Monday, 16 October 2017

Declaration of SAATH Conference 2017

Declaration of SAATH Conference 2017
Reaffirmation for a Liberal, Democratic, Secular, Progressive Pakistan
 London October 14, 2017
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 ‘Pakistan: The Way Forward’, organised 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, like last year, 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 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 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. There are constant threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. NGOs, human rights defenders and individuals are being victimised. Major political parties are demonstrating an inability to prioritise protection of human rights and social justice. Attempts to mainstream extremist and terrorist organisations is a particularly dangerous development and a threat to the democratic polity. State support for, and tolerance of, groups considered terrorist by the rest of the world remains a serious concern. Unelected institutions of state challenging the democratic mandate of the elected government, in keeping with a persistent pattern, continues to be a serious source of apprehension.
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.
This forum recognises 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.
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 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. Participants of 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.
Participants further agreed 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.
·       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. Pakistan lags behind most of its neighbours on the Human Development Index and the Human Capital Index.
·       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 continues to appease or nurture religious extremists, propagate or allow the propagation of 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 these 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 and lately, mainstreaming extremist and terrorist organisations, but remains hostile to liberal, progressive and nationalist groupings within Pakistan.
·       Political parties representing the Baloch, Mohajir, Sindhi and Pashtun segments of Pakistan’s population have been targeted by both state repression and hostile propaganda aimed at delegitimising them even when they have won clear electoral mandates from the people.
·       The state also pursues repressive policies towards the population-wise smaller provinces and nationalities and their elected representatives.
·       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.
·       Participants of today’s conference are a diverse array of people, united by the desire for a pluralist and tolerant, liberal, secular and progressive 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 neighbours, 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, liberal, secular and progressive 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.
Dissent is patriotic.

Monday, 9 October 2017

CPEC is not designed to empower local people, Dr Shabir Choudhry

CPEC is not designed to empower local people
Dr Shabir Choudhry    09 October 2017

Gilgit Baltistan was disputed before the China Pakistan Economic Corridor was initiated. However, I am pleased that now the Trump administration has also realised this fact. It will be pertinent to assert that according to the UN Resolutions, the entire former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed since late 1940s.

Different countries change their stand on this matter in accordance with their interests. The US Defence Sec­retary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “The One Belt, One Road also goes through disputed territory, and I think that in itself shows the vulnerability of trying to establish that sort of a dictate.” 1
Both the Defence Secretary James Matis and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dun­­­ford ap­­peared before the Sen­ate and House Armed Services Committee to brief US lawmakers on the current situation in the Pak-Afghan region. What Secretary Matis said is a clear signal that America has decided to oppose the CPEC; and in this regard Washington will find more than one country willing to provide helping hand. Trump Administration strongly feels that in a globalised world, where instability, international terrorism, and threat of nuclear use is serious matter no one country should be in a position to dictate world economic agenda.
It is believed that if the CPEC becomes functional as planned by Beijing and Islamabad, then it will seriously threaten interests of many countries, especially America, Iran, UAE and India. This will enormously increase power and influence of Beijing, as that will enable China to control and influence Gilgit Baltistan, Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.
In other words, the CPEC has potential to aggravate Washington’s relationship with Islamabad and Beijing because of the conflicting interests and shifting alliances. This could also lead to confrontation in the region, possibly involving other countries in the fray.
The CPEC, in view of some commentators, instead of being a source prosperity and economic stability could well instigate a disaster and calamity unseen in contemporary history of the region. It is sad to note that the Pakistani elite, in line with their past practice, have been very economical with truth. They continue to hide facts from the people. Anyone who dare to present a counter narrative is perceived as anti - state and agent of foreign powers.
It is possible that some of those spearheading the CPEC projects have little or no knowledge on the subject; and they do not fully comprehend implications of this mega project which has hidden objectives as well. Interestingly those people and the elite connected with the CPEC projects have no business interests in Pakistan, and any negative impact on the economy of Pakistan will not directly hurt them.
Furthermore, hitherto relationship on the CPEC indicate that most of the benefits are going towards China; and Pakistan will get very little out of it. There is hardly any transfer of skills from the Chinese to the Pakistani professionals. Additionally, question arises, if there is any valuable transfer of technology, which will enrich knowledge and understanding of the Pakistani professionals.
A Pakistani columnist, Nusrat Mirza in his article writes that China is also seriously concerned about security of the CPEC. In order to protect its huge investment and strategic interests China has taken certain pre-emptive military steps.
Chinese apprehension is that passage of Wakhan could also be used to target the CPEC projects with intention of stopping the progress or creating serious obstacles. It is believed that America has installed very sensitive instruments to monitor various activities. To counter this, China has also stationed thousands of soldiers and has built Helipad and military airport. 2
I want people of Pakistan to enjoy their liberty and fundamental human rights. I want them to have economic stability and prosperity, as that will help them to control extremism, intolerance and terrorism. However, they should not get economic stability and prosperity at the cost of our freedom, our resources and our future. No matter what critics say, interests of citizens of our people is paramount to me.

I oppose the CPEC because it will be counterproductive to long term Pakistani interests and its sovereignty. It is against the interests of the region; and above all, it is against the interests of citizens of Gilgit Baltistan and so called Azad Kashmir.

As a loyal son of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, I have every right to write and oppose this mega project which, like East India Company of the past centuries, will usurp our rights and loot and plunder our resources. I have to see what is there for our people; and how it will affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir dispute and Gilgit Baltistan?

I strongly feel that because of the CPEC, and clear violation of the State Subject Laws, there will be very serious demographic changes, as more Pakistanis and Chinese will settle here. This and presence of more army and secret agencies will consequently increase in human rights abuses and intimidation and harassment of the local people. Furthermore, this will strengthen role of non - local people who will control local economy and politics. Ultimately this will lead to more loot and plunder of our resources.

The CPEC will result in change of status of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute; and will enhance power and influence of China. Furthermore, the CPEC will seriously disturb the eco system of the region with enormous environment problems.

In view of the above, it is imperative that loyal sons of the soil should speak against negative impacts of the CPEC, as it is not designed to empower people or promote economic stability and prosperity in Pakistan and areas of Jammu and Kashmir State under Pakistan.

Writer is a political analyst, and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Chairman South Asia Watch, London and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

1.    Dawn, October 7th, 2017

2.    Nusrat Mirza, CPEC Kay Khilaf Sazish, Daily Jangm 09/10 2017