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.