing their launch events has also seen new highs.

SAATH members note that all these transgressions by the state or non-state actors in Pakistan have been going on with impunity for a very long time. They demand that the relevant institutions especially the parliament and judiciary must ensure that these acts of oppressing dissent and stifling of academic expression does not go scot free. SAATH will keep monitoring and documenting the situation, followed by advocacy drives with international forums for human rights because the members believe that academic freedom is a human right.

SAATH Forum Extremely Alarmed Over Extra-Judicial Killings in Sindh

SAATH has become aware of several incidents of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance of Sindhi political workers in last few days. On 16 June, tortured body of Niaz Lashari, a worker of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz – Arisar (JSQM-A) was found in Karachi. He was abducted by agencies 18 months ago from Hyderabad. In last seven days six political workers affiliated with various Sindhi nationalist organisations have been force kidnapped by state agencies from various towns and cities of Sindh including: Ayatullah Jarwar, Mukhtiar Bozdar, Jabbar Sarki, Saeed Mangi, Babar Solangi, Kifayat Jatoi.

SAATH is seriously concerned at this intensification of human rights violations in Sindh and demand from the government to fulfil its obligations under the national and international laws for human rights protection to stop these atrocities and bring the perpetrators to justice.

SAATH Forum demands an end to the harassment of Renowned Sindhi Human Rights Defender Arfana Mallah

Washington DC

SAATH strongly condemns the vicious campaign against Professor Arfana Mallah for her support of Professor Sajid Soomro. It is pertinent to note that fanatic mullahs singled her out even though so many others also issued supporting statements for Professor Sajid Soomro. Apparently, because of her progressive views and bold action for organizing ‘Aurat March’ in Sukkur in March 2020. At that time, JUI (F) was against the march, and she, along with her network of friends, organized a triumphant rally in northern Sindh. Now, JUI (F), along with other extremist religious parties have started a public campaign in Hyderabad and she and her family have been receiving death threats.

We demand from the Sindh government to provide security to her and take action against political and religious groups and parties who are behind this dangerous campaign.

Sindh is the land of Sufi, where tolerance for all the religions is paramount and the provincial and federal governments should make sure not to allow any conspiracy to destroy the basic fabric of Sindhi society.

SAATH FORUM MARKS ONE YEAR OF KHARQAMAR MASSACRE

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Today marks the first anniversary of Kharqamar Massacre that resulted in the death of at least 14 innocent citizens belonging to the Pashtun community. 24 people were also injured in this attack that targeted those gathered under the banner of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who were holding a protest against the beating up a Pashtun women and illegal arrests of other residents of North Waziristan.

Videos which surfaced after the killings show how unarmed protestors were fired upon from behind as they passed a military check post. However, following the massacre, the Pakistani government accused PTM and its leaders of orchestrating the attack and wrongfully arrested its leadership, including members of the National Assembly (Pakistani parliament) Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, imprisoning them over terrorism charges for four months.

SAATH Forum strongly condemns these malicious charges against the PTM leadership and demands that all charges must be dropped against them. Also, to date, no credible inquiry has been held by the government of Pakistan into these killings. SAATH Forum therefore demands that Pakistani authorities set up an independent commission to investigate the Kharqamar massacre and hold the officials and soldiers accountable.

It is to be noted here that the attack on innocent protestors happened just a few weeks after a press conference by the then Director General of military’s media wing ISPR, General Asif Ghafoor, who threatened the PTM with dire consequences in this media talk.

SAATH Forum is also concerned over the renewed cases of target killings in the tribal belt along with reports of remilitarisation of erstwhile tribal areas. We demand that the integration process of ex-FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province be escalated and policing is handed over to the civilian government, so that the residents of the region can live without the constant fear of military brutality, that has become a norm.

In conclusion, SAATH Forum will like to honor the victims of the Kharqamar Massacre that included Sanaullah, Madaof Khan, Chrai, Ghani Khan, Gul Bari Khan, Bilal, Bakh Ullah, Niaz Bat Khan, Sadiq Khan, Bilawr Khan, Nasir, Behram Khan, Muhammad Saleem, and Rafiullah. We would also like to honor the survivors of the massacre that include Ahmad Kham, Aamel Khan, Qismatullah, Noor Ullah, Salim Ullah, Hakim Khan, Abdul Khaliq, Ajmali Khan, Hakeemullah, Hab Nawaz, Gulab Khan, Muhammed Noor Khan, Zahid Khan, Sher Ali Khan, Gul Naar Khan, Matiullah, Musa, Sanaullah, Mustafa, Nasir, Shehram Ullah, Daraz Khan, Ajmal Uddin and Amal Jan.

