London [UK], July 15 (ANI): Highlighting state-sponsored repression by Pakistan, experts at a recent seminar hosted by not-for-profit The Democracy Forum asked pertinent questions on why people in the Asian country felt the need to go into exile due to their political beliefs.
At the event titled 'Political exiles from Pakistan: Has the West lost the will to protect freedom to dissent?', Lord Bruce, President of the non-profit on Wednesday noted that the seminar had been convened in response to "growing evidence of extra-territorial repression of political dissidents", a trend to which Pakistan is a major contributor.
The worrying increase in this activity in recent years not only reflects the systemic erosion of human rights and freedom of expression in several South Asian countries, he added, but it also represents a serious threat to the integrity of our open societies in the west.
Human rights activist and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Hina Jilani expressed deep concern about the repressive and ever more authoritarian policies that are being adopted by the Pakistan state.
She feared it has become difficult to predict a future for civil society in Pakistan because, in an environment of waning multilateral systems and controversy surrounding international intervention on human rights, people in countries such as Pakistan are left with no choice but to flee.
As an activist, Jilani stressed that her focus is always on a strong community of human rights defenders, rather than state protection. But current policies in Pakistan are forcing people to seek refuge elsewhere, thus depleting the human rights community, and weakening its resistance, and that of civil society in general, to the repressive form of governance that has existed for decades.
Jilani also raised the point that no government in Pakistan has ever dared to bring in a law to hold intelligence agencies such as the ISI accountable, and spoke of the rigid mindset of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment, the lack of open debate on human rights, and how the government has abdicated its role in making policy.
The diminution in religious diversity was also an area of concern for Islamabad-based physicist and author Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, who said Pakistan's society was now completely homogenised, with the depletion of minority communities and forced conversions.
Those who go into exile, as they are no longer tolerated in their own country, are marginalised and excluded, but they could be seen as the 'lucky' ones, compared to those such as Sajid Hussain and Karima Baloch, who both died in mysterious circumstances while in exile in Sweden and Canada, respectively, the release read.
Journalist and co-founder of the Dissident Club, Taha Siddiqui, also reminded the audience that, for Pakistani exiles, their families often remain in Pakistan, facing harassment and even threats, such as visits and interrogations by the ISI.
Is the West doing enough to help these exiled dissidents? Siddiqui wondered. He also questioned why Pakistan embassies globally are hosting intelligence operatives who are keeping people under surveillance, saying they should be expelled to show that such behaviour won't be tolerated on foreign soil. And even as the Afghan Taliban are collecting funds in Pakistan, the FATF has given Pakistan time to perform reformative legislative actions, putting it on a grey list rather than a blacklist.
Ultimately, argued Siddiqui, the west needs to take concrete measures to send a stronger message that human rights matter more than geostrategic interests, and show dissidents they are not only protected on paper, but in reality, the release added. (ANI)