Q&A: 'NGOs Are Part of the Problem With WSF-Pakistan'

  • Zofeen Ebrahim interviews Irfan Mufti, GCAP Chief (karachi)
  • Inter Press Service

Athe closing of WSF-2006 in this Pakistani port city, one of the four polycentric fora, noted writer and political campaigner Tariq Ali predicted gloomily that the forum would 'fail to bring about new social movements' because he perceived non-governmental organisations (NGOs) taking people away from politics.

Irfan Mufti, a member of the Pakistan National Steering Committee and the co-convenor of the organising committee of the WSF-Karachi (now the CEO of Global Call to Action Against Poverty), spoke with IPS correspondent Zofeen Ebrahim, in an interview over Internet chat, on why the WSF was tottering in Pakistan.

IPS: What is happening with WSF in Pakistan?

Irfan Mufti: The problem is that it is being run by NGOs. This has ruined the spirit of the forum in Pakistan. It was a conscious decision to initiate it through NGOs and gradually open it to others and hand it over to social movements. However, I think the process has taken too long to achieve that objective.

IPS: Do you think it has become personality-driven or organisation-driven?

IM: In Pakistan, so far, it has been both personality and NGO-driven.

IPS: Why is it not being owned by civil society organisations and other groups?

IM: I think the ownership of the WSF at the global level is also a challenge. It is not only in Pakistan but everywhere at the moment and this is an unfortunate reality. I think we need to be patient for it will take time. Globalisation of civil society and movements is not a simple task.

IPS: Does it have to do with the sustaining it financially?

IM: I think money is not a big problem. There are several global partners of WSF that are willing to provide support to such a process. Moreover, NGOs in Pakistan should also provide such support to an independent body regardless.

I also know from my own experience that social movements and other political groups also contribute immensely to voluntary force, logistics and many other key areas of the forum so there is no need to make it dependent on NGO money.

IPS: How is the Indian chapter of WSF doing?

IM: It is doing well in India and is a very good example of an independent process run and supported by a collective of political, social groups and movements.

IPS: If money is not the issue how should it be prised free from the clutches of the NGOs?

IM: It should be made independent with a self-governed body and an independent secretariat like Sao Paulo’s.

Setting up a new national committee and giving more representation to movements and political groupings, setting up of an independent committee and a secretariat that should be governed by the national committee, there should be a clear charter of action that should then lead the process in coming years.

We need to delink it with all those forces that are pro-corporation and make a clear pro-poor agenda. NGOs should be kept outside the main process, a think tank needs to be developed that should provide guidance to its policy actions.

IPS: Will this waning interest in WSF in different countries be taken up at Belem?

IM: To some extent, yes. Mainly whether the WSF process is a viable one to invest more energies; are reforms needed, or make an altogether new beginning with a clear action agenda. There are many points of view within WSF’s International Council that remain unresolved yet. For instance, the Brazilians are not listening to other voices, thus creating rifts.

IPS: Coming back to Pakistan, do you think this was one forum where a lot of our social struggles could have gained momentum.

IM: Yes, that is how we built it in the first three years and WSF-Karachi was a good example that was attended by numerous movements from across the country. I think we need to revive the same spirit and take bold decisions. I still remember during the Karachi meet, several friends from the provinces of Punjab, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Sindh came up to me saying this was the first time that they had felt a true dialogue between movements in Pakistan.

I think we need to take it out from personalities that are dominating the process and bring genuine representatives of peasants and labour movements, women movement, youth movements into its governing body. Unfortunately this process has been stalled for the last two years. There have been some strategic mistakes after the first step. We should have immediately opened the process to others. But that has not happened.

IPS: What kept the National Steering Committee from opening the process?

IM: I see two main reasons for this failure. Firstly, take the overall crisis the society is in. There is a great deal of chaos and confusion in all spheres. The society is in transition and the conflicts of social values, cultures, identities and visions are causing general apathy for the process.

Secondly, NGOs have not done their homework and rely on old ideas, using the same old practices, methods and tactics. This is not helping the movement either.

IPS: But crises often infuse a new energy in people and can be used as an opportunity to breathe a new life into the forum?

IM: It can, you’re right and it is these strategic mistakes by which we are losing opportunities that could’ve been used positively. In the present India-Pakistan standoff, the WSF can mobilise people to come up very strongly for the peace demands.

We need to openly favour social agendas and pro-peace movements against anti-imperialistic and monopolistic forces. And that is not happening as NGOs are either part of the problem or are not willing to take bold steps against those that support them.

IPS: Can you list a few ‘lost’ opportunities where the WSF in Pakistan could have made its mark and come together as a force to be reckoned with?

IM: There are several like the food crises, financial meltdown, the war in Afghanistan and NATO’s presence, conflict with India, privatisation of state assets and now on Gaza. We didn’t even react to state/army operations in the NWFP that is killing innocent citizens on behalf of western allies.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service