Pakistani dissidents hold virtual conference titled ‘Enforced Disappearances, State-sanctioned killings, & Diminishing Democracy in Pakistan.’

Participants from Pakistan, U.S., U.K., France, Netherlands and Canada joined the two-hour long deliberations held online

Washington D.C : Several Pakistani freethinkers, human rights defenders, peace activists and dissenting voices from around the world gathered virtually on Sunday and took strong exceptions to the state policies post-COVID-19 especially the tactics used by the security establishment to undermine democracy and fundamental freedoms.

The virtual conference was attended by prominent Pakistani human rights defenders, public intellectuals, journalists, scholars living in Pakistan as well as those living in exile in different countries. The prominent participants included politicians Senator Afrasiab Khattak, Farah Ispahani, Mohsin Dawar; activists Gul Bukhari, Gulalai Ismail, Saba Ismail, Waqas Goraya, Annie Zaman; journalists Taha Siddiqui, Marvi Sirmed; and intellectuals like Kamran Shafi, Dr. Saghir Shaikh, and Rasool Mohammad.

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first virtual event organized by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistanis co-hosted annually by author and former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani and US-based columnist Dr. Mohammad Taqi. SAATH Forum has an established tradition of holding widely attended Annual Conferences since 2016. Earlier this year, 4th SAATH conference was held in Washington DC.

Several participants including left leaning social and liberal democrats; Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, and Seraiki nationalists; and intersectional feminists noted with concern that the situation in Pakistan has escalated several notches from being a hybrid democracy to a hybrid martial law. Mohammad Taqi said in his opening address that the purpose of this conference was to do advocacy. “We need to raise our voice since the situation in Pakistan is quite bleak. There is a lot of intellectual suffocation,” Mr. Taqi said.

The conference kicked of with an intervention by Mohsin Dawar, Pakistani parliamentarian and PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) leader, who spoke about the current political climate in the country. “Unfortunately, Pakistan’s political parties are compromised. The military is everywhere. They are micromanaging Pakistan. There is a vacuum for a real democratic force in the country,” he told the participants.

Senator Afrasiab Khattak raised the issue of clandestine efforts by the establishment to roll back the provincial autonomy provided by the 18th constitutional amendment. “We must resist the onslaught against democracy and especially the 18th Amendment. Since 2014, there has been a creeping coup and going after the amendment is part of that agenda,” Mr. Khattak said.

Activist Gulalai Ismail raised the issue of thousands of displaced Pashtuns who continue to live without their homes because of militarization of the tribal belt. “This has given rise to Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). Arif Wazir is just one example of many target killings in tribal areas,” Ms. Ismail said, pointing to the recent high-profile killing of a PTM leader in Waziristan.

Former Ambassador to Cuba, Kamran Shafi said that coercion of politicians and regime critics in the name of accountability had “gone wild and rampant.” “Whilst we should expect politicians to be more proactive the current regime was using the coercive power of NAB with no speedy recourse to the Superior Judiciary. NAB has morphed into an institution higher than Parliament and the govt. combined,” he stressed.

Journalist Taha Siddiqui highlighted the recent case of exiled Baloch journalist Sajid Husain, who was found dead in Sweden. “His mysterious death is a concern to all dissidents like us abroad. I hope Swedish authorities can catch the perpetrators, but if its the work of Pakistani agencies, its unlikely that they left a footprint,” Mr. Siddiqui said.

Former Parliamentarian and author Farahnaz Ispahani raised the issue of the violence against and perpetual oppression of minorities in Pakistan. “The minorities in Pakistan are struggling even more due to Covid-19. We must focus our efforts in providing them relief. They are the most vulnerable group in the country in this pandemic,” Ms. Ispahani said.

In his conlcuding remarks, Husain Haqqani also spoke about the pandemic and its impact on Pakistan. “The post Covid-19 environment will only aggravate Pakistan’s crisis. Instead of persisting with old, failed policies, a new approach must be adopted. It should be based on tolerance, democracy, genuine federalism,’ Mr. Haqqani said. He further added that Pakistan has a better chance moving forward as a democracy and a federation. “Unfortunately anti-democracy elements paint democrats and pro-federation voices as anti-Pakistan,’ he added.

Over 30 participants joined the conference that used the #SAATHVirtualConf2020. The hashtag trended in Pakistan. We also received reports that Pakistani users experienced Twitter and other social media websites outages, which we suspect was done to disrupt the Pakistani public from following the conference’s deliberations.

For further details on the deliberations, official posters and screenshots of the conference, please visit the official Twitter account (www.twitter.com/ForumSaath).

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