WASHINGTON: Terming Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “military puppet”, Pakistani dissidents have blamed the military-dominated hybrid system for country’s multiple crises. “Pakistan is under unannounced martial law,” Pashtun leader and former Senator Afrasiab Khattak said in the fifth annual conference of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH).
SAATH is a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistanis co-founded by former Pakistan ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, and US-based columnist, Mohammad Taqi. Previous annual conferences of SAATH were held in London and Washington but this year participants met virtually.
Khattak said that martial law in Pakistan is “most dangerous” as it has vulgarised and distorted constitutional institutions. “The current military regime is delegitimising political institutions, going to the extent that intelligence agencies direct members of parliament when to attend sessions and when not to turn up to vote.”
Hitting out at Pakistan Prime Minister for blaming SAATH for weakening country’s international standing, Haqqani noted, “Pakistan’s international standing is being lost due to its policies of encouraging extremism and suppressing freedom, not due to the activism of those fighting for human rights.”
Several speakers, including Rubina Greenwood of the World Sindhi Congress, Tahira Jabeen from Gilgit-Baltistan, Shahzad Irfan of the Seraiki Movement, and Rasool Mohammed of Pashtun Council of America emphasised that various nationalities in Pakistan were being oppressed and denied their rights.
Irfan highlighted that military intervention in politics reinforced Punjab’s dominance and was a key factor in the oppression of national and religious minorities.
Greenwood said that the only way for Pakistan to win over the Sindhi and Baloch people would be to recognize that Pakistan is a multi-national state. She said that “Sindh is a historical entity that cannot be divided, or its identity denied.”
Jabeen called for ending “73 years of the political, constitutional, social, economic, geographical and cultural isolation of Gilgit Baltistan” and an “autonomous setup.”
Meanwhile, Shia rights activist Jaffer Mirza lamented anti-Shia violence and blamed the authorities for legitimising anti-Shia politics through legislation, especially the Tahaffuz-e-Islam (Protection of Islam) Bill.
Former ambassador, Kamran Shafi, also a retired military officer, said, “The higher ranks of the Pakistan Army must realise that a truly elected government must be in place to bring Pakistan from the brink where the current regime has brought it.”
“All that the COAS, General Bajwa, and ISI have to do is to step back from politicking, and let politics be,” Shafi said, adding that it was “the only way out of the morass our poor country finds itself in.”
According to Taqi, the army rule had taken Pakistan from one disaster to another. “The narrative of patriotism has been framed around the army and competing worldviews about Pakistan and those who do not fit the army’s parameters are ostracised as rebellious, treasonous, and even blasphemous.”
Prominent speakers and participants in the conference included Pashtun women’s activist Gulalai Ismail, exiled journalist Taha Siddiqi and Tahir Gora, and human rights defended Marvi Sirmed. In the 73 years-long history of its independence, Pakistan has been mostly ruled by its military rulers like Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, and Pervez Musharraf. (ANI)