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.”