Activists affirm belief in a liberal Pakistan

Dissent is patriotic, declares forum

October 15, 2017 10:39 pm | Updated 10:42 pm IST - London

Husain Haqqani  is among the prominent activists.

Husain Haqqani is among the prominent activists.

Prominent Pakistani political and human rights activists, intellectuals and journalists gathered in London for a conference this weekend to affirm their faith in a “liberal, democratic secular and progressive Pakistan”. They warned that without a change in its “crisis-ridden trajectory”, the country risked global isolation.

It was the second conference to be organised outside London by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a forum headed by Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., and Dr. Mohammad Taqi, a U.S.-based columnist.

Obscurantist forces

The group will set up two Secretariats — at home and abroad — to help “wrestle the idea and identity of Pakistani away from the obscurantist forces” and protect their pluralist, secular and liberal vision of Pakistan. “Dissent is patriotic,” they said in a declaration at the end of the conference.

“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,” warned the declaration, pointing to threats faced by NGOs, human rights activists and others.

Aiding extremism

“Attempts to mainstream extremist and terrorist organisations is a particularly dangerous development and a threat to the democratic polity,” they added, accusing the state of continuing to “appease or nurture religious extremists”, allowing the spread of extremism and misinforming “the people of Pakistan about the realities of the country”.

The meeting also called for a greater devolution of powers to local governments. “It is time for Pakistan’s rich and powerful ruling elite to own up and 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,” the declaration said.

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