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.”