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South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

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Moot reaffirms faith in liberal Pakistan, opposes mainstreaming of militants

Murtaza Ali Shah, The News

October 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistani liberals, exiles say country faces global isolation

Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times,

October 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissent is patriotic: Pakistani liberals say in unison

Marvi Sirmed, The Daily Times

October 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Times

October 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Liberals Meet for Second Conference in London

ANI

October 13, 2017

A conference attended by several prominent Pakistani intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures with anti-establishment views began in London on Friday with calls for end to Pakistani support for terrorism.

The conference titled ‘Pakistan- the war forward is the second such event organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH).

It is co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who has emerged as a major international critic of Pakistan’s state policies especially on terrorism.

Haqqani told the opening session that Pakistanis had to save their country from the threat of being declared a state sponsor of terrorism as a result of misguided policies of past 25 years.

“It is better if reform-minded Pakistanis call for course correction than sanctions being imposed by global powers.” he said.

Participants said they preferred to meet in London, which has a history of hosting people threatened in their countries because they did not want to join the ranks of those disappeared or jailed by ISI.

Besides Haqqani and Taqi prominent participants of the conference include 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 delegates represented Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, and Muhajir nationalist groups considered anti-national by Pakistan’s military establishment.

This year, the conference theme is to create a network of Pakistanis in the country and abroad “who reject the idea of permanent war with neighboring countries” and do not accept what liberal Pakistanis consider an extremist orientation.

“Liberal, progressive, nationalist and secular visions of Pakistan need to be reinstated in Pakistan’s political arena if the country is to overcome threats of international isolation,” Haqqani told the opening session.

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

He also said that “something is deeply wrong when a state tries to shut down people asking for reform while hosting underworld criminals like Dawood Ibrahim and terrorists like Siraj Haqqani and Hafiz Saeed.”

There was also criticism of the new policy of mainstreaming militant groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been transformed into Milli Muslim League.

According to Dr Taqi, “We want to focus on how tolerance can be mainstreamed in Pakistan at a time when Jihadis and those designated international terrorists are being mainstreamed.”

Dr Taqi expressed concern that even the “facade of democracy in Pakistan” was being eroded and “invisible hands are expanding their role.”

Way forward for Pakistan sans war discussed in London

Geo TV

October, 13, 2017

Dozens of prominent Pakistani figures “who reject the idea of permanent war with neighbouring countries” and do not accept what liberal Pakistanis consider an extremist orientation came together for the conference titled ‘Pakistan- the way forward’.

The conference was the second such organised under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH). It was hosted by columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

“Liberal, progressive, nationalist and secular visions of the country need to be reinstated in Pakistan’s political arena if the country is to overcome the current local and international threats,” Haqqani, one of the hosts, told Geo News. “We must change the narrative that only religious extremists or intolerant bigots represent Pakistani patriotism. Pakistan belongs to various schools of thought, various ideologies and diverse opinions that’s its real beauty.”

He maintained Pakistan faced critical challenges and needed a 360-degree change in policies — rather than gimmicks — and an alternative suggesting the way forward.

Besides Haqqani and Taqi prominent participants included Rashed Rehman, Abbas Nasir, Senator Latif Afridi, Arif Jamal, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Atif Tauqeer, Farhat Taj and several leading journalists.

Last year, the conference was marred by opinions of hard-line nationalists and supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London’s leader Altaf Hussain. However, this time, the agenda and list of participants was more mainstream, organisers said.

They added that the conference was themed with the purpose of creating a network of Pakistanis in the country and abroad who reject the idea of permanent war with neighbouring countries.

While sharing their opinions, some experts said the conference should also explore and highlight issues of human rights and extremism in other parts of South Asia as the forum’s primary focus is the entire South Asian region.

Call for Reviving Liberal Pakistan at London Conference

The Nation

Salman Masood,

October 13 2017

More than one hundred prominent Pakistani intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures with anti-establishment views have arrived in London,  calling for the revival of ‘Quaid-e-Azam’s liberal vision for Pakistan or risk international isolation.’

The conference titled ‘Pakistan- the war forward’ is being organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH).

It is the second such meeting co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who has become a major international critic of Pakistan’s state policies, especially on terrorism.

Besides Haqqani and Taqi prominent participants include the conference include Rashed Rehman, Abbas Nasir, Senator Latif Afridi, Arif Jamal, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Farhat Taj, and Atif Tauqeer

Unlike last year, when the conference was dominated by opinions of hard-line Sindhi and Baloch nationalists and MQM-Altaf supporters, this year the agenda and list of participants is more mainstream.

The conference theme is to create a network of Pakistanis in the country and abroad “who reject the idea of permanent war with neighboring countries” and do not accept what liberal Pakistanis consider an extremist orientation.

“Liberal, progressive, nationalist and secular visions of Pakistan need to be reinstated in Pakistan’s political arena if the country is to overcome threats of international isolation,” Haqqani said, while opening the conference. “We must change the narrative that only religious extremists or intolerant bigots represent Pakistani patriotism.”

As delegates registered for the meeting, they recalled several prominent liberal Pakistanis who have been physically eliminated or disappeared. “That is why we are meeting London,” one organizer said.

There was also criticism of the new policy of mainstreaming militant groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba , which has been transformed into Milli Muslim League.

According to co-organizer Dr Taqi, “We want to focus on how tolerance can be mainstreamed in Pakistan at a time when Jihadis and those designated international terrorists are being mainstreamed.”

Dr Taqi also expressed concern that even the “facade of democracy in Pakistan” was being eroded and “invisible hands are expanding their role.”

The three-day conference will continue on Saturday and Sunday.

Pakistan: The Way Forward 2017 Conference

More than one hundred prominent Pakistani intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures with anti-establishment views met  in London,  calling for the revival of ‘Quaid-e-Azam’s liberal vision for Pakistan or risk international isolation.’ The conference titled ‘Pakistan- the war forward’ was organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH).

It was the second such meeting co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who has become a major international critic of Pakistan’s state policies, especially on terrorism. Besides Haqqani and Taqi prominent participants include the conference include Rashed Rehman, Abbas Nasir, Senator Latif Afridi, Arif Jamal, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Farhat Taj, and Atif Tauqeer.

 

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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