Second SAATH Conference

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Sultan M Hali

AS a sequel to the South Asia Against Terrorism and Human Rights (SAATH) conference held in October 2016, the second annual conference was held in London from October 13-14, 2017. Several prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals, human rights and social media activists and public figures from Pakistan gathered in London for the conference titled ‘Pakistan: The Way Forward’. The chief organizers were US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. It was claimed that the gathering had to be arranged, like the one in 2016, away from Pakistan because of the threats to the security of free thinkers in the country. Participants expressed grave concern on Pakistan’s continuing crisis-ridden trajectory, of which the increasing threat of global isolation as a consequence of the continuation and expansion of proxy wars in our neighbourhood holds centre-stage.
There are other equally important areas of worry. The discussion focused on how the pluralist and secular narrative in Pakistan be strengthened as they are under the direct threat of the Islamists and Pakistani establishment. The agenda appeared to be directed against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pak-China’s interests in the region. Hussain Haqqani, Brahamdagh Bugti, Mehran Mari, Ahmar Masti Khan, Hammal Haider and Banuk Kareema Baloch attended the conference and delivered fiery speeches, some of which gave the impression that they were authored by RAW operatives. The participants opined that the widening circle of repression of critical, dissenting voices to the state’s narrative have led to shrinking space for liberal, secular, progressive ideas and pluralism. They identified threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sind and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They declared that attempt to mainstream extremist and terrorist organizations is a particularly dangerous development and a threat to the democratic polity. The forum demanded that 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 National Finance Commission Award should be revisited giving more weightage to underdevelopment of the provinces and their contribution to the national exchequer. It was stipulated by the forum that one of the reasons Pakistan’s democracy has remained tenuous is that while the Centre has denied rights to the provinces, the provinces have failed in the devolution of power to the local governments. It insisted that the provinces should activate the Provincial Finance Commissions and allocate maximum resources to the local governments. It also demanded that the local governments should be given 25% of the royalty and the profits of natural resources exploited from their respective areas. Participants decided that Pakistan needs a new national narrative that is based on the consent of its people rather than on religious hatred, militarism and militancy. It was declared that SAATH will set up two secretariats, one in Pakistan and the other abroad for the Diaspora, to help wrestle the idea and identity of Pakistan away from the obscurantist forces.
It was concluded by the participants of SAATH that 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. It recommended that Pakistan’s rich and powerful ruling elite should take responsibility for the failed policies of the past instead of promoting conspiracy theories through manipulation of the mainstream mass media and increasing repression of the social media. They opined that only a pluralist Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours, fully respectful of human rights of all, including religious minorities, would be able to gain international respect and have a positive global and local image and avoid further descent into chaos. It appears that the SAATH conference is a move with malicious intent as it provides a platform to proliferate anti-Pakistan views backed by external sentiments. The plan to setup two secretariats, one in Islamabad and the other abroad, raises serious concerns and needs immediate attention. SAATH is a forum which has figured out to be an organization fulfilling the obnoxious designs of the foreign entities like US, India, Israel and west along with other multiple platforms. No such secretariat should be allowed to be established in Islamabad or elsewhere in Pakistan. Pakistani national narrative is under multidirectional attack and the nation is being outnumbered and outsmarted due to quantitative edge enjoyed by Indian apologist liberals and their surrogates and supporters.
The narrative that is emerging with time is that Pakistan is supporting mainstream extremist and terrorist organizations. This seems to be part of the SAATH propaganda operation aimed at besmirching Pakistan by linking it with the terrorist support. Ironically, despite having a progressive and objective name tag, SAATH conferences of 2016 and 2017 remained totally oblivious of Human Rights violations in Kashmir, Palestine and Hindu extremism in India, genocide in Myanmar, political executions in Bangladesh. The agenda of SAATH clearly identifies Human Rights violations as one of its main concerns but by deliberately ignoring some of the HR abuses named above; the real agenda of SAATH becomes obvious. The name of the forum has been shrewdly selected as if it has a wider obligation against terrorism and human rights in South Asia. It claims that “Dissent is patriotic”. It should take dissent by this scribe to its propagated agenda also as the right to freedom of speech and not lash out vehemently.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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