London Declaration for Pluralism and Democracy in Pakistan
October 29, 2016
Several prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures from Pakistan gathered in London for a conference on ‘The Future of Pakistan’ organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.
The gathering had to be arranged away from Pakistan because of the threats to the security of free thinkers in the country. Participants (list attached) 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 recognises 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 26thin 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 delegitimizing 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 ‘kafirs’ in an effort to shut down debate and discussion of alternative policies.
The conference, organised by SAATH Forum (South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights) brought together liberal and progressive people from across Pakistan and ended with ‘Declaration for Pluralism and Democracy in Pakistan’ after multiple panel discussions on various issues.
Co-hosted by Amb. Hussain Haqqani and columnist Dr. Mohammad Taqi; prominent participants included Senator Afrasiab Khatak, MNA Bushra Gohar, author and analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, activist Anis Haroon, Dr Haroon Ahmed, columnists Gul Bukhari and Marvi Sirmed, Prof. Aqil Shah, author Dr. Farhat Taj, Dr. Taimur Rahman of Laal and Mazdoor Kisan Party, journalists Murtaza Solangi, Umber Khairi, Babar Ayaz, Rashed Rahman, and many others. It was great to meet so many like-minded people.