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.