LAHORE: While glowing tribute were paid to iconic human rights activist of Pakistan Asma Jahangir at the second day of the conference here on Saturday, Azad Jammu & Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider regretted that no serious efforts were made to resolve the Kashmir dispute with India.
The session on ‘Human Rights Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir’ was moderated by journalist and anchorperson Nasim Zehra, and speakers included Raja Farooq Haider, Hina Rabbani Khar, Victoria Schofield, Tariq Naqash and Rafiq Dar.
While, the AJK premier admitted that there had been missed opportunities in Kashmir, Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister of the country, said in her remarks that Pakistan should continue to persevere on the path of moral high ground.
Farooq Haider noted with regret that “we made no serious attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue, and only speeches were delivered on the topic”. He said in a gloomy voice that people in Srinagar asked him, “When you will come”, and people in Muzaffarabad asked him “when you will go to held Kashmir”.
“But people in Centre tell us not to step forward… towards the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan will have to come forward with a clear policy on the Kashmir issue.
“If you are not with us, we will make our own way,” Raja Farooq said while putting another question: “Did you create any deterrence for India?”
The AJK premier asked whether Kashmiris would get freedom if India lifted curfew in the held Valley.
“India will have to quit Kashmir. We have nothing to lose,” he said disclosing that thirty to forty thousands Kashmiris have been taken away by the Indian Army.
Panellists agreed that Pakistan must actively lobby and continue to engage with international bodies at each and every forum. Everywhere in the world today, states are getting the message that it is acceptable to go rogue. Instead of pointing fingers, Pakistan must seek to preserve democratic institutions and demonstrate its resolve. To this end, it must also understand the fundamental difference between ‘raising our voice’ and ‘creating real change’.
Eminent historian, Victoria Schofield, described the lives of Kashmiris as “the hopelessness of a people trying to exist in a society without the rule of law”.
The second day of 2nd Asma Jahangir Conference was attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life, mainly lawyers, rights activists and media persons.
Speakers from across the world paid tribute to the indomitable spirit that was Asma — passionate about justice and the empowerment that comes with it. She struggled for free legal aid to the vulnerable and the marginalised, often at the expense of her own personal security.
The inaugural session was ‘Asma Legacy: Speaking Truth to Power’. Those who spoke on the occasion were Androulla Kaminara, European Union ambassador-designate to Pakistan, Knut Ostby, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC, Director of International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Judge Khatun Sapnara among others. Justice Gulzar Ahmed was the chief guest of the conference.
Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa presented a research paper on Asma Jahangir at the conference. He said that General Ayub made the constitution in 1962 and then handed over the government to General Yahya, who imposed another martial law which resulted in the disintegration of the country. In 1973, a consensus constitution of the country was made which says that the elected people would run the country. It also guarantees total freedom to the judiciary to work in accordance with the law of the land. General Ziaul Haq imposed another martial law and got himself elected as the president of Pakistan through a referendum. After some years of a democratic rule in the country, General Musharraf imposed his martial law. He regretted that none of them fulfilled their promised made with the people about transfer of powers to civilian rulers.
Justice Isa said that under Article 5 of the Constitution, all those getting salary from the state were bound act according to the Constitution. “We all are bound to act within the limits of the Constitution,” he said adding that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had also called for a democratic dispensation in the country.
Asma’s daughter Sulema said her mother felt the responsibility of protecting constitutional rights of the people. She was sensitive to persecution of political opponents, by taking up blasphemy cases and those of disappeared persons she had put her life at risk. In 1983, the journey began with challenging laws against women. Asma was imprisoned. While she was in prison she started preparing applications for under-trial prisoners. She fought many battles together with her fellow lawyers against inequality, exclusion, lack of due process, which are very important to address.
Knut Ostby, EU ambassador urged the governments of India and Pakistan to respect and protect human rights. “Pakistan can achieve sustainable development goals only by protecting human rights,’ he said. Another EU Ambassador Androulla Kaminara said women were on priority list of the EU.
Baroness Kennedy said, “No one is above law. Law binds us all. Unfortunately, those who are in power don’t see that. Independence of judiciary is fundamental to the rule of law. Without independent lawyers and judges, laws are meaningless. As lawyers we have the duty to protect independence of judiciary.”
A number of speakers said these times are full of challenges because of divisions and all underlined the importance of free and independent press.
Judge Khatun Sapnara said the rule of law and fundamental freedom is under pressure everywhere. She lauded AGHS for ‘phenomenal amount of work’ that they have done and said, “Justice is not a limited commodity. We demand justice for all. We must offer further remedies to our citizens through legislative reforms.”
Syed Amjad Shah, vice chairman of Pakistan Bar Council, said Asma was known for her courage to speak the truth. He said that Asma strived for independence of judiciary and rule of law all her life. Supreme Court should seek to protect life of the vulnerable people, he said.
Advocate Ahsan Bhoon, a close associate of Asma, said she was a symbol of resistance and resilience. She struggled for efficiency of judicial system. Her vision was access to justice and freedom for all. He hoped this dialogue will lead to a policy initiative.
Justice Mamoon Rashid said her struggle for justice started in 1972, right after she graduated as a lawyer. He enumerated the many awards she received. She got Hilal-e-Imtiaz and Nishan-e-Imtiaz, many honorary degrees from many universities, he said.
