March 2, 2011

Pakistani minister killed: militarized civil society & rights mafia silent

Shahbaz Bhatti (1968-2011)
PAKISTAN'S Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in Islamabad today. In two months, he is the second high-profile victim of the ongoing war for power in our chaotic country.

Mr. Bhatti, a catholic, had raised voice to change the blasphemy laws. The civilian government has traditionally announced to investigate the murder but it seems helpless to take any action against the minds behind the ongoing acts of terrorism. Besides other segments of the society, human rights groups are mysteriously silent on the recent engineered wave of extremism, which has hit hard those people known as liberals. 

Last month, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer (A blasphemy case in the court of God) was brutally killed in the same capital city. He may be alive in the memories of the people, but his assassination proved the death of non-government organizations and the human rights mafia in Pakistan. 

After trying to ignore the hue and cry of the public about their dubious role in the society and clandestine funding, the NGOs in recent years had assumed a rather sophisticated new name: civil society (organizations). But the change of nomenclature didn't work at all! The social media has exposed the fake organizations.

Many NGOs especially rights groups are not providing services to the marginalized people but, actually, they're doing illegal businesses in the country known for terrorism and corruption. Some of these organizations are involved in serious crimes. However, no one dares to take any action against them due to their influence in the country ruled by the army through secret agencies. 

Today Pakistan is facing the worst tyranny in the shape of engineered militarization and Talibanization of our society. This is the worst oppressive era of our history. In such a terrible times, the so-called NGOs and rights groups are silent. Their cosmetic campaigns, lectures, interviews etc have come to an abrupt end. They've either joined the group of corrupt politicians or the gang of criminal generals.

Salman Taseer (1944-2011)
The deceptive Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP), Rozan, Aurat Foundation and hundreds of thousands of other NGOs and their leaders are criminally silent over the destruction of our society. Those so-called civil society members, who always try to paint themselves as symbols of resistance in the dark era of General Zia's martial law, are now controlled by the military establishment through the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Some of them say that for their survival they had either to join the so-called civilian government or the military establishment. Such a chaotic time we had never seen even during the martial laws!

However, we know that as soon this dark era will come to an end finally, these dirty cockroaches will come out painting themselves as glorious tigers of resistance, civil rights and freedom of expression.

To be frank, there had never been any real civil society organization in Pakistan but parasitic NGOs, which always snatch funds from local and international donors like hungry beasts. Except the few international, most of these NGOs, directly or indirectly, belong to our ruling class: politicians, civil and military officers, and journalists.

Being a media-related group blog, lets us talk about NGOs and journalists. The HRCP is hosting a bunch of senior journalists as directors including I.A. Rehman and Hussain Naqi. Mr. Rehman is a columnist of daily Dawn while his son is the newspaper’s Resident Editor in Lahore.

Similarly, Editor Dawn Zaffar Abbas’ wife runs the Uks NGO, which, according to sources, used to collect newspapers cuttings and sold colanders at the beginning of every year. However, when Zaffar took charge of Resident Editor at Dawn Islamabad, the media coverage gave the dead organization life! Now it’s getting attention of international donors in the name of women’s rights.

The Express Tribune’s City Editor Islamabad, Farman Ali, is also heading an NGO, Gojal Educational and Cultural Association, which gets funds from government organizations and some foreign embassies in Islamabad. The criminally use of the organization and misuse of funds is talk of the town. These three NGOs, mentioned above, are reportedly involved in the attacks on journalist/writer Habib R. Sulemani, who is living in solitary confinement for the last eleven months.

Here we’re reproducing an historic article, which is a document on the NGO culture in Pakistan. Mr. Sulemani had written it in 2003. Its publication had raised many eyebrows and the writer faced criticism—that may be one reason that when Mr. Sulemani came under attack in 2010, the HRCP and other rights groups kept silent.—The Terrorland Team  

 No go for NGOs?

By Habib R. Sulemani
(The writer presents the changing face of NGOs and the challenges they are facing in the 21st century)

HRCP founder Asma Jehangir
IN Pakistan, the word ‘NGO’ has become a controversial one. For the common man, it represents a foreign-funded organization (read West) where good looking, educated men and women work together in huge offices and drive expensive vehicles. Such people are often referred as the ‘mummy-daddy-group’ or the ‘burger-family’.

