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Dialogue Pakistan 2020 Gathers Leading Experts, Policymakers and Intellectuals Under One Roof to Discuss Exigent Social & Policy Issues of Pakistan

Fifty-eight (58) leading experts/speakers from politics, media, civil society, military, religious studies and academia gathered under one roof to discuss, deliberate, and dialogue the most pressing issues of the day. This was Dialogue Pakistan, 2020 organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

Under its programmatic area of Dialogue, this was the 2nd Dialogue Pakistan organized by PIPS after its 1st successful Dialogue Pakistan event in 2019. Dialogue Pakistan 2020 was held at Hotel Margala, Islamabad on January 25, 2020, wherein issues like, and related to, state, society, religion, constitutionalism, future of parliament, regional political landscape, freedom of expression, women rights, and student unions were exhaustively discussed by eminent scholars and experts. The event remained jam-packed and included a total of 10 dialogue sessions that continued throughout the day.

The event started bright and early at 9 am with the introductory remarks of PIPS’ Manager Projects, Mr. Ahsan Hamid Durrani, who gave a brief overview about PIPS, its objectives and the concept behind Dialogue Pakistan. He then invited Director PIPS, Mr. Muhammad Amir Rana to the podium to formally inaugurate Dialogue Pakistan 2020. Mr. Amir Rana thanked the distinguished guests for participating in Dialogue Pakistan. He reaffirmed PIPS commitment to fostering a culture of dialogue in the society, while upholding democratic values.

In the inaugural session titled The Need for Dialogue in Today’s Pakistan, Mr. I.A. Rehman, former chairman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said that in order to relinquish the clouds of despair that have blanketed the country, it is inevitable that dialogue is promoted in an environment that is open and not subject to any curbs. His keynote address revolved around, but was not limited to, the issues of human rights, decaying democratic values in Pakistan, constitutionalism, culture, independent reasoning, and societal values.

Mr. Khaled Ahmed, veteran journalist and columnist, in his keynote address, said that democracy, in other words, advocates for the prevalence of free speech, and that the latter needs to be made possible both at the national and international levels. He stressed that, for Pakistan to progress, the federation must pay heed to the problems faced by marginalized provinces instead of ignoring them. He also emphasized the need to shift away from isolationist approach towards an inclusive and more friendly approach for the neighboring regional countries to reap the full economic potential for Pakistan.

During the first dialogue of the day titled Dialogue About the Future of Parliament, Constitution and Democracy, Barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Ministry and Chief of the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU), lamented how certain institutions and classes are targeted for the chaos prevalent in the country, for it is something that the entire society and all institutions are responsible. Shazia Marri, MNA PPP, said that diversity needs to be acknowledged and dialogue made an unavoidable prerequisite. She also said that the role of parliament is equal to none, which, seriatim, begs supremacy and accountability. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, former CM Baluchistan, and Mr. Afrasiab Khattak, former senator ANP, said that a country where lawlessness prevails, it is necessary that we try our best to shift from being a security state to a welfare state for which brave and robust steps needs to be taken. Mr. Khattak said that Parliament has become inconsequential in Pakistan’s polity and that lawlessness is the new law of the land. Renowned constitutionalist, Mr Zafar Ullah Khan, stressed the importance of shifting away from a security state to a welfare state by propounding for a new social contract to move forward. This session was moderated by Mr. Abdullah Dayo, a known socio-political activist and Program Manager of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

In the second session titled State, Society and Religion, Dr. Dietrich Reetz – Associate Professor of Political Science, Centre for Modern and Oriental Studies Freie University Berlin – pointed out the lack of communication between religious seminaries and rest of the society as one the major impediments in achieving social harmony. Dr. Qibla Ayaz – Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology – argued that since 80’s, sensationalism has found root in religious tendencies rendering the human aspect in religious practices insignificant. Former Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology and former DG Islamic Research Institute, Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud argued that our society was introduced to modernity in the Colonial era owing to which it was always viewed with suspicion. It is due to this suspicion that we were unable to adopt the human values of modernism and only considered technology as modernism. Deputy Director Al Sharia Academy, Dr. Ammar Khan Nasir stressed that when religious leaders feel left out of the polity, they take to streets. He opined that the true teachings and spirit of Islam is not being followed in our country. The session was moderated by Director PIPS, Mr. Muhammad Amir Rana.