There were two sessions on access to justice in South Asia; one on human rights crisis in Jammu and Kashmir and another on conflict in Afghanistan. There were two sessions on women lawyers. One was ‘Dialogue with women in the field of law: opportunities and challenges’ and another on role of women in legal profession: global experience. Over 150 women lawyers attended the conference to address obstacles to due process of law for women. A session was on strengthening the justice system by upholding the rule of law. The conference will conclude today and more people are expected to attend.
Steve Butler of the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), came to Lahore on Oct 17 for the 2019 Asma Jahangir Conference – Roadmap for Human Rights, but was forced to go back. He was told he was on the stalk list of the interior ministry. He also spoke to the audience through Skype. “I am not an important person in the drama. It says something about freedom of expression in Pakistan,” he said.
“I travelled for 25 hours to reach Lahore and it took as many hours to reach back home; but it will not stop us from monitoring violations of press freedom.
“I had valid visa but was on the blacklist. There are 50,000 people on the blacklist. You are not communicating clearly. Those who stopped me have obstructed the official, legal process. I and my team have tried to report accurately on the state of Pakistan. Democracy in Pakistan has no chance to flourish fully,” he said.
Everyone in the marquee stood up for a minute to protest denial of freedom of expression and movement to Steve Butler. The session was on freedom of conscience, religion, belief and expression, censorship and other curbs on electronic and print media.
Hamid Mir, award-winning anchor of the Capital Talk programme of Geo News, said those who stopped Steve Butler from coming to Pakistan embarrassed the country. They are enemies of Pakistan. They have violated Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The one who speaks the truth was taught a lesson.
“When Musharraf stopped me, I started road shows. Imran told me when he comes to power, the media will be free. Now he is not interested in the Journalists’ Protection Bill, prepared by Human Rights Minister Shirin Mazari.
“The state is lying to citizens, hence the relationship between citizens and the state has become weaker. We receive instructions not to cover a certain judge, a certain event for the sake of national interest. You tell lies in the name of national interest. Journalists speak in public interest,” Hamid Mir added.
Lawyers said they will join hands with the media in their effort to fight censorship. At this, Hamid Mir said, Media cannot report TLP dharna case. The lawyers cannot talk about it, he challenged.
There are many no-go areas in some areas of KP for the media in the democratic government. I went to one of such areas and shots were fired at me. You have seen the footage. They were shown in Musharraf’s reign. They cannot be shown on TV when there is a ‘democratic’ government in country now, he said.
Cyril Almieda, recipient of press freedom award, thanked Asma Jahangir for speaking truth to power. “Last time I came to Lahore for treason hearing and two of the three judges didn’t come. Without courts acting as guardians of rights, it is difficult to have justice.”
Shahidul Islam, award winning photo journalist from Bangladesh, said such an event wasn’t possible in his country without a minister making a speech. “There is a gap between rhetoric and practice. The fourth state is not doing its duty,” he said.
At this, Christina Lamb said she was deported twice from Pakistan in 2001 for reporting on an agency but “nobody here contacted me to find out the truth.” Last year more journalists were killed than at any other time, she remarked. Owen Bennett Jones also spoke on the occasion.
At another session, famous parliamentarian Mahmood Khan Achakzai noted with pain that one million people have been killed, more than the number wounded during the past decades in Afghanistan and the genocide is still going with no end in sight yet.
Speaking at a session on ‘Conflict in Afghanistan: Impact on the Rights of Women and Minorities’, he said the entire world participated in the Afghanistan war including people from Communist China, Muslims from Arab countries and Hindus from India, but when the war stopped for a while, none of the victims was compensated.
“The entire world must be indebted to us,” Achakzai told the session.
He also objected to the session topic ‘Afghan Conflict’. “It is not a conflict, it is genocide. The Afghan genocide, going on for the last 40 years,” he asserted.
He called upon the world to come forward and stop the Afghan genocide, as they have the power to do so.
He said when the Europe decided to conquer the world, they did it all the way. They conquered entire Muslim world including Arab, Iran, Middle East, Indonesia and Malaysia. Only Turk and Afghans from Oxus to Indus showed resistance and fought for their sovereignty and independence.
When the whole Muslim world was under British subjection, only Afghans stood firmly for their freedom, and now they are being punished for this, lamented Achakzai.
Pakistan Muslim League-N central leader and for defence minister Khurram Dastgir said peace in Afghanistan was necessary for peace of Pakistan. Pak-Afghan peace was intertwined and fences would make the two countries good friends, he added.
He said Afghanistan was passing through three transitory periods in three fields: security, political and socio-economic areas. Pakistan should support it especially in the field of health. He shared that Pakistan respected dignity, sovereignty and freedom of Afghanistan.
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal objected to the uttering that “fences make friends”. In Europe, countries are friends without fences. “We want peace and Pakistan can play its role in peace process in Afghanistan.”
In response to a question, he said: “Peace with Taliban is also possible in Afghanistan.”
Ms Fawazia Koofi, a prominent political leader of Afghanistan, said that women were playing their role in the peace process in her country, though hundreds of women lost their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers. “Women are taking part in politics, and literacy rate among women is 30 to 40 per cent,” she told the audience. The role of women in Afghan politics was pre-defined, she added. She also urged regional and international powers to ensure that women would have a role in politics if Taliban come to power.