Pakistan needs a new approach to move forward as a democracy: ex-envoy Haqqani

Lalit K Jha

Washington, May 18 (PTI) Pakistan needs a new approach based on 'tolerance, democracy and genuine federalism' to move forward as a democracy, former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani said on Monday as he joined dissidents and human rights activists from across the world in voicing concern over the enforced disappearances and state-sponsored killings in the country.

He was speaking at a virtual conference organised by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistanis, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The post COVID-19 environment will only aggravate Pakistan's crisis,” he said.

“Instead of persisting with old, failed policies, a new approach must be adopted. It should be based on tolerance, democracy, genuine federalism,” Haqqani said.

He said that Pakistan has a better chance of moving forward as a democracy and a federation, setting aside militancy and militarism, and seeking peace with its neighbours.

“Unfortunately, anti-democracy elements paint democrats and pro-federation voices as anti-Pakistan,” he said.

The conference was attended by participants from Pakistan, including members of parliament, and exiled dissidents living in the US, UK, France, Netherlands, and Canada.

Prominent Pakistani dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, and peace activists across the world expressed concern about enforced disappearances, state-sanctioned killings and diminishing democracy in their country.

Several participants, including social and liberal democrats, Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun and Seraiki nationalists, and women's rights activists noted that the situation in Pakistan has escalated several notches from being a hybrid democracy to a hybrid martial law, SAATH said in a press release.

Twitter and other social media websites' outages in Pakistan during the SAATH virtual conference raised suspicion that the Pakistani authorities had disrupted social media access in the country to block the public from following the conference's deliberations, the release said.

“We are raising our voice since the situation in Pakistan is quite bleak. There is a lot of intellectual suffocation,” SAATH coordinator Mohammad Taqi said.

Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader and member of parliament, Mohsin Dawar, lamented that “Pakistan's political parties are compromised. The military is everywhere. They are micromanaging Pakistan. There is a vacuum for a real democratic force in the country.” Senator Afrasiab Khattak raised the issue of clandestine efforts by the security establishment to roll back the provincial autonomy provided by the 18th constitutional amendment.

“We must resist the onslaught against democracy and especially the 18th Amendment. Since 2014, there has been a creeping coup and going after the amendment is part of that agenda,” Khattak said. PTI LKJ RS AKJ RS