South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights

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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 (


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.

SAATH Forum Condemns Hounding of Rights Defender Gul Bukhari. Demands immediate withdrawal of the FIA notice.

Washington, D.C.

The South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum denounces the attempt by Pakistan’s state functionaries to hound the Forum member Gul Bukhari.

We condemn in the strongest terms, the reported notice by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Anti-Terrorism Wing to our founder-member, human rights activist and journalist, Gul Bukhari, to appear before it or face terrorism charges and seizure of her assets in Pakistan. We find this fascist attempt to muzzle the voices critical of Pakistan’s civil-military hybrid regime, highly deplorable. Gul Bukhari is an upright, law-abiding citizen of Pakistan and the United Kingdom, who fearlessly raises her voice for the voiceless in her country of origin and champions progressive, democratic values and respect for human rights, the supremacy of constitution and the rule of law, across the board. This is not the first time that Pakistani state operatives have targeted Gul Bukhari. She had been abducted by the army’s operatives in June 2018, held captive for several hours and released only after the international and domestic outrage against her abduction. This imminent threat to her life forced her to leave Pakistan.

We deem the Pakistan’s FIA’s current attempt a scare tactic deployed to not only silence Gul Bukhari, who remains an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s current regime that is effectively a martial law masquerading as a democratic dispensation, but also other dissident voices who disapprove of the army’s highhandedness in Pakistan and its perpetual interference in the political process.

The SAATH Forum demands that the FIA withdraw its ludicrous and malicious notice posthaste. We stand by our Forum member and would defend her right to freedom of expression at any and all avenues. We call upon fraternal rights and advocacy groups, media organizations, political workers and international community to join us in protesting this continued hounding of dissenters in Pakistan. We resolve to hold the Pakistani State’s Intelligence Agencies responsible should any harm come to Gul Bukhari, her kin or her possessions.

Pakistani Dissident Attacked in Netherlands as State Crackdown on Dissent Grows

Washington: South Asians Against Terrorism & for Human Rights (SAATH Forum), a coalition of prominent democratic, liberal, nationalist, and progressive Pakistani dissidents, have strongly condemned an attack on Pakistani blogger Waqas Goraya in the Netherlands.

According to details, two men were waited for him near his house in exile, and attacked him as soon as he arrived there after work.

One of them made video of the attack while the other was beating Mr. Goraya. Talking to SAATH members, Mr. Goraya has accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and the Army for commissioning this attack.

The Dutch Police have recorded his statement and is investigating the matter.

“The attack has happened on the day when Pakistan’s strongest human rights group, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and its supporters world over was holding protest demonstrations in many capitals of the world and major cities of Pakistan, in memory of Late Defender Arman Loni who was killed by Pakistani security agencies one year ago,” SAATH said.

“SAATH is observing the conduct of the state of Pakistan with strong concern for prevailing human rights situation in the country. In last ten days, Pakistani government has arrested Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of PTM, charged him for sedition, cracked down on unarmed, peaceful protestors thrice and has humiliated and arrested National Assembly member and PTM leader Mohsin Dawar. SAATH members are of the view that the attack on Mr Goraya appears to be a part of this same streak of state overreaction and authoritarianism against its own citizens. This clearly, is an attempt to silence all voices of dissent.”

However, the attack on Mr. Goraya who is not living in Pakistan, is worrisome also because it sets a very dangerous precedent wherein Pakistani state is seen to be using its influence among the diaspora to attack and perpetrate violence against the peaceful Human Rights Defenders of Pakistani origin. Having dissidents attacked in foreign countries has been a very old playbook of authoritarian regimes as was seen in case of Jamal Khashoggi. Pakistan’s embarking on this path is doubly more troubling because the country has rogue elements both within and without the state and can put lives of hundreds of law-abiding dissidents who are living in western world, in clear jeopardy.”

SAATH urged Dutch authorities to examine this line of inquiry and make sure that not only the culprits are caught, but if their link with Pakistan’s security agencies is proven, the Government of Pakistan must be encouraged to take action against those agencies. We also demand from the Government of Pakistan to immediately release all the protesters and Mr. Manzoor Pashteen. SAATH expresses its deepest sympathies and solidarity with Mr. Goraya, Mr. Pashteen and the protesters of PTM who have been harmed in any way or have been arrested.

Prominent members of SAATH include former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former ambassadors Husain Haqqani and Kamran Shafi, and columnists Dr Mohammed Taqi, Rashed Rahman, Marvi Sirmed, Gul Bukhari, and Taha Siddiqui, and activists Rubina Greenwood, Saghir Shaikh, and Nabi Bukhsh Baloch.

Pakistan Dissidents Criticise Hurried Legislation to Extend General Bajwa’s tenure

Washington: Prominent Pakistani dissidents have expressed dismay at hurried legislation to legalise the extension in tenure of Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa.

South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of prodemocracy Pakistanis, issued a statement voicing concern at the manner in which the govt and the main opposition parties “rushed through parliament” amendments to the Army Act “without debate as to the desirability or necessity of such legislation, and without due consideration to the implications of such an action on the future of democracy in Pakistan.”

According to the statement, “It is a fact of history that the desire to perpetuate personal power, army chiefs of Pakistan have time and again disrupted the democratic project in Pakistan. While in the past the military has carried out coups, and its chiefs have extended their tenures themselves by force, and while one example also exists where the president of Pakistan extended the tenure of an army chief under duress, there is no example of parliament undertaking such an adventure.”

SAATH condemned “the unprecedented surrender of the political class & the sacred House that represents the will of the people” and attributed it to “political expediency and personal short- term gains” of Pakistan’s political leaders. “Such actions should have no place in a genuinely democratic dispensation,” the SAATH statement concluded.

Prominent members of SAATH include former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former Ambassador Kamran Shafi, former editor of Daily Times Rashed Rahman, journalists Taha Siddiqui, Gul Bukhari and Marvi Sirmed and activist Gulalai Ismail.

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.”

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