Author: Dr. Asim Yousafzai
SAATH (South Asians for Democracy and Human Rights), a group of pro-democracy thinkers, writers, and activists from Pakistan, dedicated to the universal principles of human rights, has expressed its support for PTM and its demand for establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the war crimes committed against Pashtuns since the War on Terror started after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the American soil.
SAATH was co-founded by Ambassador Husain Haqqani and columnist Dr. Muhammad Taqi. The fourth SAATH Conference was held in Washington DC, USA from 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. Prominent among this year’s attendees were Senator Afrasiab Khattak and Ambassador Kamran Shafi.
The group stressed that there is a dire need for the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring closure to the victims of state-sponsored oppression.
SAATH 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; produce all missing persons in the courts giving them their due constitutional right to free and fair trial; and hold those responsible accountable.
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:
- 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;
- 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.
- The decision of the Special Court finding the former President General Musharraf guilty of high treason on charges of subverting the constitution.
The group was also disappointed in Pakistan’s mainstream political parties and their willingness to continuously cede space to military intervention and abridgment 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 manipulated elections.
That the security institutions of the state have weaponized 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 Defense 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 centers, 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.
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.
SAATH rejects initiatives to build a Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River and demands that all decisions affecting the people of a historic entity should be subject to its people’s approval. The Forum 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 provinces with irreparable environmental damage.
SAATH also calls for military 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; and the 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.