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 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.
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.”
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 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 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.
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.
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).
Washington D.C.: The South Asians Against Terrorism and For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum expresses serious concerns over the continued harassment by Pakistani authorities of Professor Mohammad Ismail, the father of renowned exiled human rights activist and member SAATH Forum, Gulalai Ismail. His only “crime” – supporting his daughter’s human rights activism for the Pashtun community.
The Pakistani government has charged him under the draconian cyber-crime law, and had arrested him for the same previously. The courts had given him relief in this regard and granted him bail, owing to the frivolous nature of the charges but once again, the government is pursuing the courts to cancel his bail and imprison him. He was asked to present himself in the courts today for this regard. Fortunately enough, for now, the hearing has been delayed.
But it is still an extremely worrying situation for the civil society and Gulalai Ismail’s family, especially since Professor Ismail is 65+ years old and therefore is in the category of extremely vulnerable people to COVID-19 and not just because of his age but also owing to his underlying conditions including hypertension, heart and kidneys problem.
When in October 2019 Professor Ismail was jailed after being abducted by agencies in Pakistan and later reproduced in the court after international outcry, he was denied medical care in prison. And now summoning Professor Ismail to the court during this pandemic and asking for him to be sent to prison again is putting his life at risk intentionally and is in violation of his constitutional rights. Also, we have been informed by Professor Ismail’s family that his access to his financial resources have been blocked – allegedly at the orders of state agencies. This creates further stress on him as he is unable to provide for his family.
We urge the civil society and media in Pakistan to raise voice against this targeting of human rights activist in the country and demand that the Pakistani government drop all charges against Professor Ismail and his family members.
On March 9-10, representatives of the SAATH UK and Europe chapters met in London. The aim of the meeting was to activate the SAATH chapters in UK and Europe, and hold regular chapter meetings.
The discussions focused on how to engage governments and nongovernmental organizations on these countries and to raise awareness about Pakistan’s imperiled democracy, its human rights challenges, and women and religious minorities rights being under fire. The participants also discussed the regional ramifications of the deal with the Afghan Taliban as well as developments inside India.