“This is our country and our army but there are issues that needs to be fixed” said Hussain Haqqani while addressing the “Future of Pakistan Conference” in London organized by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Right (SAATH). He added that we need political discussions that must take place and everyone who has reservations must be allowed to speak freely. Prominent liberal Pakistani intellectuals, Human right activists, nationalists and journalists attended the event.
People from all walks of life and different countries participated in the event to discuss the future of the country, columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani jointly hosted the event.
The speakers raised their concerns over government’s failure to tackle the banned outfits rallying freely in the capital Islamabad. These extremists have reportedly incited violence against other minorities in Pakistan. They spoke about social justice, fair and free society for the religious minorities, women and everyone else.
Prominent military critic Ayesha Siddiqa and well-known activist Marvi Sermad criticized the military role in politics which must be reviewed, and everyone who disagrees must not be treated like a traitor. Ms Sermad said “There are hardly any publications who are now ready to publish my stories, one publication prints it once a week.” They said that the challenges faced by every civilian with a voice must not be condemned and portrayed as a traitor on their disagreements with the military forces.
The speakers demanded that the idea of secular and liberal Pakistan must be promoted and this was the kind of Pakistan the founding father Jinnah had dreamt of.
Awami National Party (ANP) leaders Bushra Gohar and Afrasiab Khattak also spoke at the event. Ms Gohar said, ‘in today’s Pakistan we cannot talk about FATA, neither can anyone else’. She added that Pakistan’s policies are self-destructive, which will harm the peace process in the region and the country itself will find it hard to be at peace with its neighbours.
Afriasab Khattak focused on Pakistan’s policies from the past, its future plans and the treatment of Pakhtoons in the country as well as Afghans across the border. He stressed that all regional languages should be made national languages, “in 1952 Pakistani forces opened fire on Bengalis as they demanded the right for their language”. The entire world has learned from us but Pakistan has to become a federal democratic country.” He added. He went on to criticise the military generals for creating hurdles in the way of a progressive country.
Human rights activist Shah Jahan Baloch, who made a painful speech about Baloch people being persecuted daily. Baloch people, he mentioned have no freedom and they get killed in terrorist attacks, “Baloch people have no future, the youngsters have lost hope, especially with the killing of the lawyers recently in Quetta”.
He hoped the event held for the future will include the future of Balochistan too, where everyone has the freedom to live and dream just like everyone else.
Saleem Javed, Sweden based human rights activist from Hazara community made compelling arguments on how the genocide of Hazaras must be stopped and they must be considered equal citizens of Pakistan, he has been stopped on several occasions because he was told he did not look “real Pakistani”. He said he did not know what that means, it’s not easy for my people to blend in.
At the conclusion of the conference “the London declaration” hoped to be the voice for the people who were not heard otherwise. The speakers were united in their demand for a plural and tolerant Pakistan. They vowed to stand together for each other and freedom of speech without being labelled as “kafir or traitor”.
The declaration was read out by Rashed Rehman.
The gathering had to be arranged away from Pakistan because of the threats to the security of free thinkers in the country. Participants expressed grave concern on Pakistan’s current trajectory, militarization of state and society, shrinking space for liberal ideas and pluralism, constant threats to democracy and threats to NGOs, human rights defenders and individuals, as well as the inability of major political parties to prioritize protection of human rights and social justice.
To establish a true democracy in Pakistan, which is a multi-national state, the federating units must be given not only maximum political autonomy but also control over their natural resources. The NFC award should be revisited giving more weightage to underdevelopment and contribution to national exchequer.
This forum recognizes that one of the reasons Pakistan’s democracy has remained tenuous is that while the center has denied rights to the provinces, the provinces have failed in the devolution of power to the local governments. Therefore, this forum demands that the provinces should activate the Provincial Finance Commissions and allocate maximum resources to the local governments. It also demands that the local governments should be given 25% of the royalty and the profits of natural resources exploited from their respective areas.
Participants further agreed that:
- Pakistan faces the risk of global isolation because of widespread obscurantism, growing intolerance, lack of rule of law, along with official support for extremism and general disregard for human rights. The rule of law and Constitution should extend to all parts of the country, including FATA.
- Pakistan ranks 147 out of 188 countries in UN’s Human Development Index and 143 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report. It is the world’s sixth largest country by population with the world’s sixth largest military but its economy is 26th in the world by size of GDP on PPP basis and 42nd in nominal terms.
- 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 tends to appease or nurture religious extremists, propagate religious extremism and allow it free spread in society, and persistently misinform the people of Pakistan about the realities of our country.
- Instead of facing 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 but remains hostile to liberal, progressive and nationalist groupings within Pakistan. Political parties representing Baloch, Muhajir, Sindhi, and Pashtun segments of Pakistan’s population have been targeted by both state repression and hostile propaganda aimed at de-legitimizing them even when they have won clear electoral mandates from the people.
- The state also pursues repressive policies towards population wise smaller provinces and ethnicities and their elected representatives.
- It is time for Pakistan’s rich and powerful to own up and take responsibility for failed policies instead of promoting conspiracy theories through management of mass media.
- Participants of today’s conference are a diverse array of people, united by the desire for a pluralist and tolerant Pakistan that abides by internationally recognized human rights, allows full and free debate, treats all its people and nationalities fairly and is no longer seen around the world as an incubator for terrorism.
- Only a pluralist Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbors, fully respectful of human rights of all including religious minorities would be able to gain international respect, have a positive global and local image and avoid further descent into chaos.
- We resolve to stand with and assist each other to protect a pluralist vision of Pakistan and to let the world know that such a vision exists and offers hope for Pakistan’s future.
- We resolve to protect the legal rights of all non-extremist groups and political parties, notwithstanding our disagreements over details and minutiae of policies or personality differences with individuals and leaders.
- Questioning state policies is a legitimate right of all Pakistanis. We stand together to oppose the tendency to label dissident voices as traitors or ‘kaafirs’ in an effort to shut down debate and discussion of alternative policies.