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.