Lay people make fun of them in their private sittings — thus gaining pleasure and inspiration both at once. Is there any truth to the theory that NGOs have always been confused about their identity in society? NGOs undoubtedly face resistance from many corners of society for their alleged weak points.

In the post 9/11 era, the NGO-phenomenon has undergone big changes. Many NGOs are being showered with unaccountable sums of money, some are banned and others have had their accounts frozen. Although the scenario is not yet clear since the dust of terrorism is not settling down, let us analyze the phenomenon.

Sociologists have defined a non-governmental organization (NGO) as “an independent, flexible, democratic, secular, non-profit people’s organization working for assisting in the empowerment of economically and socially marginalized groups.”

According to the World Bank an NGO is a “private organization that pursues activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.”

In wider usage, the term NGO can be applied to any non-profit, value-based organization, which depends, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary services. NGOs range from large charities such as IUCN, CARE, Oxfam, World Vision, Islamic Relief and the Aga Khan Development Network to community based small and self-help groups.

They also include research institutes, mosques, churches, temples, professional associations and lobby groups etc. NGOs are operating in almost all countries of the world.

I.A. Rehman
A good proportion of NGOs are based in the US and Europe. Besides these, Far Eastern and Middle Eastern based and home-grown NGOs are also present. They mostly work in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but are also operating in Europe and North America with a different methodology.

Many of the NGOs have relationships with inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, IMF, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, International Labour Organization, the World Trade Organization and International Committee of the Red Cross.

The majority of NGOs work primarily on three issues: environmentally sustainable development; human rights and women in development. They have been classified into many categories which are involved in advocacy and lobbying, policy issues and debates, emergency relief, rehabilitation and implementation of development projects/programmes.

They also work in the fields of children/youth, communications, conflict resolution, disarmament, disaster relief, drug abuse, education, environment, ethics/values, family, health/nutrition, human resources, law, natural resources, peace, security, religion, trade, finance, transport, population welfare, refugees, science and technology.

With the process of globalization and free market economy, societies around the world have changed a lot over the years and NGOs are being encouraged as packets of change. Governments and international organizations consult them in matters of public interest. A major part of development aid is channeled through NGOs, which has made a significant impact on the social, economic and political activity of a country or a region involved, particularly in the developing world.

Consequently, NGOs have become influential in world affairs. The pros and cons of NGOs have been discussed since the very beginning — not only amongst people but also in the corridors of power. The nature and quality of NGOs varies greatly and it is extremely difficult to make generalizations about the sector as a whole.

Generally NGOs have strong grassroots links and field-based development expertise. They have the ability to innovate and adapt to society through their process-oriented approach to development. Participatory methodology, long-term commitment, emphasis on sustainability and cost-effectiveness are the main features of NGOs.

These organizations have the ability to experiment freely with innovative approaches and, if necessary, to take risks. They are flexible in adapting to local situations and responding to local needs. Therefore, NGOs are able to develop integrated and sectoral projects.

They enjoy a good understanding with people and can render micro-assistance to their needs. They have the ability to communicate at all levels, from the neighbourhood to the top levels of governments. They are able to recruit both experts and highly motivated staff with fewer restrictions than the government.

Hina Jilani representing the UN
As is true of other social organizations NGOs have flaws too, which are often pointed out from the public and are highlighted in the media for the benefit of the public. The most commonly identified weaknesses of NGOs include: non-representativeness, paternalistic attitude, limited financial and management expertise, limited institutional capacity, low levels of self-sustainability, isolation and lack of inter-organizational communication and coordination, small-scale interventions and lack of understanding of the broader social or economic circumstances.

Since the mid-1970s, the NGO sector has experienced a rapid growth, not only in the developed countries but in developing ones as well. In Pakistan, NGOs mushroomed in the early 1980s. It was a tumultuous period for the country. The cold war between the US and the Soviet Union was at its peak after the latter’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan was hosting the world’s largest number of refugees — 35 million Afghans. Thus, despite ambiguity and suspicions, a mushroom growth of NGOs with different motives took place in the country.