In the third session titled Have We Won the War Against Terrorism? speakers accentuated that the prevailing extremist ideology in the country need to be confronted not through the use of force but by engaging all elements of the society through a dialogue and by taking into consideration in earnest their concerns. Speaking in this panel, Director National Initiative Against Organized Crimes, Mr. Tariq Khosa expressed his fear over the prevailing ideological extremism in Pakistani society. Former National Security Advisor, Lt General Nasser Khan Janjua expressed satisfaction over the current security situation of the county with a hope that things will further improve with time.

Former FG FIA, Mr. Tariq Parvez, opined that number of terrorist incidents have nosedived sharply during the past few years but this doesn’t mean that we have completely won the war against terrorism. We still need to fight this war at the ideological level coupled with choking the financing of terrorism inside Pakistan. Senior Journalist and Author, Nasim Zehra, believed it was not wise to proclaim victory over terrorism. She said that we also need to assess the internal factors involved in the unrest in Pakistan. Senior Journalist and Security Analyst, Mr. Zahid Hussain termed the relationship between state and society as the key to a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan. He said that Pakistan has suffered humungous losses due to terrorism. The session was moderated by Dr. Jochen Hippler, Country Director, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

In the fourth session titled Is Our Environment Conducive for Creative Expression? Mr. Iftikhar Hussain Arif said that problems pertaining to creative expression in Pakistan are on the rise for which the prevalence of dialogue is an utterly important prerequisite. He argued that our region has produced one of the most progressive of the world. Literature and art, the panelists vehemently argued, can help promote peace and tolerance.

Mr. Ghazi Salahuddin, renowned analyst and writer, lamented that the prevailing situation in our country is worse than that of Zia Ul Haq’s era as the hope is rapidly fading away. Celebrated columnist and writer, Mr. Yasir Pirzada maintained that creativity thrives more under duress. Speaking in the panel, Director of Ajoka Theatre, Mr. Shahid Mehmood Nadeem opined that avenues of creative expression are not provided rather crafted and that we need to continue our work while remaining hopeful. Executive Director of T2F Foundation, Mr. Arieb Azhar, opined that the public at large contributes more to censorship than the state, hence resulting in the choking of discourse. The session was moderated by Director General of Pakistan National Council of Arts, Dr Fouzia Saeed.

In the 5th session titled Economic Stability and Governance: Is 2020 the Year of Hope? discussing the future of economic trends in Pakistan, Zia Uddin, former editor DAWN, said that if Pakistan doesn’t take prompt actions, its economic conditions will only worsen. It was also said that we need to own our problems and work towards finding their solutions.

Dr. Kaiser Bangali and Afshan Subohi said that our elites don’t feel that they belong to the country and that they lack a clear vision for this country. Mr. Rafiullah Kakar said that failure of accountability is the failure of politics. One of the main problems we are faced with is that we are politically disorganized which is a plight responsible for most of the chaos prevalent in the country, Mr. Kakar opined. Overall, a sense of gloom emanated from the discussion at this particular session. It was hosted by Senior Journalist of The News, Mr. Zaighum Khan.

In a session titled Youth, Student Unions and Emerging Political Trends, it was argued that before student unions, whose importance cannot be brushed under the rug, are revived, it is necessary that students are taught as to how do they ought to put forth their concerns in a manner that is not only respectful, but also worth taking into consideration. Dr Ammar Ali Jan, an academic turned activist, vehemently argued that inequality breeds conflict in a society.

He contended that the state is trying its best to curb the freedom of expression, however, the young generation is finding its voice through movements like Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). Youth Engagement Specialist and PIPS’ Manager Projects, Mr. Ahsan Hamid Durrani, opined that it is imperative to debate and understand the framework, structure and mandate of Student Unions. He said that young people are increasingly feeling left out of the policy processes of the state. He also lamented the lack of seriousness on part of government to provide young people a platform to participate in the decision-making processes at the state level. Youth and Social Development Consultant, Mr. Iqbal Haider Butt, also discussed the role of young people in national development and shed light on the role of student unions in campuses. Secretary General of Islami Jamiat Talaba, Mr. Umair Raja, maintained that a proper code of conduct should be put in place to regulate student unions.

In the 7th session titled Political and Strategic Landscape of South Asia: Is the Region in a Parliament State of Change? Mr. Aziz Ahmed Khan, former ambassador, stressed that Pakistan needs to improve its relation with India, and that although talks with the Taliban are not unproblematic, we need to engage them in healthy discussions and bring them on one table. Mr. Amir Rana, Director PIPS, argued that the Indo-Pak conflict has consequences for, and bears upon, the whole of South Asia.

