SAATH FORUM

South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

Category: Events (page 1 of 2)

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.

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).

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.

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.”

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