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July 24, 2019

The civil society’s concerns


July 24, 2019

Responding to the enormity of crises faced by state and society, leading civil society activists and mainstream and left-oriented activists and intellectuals have come up with an alternative progressive democratic agenda for peoples’ rights, supremacy of a truly representative system and social security of the downtrodden.

The agenda seems broad-based and inclusive, but will not be sufficient to meet the challenges until all progressive democratic forces forge unity while shedding past mistakes and rising above expedient party interests. At stake are much bigger issues than the opposition’s current expedient objectives.

Pakistan faces a colossal crisis. A dependent and fragile economic base can no more take the burden of a disproportionately heavy superstructure. IMF recipes, without moving towards a people-centric development paradigm, cannot salvage the crisis of a dependent and uncompetitive economy, despite an unprecedented doze of foreign loans in recent years which will further worsen a vicious debt-trap. This has further been exacerbated by political disruptions. Despite serious shortcomings of the past two elected governments, the decade old ‘democratic transition’ is degenerating into authoritarianism in the garb of a populist regime.

This has resulted in the degradation of constitutional rule, parliamentary system, federal structures, authenticity of judicial independence, due process, sanctity of institutional neutrality and the erosion of constitutional limitations. For example, thanks to the extraordinary extension of Article 183, judicial ‘activism’ in the last decade almost took over the domain of the executive, besides causing trillions of rupees in losses to the national exchequer.

The freedoms and civil/human rights won earlier through protracted struggles have been drastically curtailed. The media is being overtly censored as corporate interests coalesce in and thousands of working journalists have been rendered jobless. While critical voices are being silenced, saner sections of social media activists are being ostracized as are those who speak for the rights of marginalised communities; women and minorities’ rights are trampled upon.

The Baloch continue to suffer at the hands of continuing conflict and no political solution is in sight through dialogue as was envisaged by the National Action Plan – leaving space to hostile powers to meddle for their nefarious designs. The genuine complaints of the people of former Fata, who have suffered in terms of life and property in the last four decades, are not being amicably addressed.

Federalist structures and the due rights of the federating units are being marginalized in contravention of the 18th Amendment; the provinces are being run either though remote control, as Punjab and KP, or being subjugated through arbitrary and discriminatory ways, such as Balochistan and erstwhile Fata, and deprived, as in the case of Sindh.

Isolationist policies continue to keep the country in a tight corner in international fora, including the FATF. Despite a national consensus reached on a National Action Plan, the existential threat of terrorism and extremism continues to hurt our nation since all aspects of the National Action Plan could not be implemented. Successive governments and authorities avoided ideologically taking on extremism. There was no progress on curriculum and madaris reforms due to the pressure of the clergy.

These are the concerns of civil society that persuaded them to call upon the peoples of Pakistan and all democratic and progressive forces to pursue the following agenda:

The sovereignty of the people and their civil, social, economic and human rights, including freedom of expression, as enshrined in international covenants and the constitution and unfettered right to elect their true representatives must be actualized under a fully independent and powerful Election Commission.

There is no alternative to a constitutional, civilian, democratic and peoples’ rule as reflected through a sovereign parliament, autonomous provincial assemblies and authoritative local governments, participatory federation and provincial autonomy, subordination of all institutions of the state to the will of the people (parliament), a responsible and truly representative government serving the interests of the downtrodden people of Pakistan.

The trichotomy of power and separation of the legislative, judicial and executive arms of the state have to be observed with a sovereign parliament without any encroachment.

The civil, human and economic rights and freedoms of the citizens, as enshrined in the international covenants and the 1973 constitution, must be respected and protected by all organs of the state without any discrimination on any basis. Suppression of freedom of expression, ban on students’ unions, restrictions on trade unions and professional associations, blatant censorship of media, all kinds of discriminations against women and minorities and use of violence against peaceful citizens must come to an end. A political solution to the conflict in Balochistan is most warranted in the interest of the people and the province. The genuine demands of the tribal people of former Fata must be addressed.

A systemic eradication of corruption is needed from all spheres of state and society through an across-the-board accountability of all and under a transparent and credible institution. There should be promotion of good governance, democratic and tolerant culture and eradication of all patriarchal, inhuman and violent practices and authoritarian and fascist tendencies. All forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, gender and ethnicity must come to an end, as envisioned by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. An enlightened, civilized, progressive, inclusive and tolerant narrative should define the ethos of our state and society.

Pakistan can progress and survive as a democratic, inclusive, modern and peaceful federation on the basis of a sustainable productive base tuned to address the basic needs and social security of all its people while pursuing regional economic cooperation rather than being entrapped in conflicts.

A paradigm shift is required from a traditional national security state to an inclusive and holistic vision of human security and development which serves the interests of its people, by providing them a good quality of life. Pakistan can be a modern republic which is at peace with its people and with its neighbours on the basis of equality, dignity and peaceful resolution of bilateral disputes and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

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