He further said that the meeting of the leaders of India and Pakistan during the upcoming SAARC summit will prove extremely inevitable for the pervasiveness of smooth and sound relations between the two countries. Professor, School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid e Azam University, Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, opined that compared to Pakistan, India’s strategic posture is more aggressive. Economic prosperity is vital for the stability of Pakistan. In this regard, Senior Journalist, Mr. Khaled Ahmed, asserted that Pakistan must come out of the competition mentality with India and focus on its internal issues. The session was hosted by renowned journalist and anchorperson of AAJ News, Munizae Jahangir.

In The Debate on Freedom of Expression; Where Does the Problem lie? the 8th session of the day, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo argued that pervasiveness is granted only to one narrative throughout the country to which all political parties and intellectuals, irrespective of their kind, have followed blindly. Mr. Mazhar Abbas, senior journalist and renowned political analyst, and Mr. Shahzada Zulfiqar, President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, asserted that the tradition of dissent is nowhere to be found in the political parties that, unfortunately or otherwise, have become custodians of democracy.

Munizae Jahangir, Senior Anchorperson Program Spot Light AAJ News, mourned the absolute absence of freedom of speech and expression in all walks of life. She further said that lack of space for the youth and journalists coerces them into taking to social media to posit their concerns and thoughts which, in turn, becomes grave for them. Khursheed Ahmad Nadeem, senior analyst and columnist, argued that free speech has been brushed under the carpet by the state, and that if Pakistan is to become a truly democratic country, free speech needs to be made more of a norm.

In the 9th session titled Women’s Rights Movements: Is there Any Hope for an End to Gender Discrimination? Dr Samia Raheel Qazi, President International Muslim Women Union, mournfully said that women in Pakistan have always been treated as inferior creatures and have been stripped of their due rights. She accentuated that it is the need of the hour that they be given the space that they deserve and are given voice as the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees them.

Romana Bashir, Member Punjab Commission on Status of Women, said that there have been movements purporting at guaranteeing the rights of women and ensuring that they are given enough opportunities. She appreciated the fact that religious leaders have also supported their work which, she argued, is a big change. Kishwar Naheed, a veteran poetess and activist, argued that a great many movements have been created against women, but that regardless of them, they have fought and have ascertained the provision of their due rights to them. She suggested that talks of sexual violence and relations, although considered taboo, need to be made possible and not too arduous tasks to undertake. This session was moderated by Dr. Fouzia Saeed, Director General of Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA).

In the last and most interesting session of the day, Dialogue Among Institutions: Needs and Possibilities, luminary experts in defense, politics and journalism addressed the audience. The session was moderated by Senior Journalist and Executive Editor of Naya Daur, Mr. Murtaza Solangi. Justice Ali Nawaz Chauhan, former chairman National Commission on Human Rights Pakistan and ex CJ Republic of Gambia, speaking about the lack of coherence between institutions said that it is purely a result of effective efforts’ not having been made.

Lt Gen (r) Amjad Shoaib, senior defense analyst, argued that one reason why Parliament has failed to bring home the bacon is that governments have not given them enough time to function, legislate and deliberate upon issues directly related to the country. He further said that to say that it is the army that gets to decide the foreign policy of the country is absurd, and that it only issues recommendations upon the request of the government upon whom they are not binding. Farhatullah Babar, former senator and current Secretary General PPP, held the military establishment responsible for the lack of dialogue among institutions, and maintained that it is utterly significant that civil supremacy be made stronger and more possible.

Mr. Javaid Abbasi, a Senator from PMLN, stressed that although the Parliament may be responsible for its tardiness and for not adhering to their role, it will not be inaccurate to say that it has not been allowed to function and has always been subject to the infiltrations of the military establishment. He also said that political parties need to keep the spirit of democracy and dialogue alive by giving them preference over personal politics within their own setups.

Mr. Saleem Safi, senior anchorperson and journalist, concluded the session by arguing that we have a social contract in the shape of our constitution which needs to be taken earnestly and for whose growth and prevalence dialogue is a necessity. He further argued that there ought to be no interference within institutions, and that even media is not aloof of it. Putting forth a recommendation, he said that the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a prerequisite to help find reasons behind some of the most daunting challenges we are confronted with.