It is widely believed that there are 70,000 plus NGOs present today. Most of them are believed to be fake; some allegedly have vested interests and others are said to be not sound technically. Only a few NGOs are practical and have the analytical skills and detailed local knowledge of the complex social, economic and political processes of the country.

These NGOs changed traditional social life and gave rise to a new breed of people — especially in the rural areas. In a society where once a scholar or a teacher was admired and respected, there has been a change and those with high wages, big vehicles and lavish lifestyles have become role models.

The once invisible line between the “haves and have nots” have now become prominent. The influential have hijacked some NGOs and made them a source of income. There are allegations that there are many NGOs which exist on paper only. Some politicians and civil and military bureaucrats are allegedly involved with the NGO business.

Some of them have taken NGOs directly under their wings. They grant definite favours to certain NGOs when in power and get executive posts when retired. For the last few years there is this new trend that serving bureaucrats are taking long leave from their government jobs and joining top NGOs with lucrative packages.

Such NGOs come under the government’s influence directly and thus are no longer non-government organizations in spirit. Some intellectuals claim that after joining NGOs their fellow intellectuals became moneymaking machines. They also say that NGOs were used against democracy and in an engineered way Pakistan was depoliticized — never let democracy flourish in the country.

In the 1980s, General Ziaul Haq had given representation to the NGO lot in his cabinet and General Pervez Musharraf did the same after coming to power. NGO people have never been happy with elected governments and have always been under direct attack.

The fundamental question for the NGOs is how to move from the current position as unhappy agents of a foreign aid system, to vehicles for international cooperation in the emerging global arena. Looking at the rapidly changing world today, it seems as though the NGO phenomenon is in a state of inertia — whatever it has done or achieved in its prime time over the last few years is now a thing of the past, nothing special has happened nor is expected to.

For many NGOs it has become a big challenge to continue or maintain their past works/achievements; thus they are facing a lot of threats. Maintenance and consistency of projects and donations are the main problems for NGOs today. Meanwhile there are some multinational companies which have taken the work of NGOs directly into their hands.

For example, some oil exploration companies operating in Sindh and Balochistan are also doing community development work and initiating social welfare in their areas of operation. They have opened schools, training centres, health centres, assistance with irrigation, installation of hand pumps, construction of water canals and supply of portable water to the public on a daily basis.

There are companies which are donating a certain amount of their income to charities. This seems a new and growing market strategy of the process of globalization, and may be an effort to cool down the growing anti-globalization movement.

NGOs are in a deep crisis administratively as well. The visionary pioneers and experienced lot are out, or no more remain active as projects are being terminated and down/right sizing of employees is creating chaos in society. The social, psychological and economic impact of NGOs is very complicated.

Hussain Naqi
Despite the bleak situation in this new century there is plenty of excitement regarding new possibilities. There is a need to think and act globally. It is difficult to say how NGOs will re-shape themselves. After the tragic events of 9/11, a change in the activities of NGOs and in the behaviour of the donor agencies is being observed. The donors have somewhat assumed that their funds in developing countries were misused in the past at different levels, and they don’t want a repeat of the same pattern.

Nowadays the West and developed countries are more interested in the economic strength of their own societies. So a shift of direction has become obvious. In future the well-established or self-sufficient NGOs may be able to continue their development works and social reforms. Others may go out of sight and out of mind soon (the intelligent ones are tailoring themselves according to the changed world).

Many donor agencies are taking the work of NGOs directly into their own hands and at the same time some NGOs have started successful businesses. What will be the role of NGOs in the changed world? Governments, non-governmental organizations, communities and the private sector have to redefine their role in the new world. (Dawn, December 18, 2003. Photos via Google)   
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1 comment:

  1. Asma Jahangir wrote in the Express Tribune on March 3, 2011:

    Lawyers [in Pakistan] are terrified to prosecute an accused of so-called blasphemy murder and judges hesitate to try such cases. Realities indicate that our institutions and civil society are only skin-deep independent. The real test of any society comes when it is faced with tough challenges, especially in the form of brazen violence. Sadly, despite all our outwardly bravado we have proved to be feeble and weak.