SAATH FORUM

South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

Author: SAATH Forum (page 2 of 2)

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).

PAKISTANI DISSIDENTS DEMAND AN END TO THE LEGAL HARASSMENT OF PROFESSOR MOHAMMAD ISMAIL

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.

SAATH Forum London Meeting

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.

The SAATH Forum stands in solidarity with Marvi Sirmed and the Aurat Azadi March 2020

Washington DC:

The South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum  condemns the vile attack and use of abusive language against a political activist and Forum member Marvi Sirmed by Khalilur Rehman Qamar on a national TV channel earlier this week.

We believe the national TV channel must apologise to Marvi Sirmed and ban Khalilur Rehman from any TV appearance. We also demand from PEMRA to look at the matter and fine the said TV channel for broadcasting such act on a national TV. The abusive language and disrespect for a woman is not acceptable.

The SAATH Forum supports the 3rd annual Aurat Azadi March and call the authorities to protect the freedom of speech. We also unequivocally believe in the slogans that are used by women in Pakistan such as “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (My body, my choice) and “Khana Khud garam karo” (Warm up your food). These slogans rightly highlight the multiple issues which women in Pakistan are facing such as sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence and rape, education, right to assembly and freedom of speech.

We stand in solidarity with our women forum members and the women marchers of Pakistan, and would defend their right to speech and freedom of expression. We call upon media organizations, political workers and international community to join us and stand in solidarity with Marvi Sirmed and the Aurat Azaadi March 2020.

Future of Pakistan Depends on How it Deals With Identity, Image and Dissent

Pakistan has a long history of hounding the dissenters. The country’s military establishment -and occasionally the civilian one too- has stigmatized, ostracized and persecuted those who differed with whatever was considered the state-sponsored gospel truth at the time. Pashtun and Baloch nationalist leaders like Ghaffar Khan and Ghaus Bux Bizenjo were smeared as traitors and arrested within a year of the country’s independence. Regrettably, even Ms. Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the country’s founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was not spared by Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan when she opposed him in a presidential election; he denigrated not just her politics and but also her character. Pakistan’s state apparatus and its partisans have continued since to torment, vilify, and even worse, attack and physically eliminate the dissident voices.

This persecution is not random; there is a method to this madness.

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Dreams and Nightmares

A London conference calls for a more pluralistic and tolerant Pakistan

SAATH Forum London Conference 2016

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The Future of Pakistan Conference 2016 London

On October 28-30, 2016, Pakistanis from around the world gathered in London for the Future of Pakistan Conference hosted by SAATH Forum.

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COAS Gen Raheel Sharif

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Pak liberals gather in London for conference

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