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The Role Of Civil Society in Pakistan and India

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4
Closing & Thanks
Notes on Speakers


Civil Society in India and Pakistan, Introductory Session

Based on the procedings of the seminar "The Role Of Civil Society in Pakistan and India:
Peace, Conflict Resolution, Democracy" by Jang Group of Newspapers (Pakistan) & Friedrich/Naumann Foundation (Germany), September 12-13, 1997 at Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.

Text edited by Khurram Ali Shafique and Farida Z. Hemani

Introductory Session

Ghazi Salahuddin (Jang Group of Newspapers)

Quotes from the speaker

Change is the crux of the matter – for individuals and for communities.

We are holding this seminar against the backdrop of the celebrations of the fifty years of our independence. But this observance has not been very joyous. In fact, the sense of sorrow over what we have made of our freedom – both in India and in Pakistan – is directly associated with the main concern of this seminar because of the poor state of civil society in the two countries.

These deprivations, ladies and gentlemen, underline the state of our civil society and it is a challenge for all of us to break out of this bondage.

If there is any hope it is in the success of small communities in helping themselves. The strategies adopted by our rulers for economic development have not been able to foster any social growth.

All of us, I am sure, look forward to a very gratifying discussion on issues which have a bearing not only on our two countries but the entire region.

Ghazi Salahuddin, from the Jang Group of Newspapers thanked the participants, especially those who had taken the trouble of travelling from India in spite of the tension the acquisition of visas had created for them.

Ten participants from India were invited for this seminar, out of which three were not able to make it, "but that left us with a lucky number."

Introducing the seminar Mr Salahuddin mentioned that it was being hosted by the Jang Group of Newspapers and Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the backdrop of the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

He suggested that South Asia seems to be uniquely afflicted with a strange madness with which "we will have to ultimately contend to be able to behave, in a collective sense, like sensible and rational people." Referring to a recent report on human development in South Asia, compiled by The Human Development Centre in Islamabad, he pointed out the sad but not surprising fact that the South Asia is now the most deprived region of the world, having wrested this distinction from the Sub-Saharan Africa. South Asia contains 22 % of the world’s population but it produces only 1.3 % of the world’s income. All available indicators seem to be pointing out towards this region as the poorest, the most illiterate, the most malnourished and the least gender-sensitive area.

Mr Salahuddin also suggested that the role of NGOs has become more crucial since the apparent total collapse of the public sector in this region and the failure of the governments "to carry the torch of development to the people who are down-trodden and dispossessed." The assignment of injecting a process of change "is increasingly becoming the burden of what is described as the organised sector of the civil society: the non-governmental organisations."

He pointed out that, at least in view of the Pakistani experience, our civil society has reached a stage where the established structures of authority cannot be sustained without an immediate and enormous development in human resources. Mentioning the fact that journalism in this region first developed in relation with the movement for independence, he suggested that it can play a major role under the present circumstances where the top-down approaches have failed. "We should now realise the importance of what is called "public journalism" (also "civic journalism" or "public service journalism" or "community-assisted reporting") that has emerged in the more developed countries partly in response to declining circulations. The idea is that a newspaper should play a role not unlike that of a community organiser. There is also the idea of "development journalism" to highlight the positive aspects of change and to cover the development activities.

Among the issues introduced by him as possible foci for the discussions during the seminar was the possibility for change. "Can this change be brought about by what we know as participatory development?" He hoped that this seminar, among other things, will make an attempt to answer this question.

Dr. Rene Klaff of Friedrich/Naumann Foundation

Quotes from the speaker

In Pakistan the Friedrich/ Naumann Foundation is working since 1987 in the fields of human development, civil rights and environment protection.

There are many definitions of what civil society is supposed to mean. But generally the term refers to the realm of volunteer workers, networks and associations which are clearly distinct from the state. These include NGOs dealing with various issues—like environment, women, human rights; it includes non-profit self-help associations, independent research associations and institutions, and so on.

The democratic liberal civil society is the context within which the individual can develop and realise his or her aims.

Whereas liberals do not have blueprint agenda for every economic and social problem, what they have to offer are solutions based on tolerance, non-violence, on the concept of individual freedom and responsibility.

We hope that through this workshop it would be possible to get a clear understanding of the commonalties and differences of the structure of the civil societies in this major part of the sub-continent.

Dr. Rene Klaff of Friedrich/Naumann Foundation introduced his organisation as a non-governmental body dedicated to the promotion of liberal values throughout the world. The Foundation was founded in 1958 by the first post-war German President Theodor Heuss and named after the liberal German politician Friedrich Naumann, who died in 1919.

At present the Foundation maintains projects in 70 countries of the world. In South Asia it supports projects of citizen initiatives, applied research and policy relevance in the fields of human rights and civic education, environment protection, economic liberalisation and regional economic co-operation.

While pointing out that "there has been an increasing awareness in South Asia of the need to develop a stronger civil society over the recent years" he stated that the institutions of the civil society "provide services and views that represent alternatives to those provided by the governments and the state authorities."

Civil non-profit organisations are established basically with the aim of being agents to change through their involvement with the people. The existence of a mature civil society today is seen as a pre-requisition for the realisation of individual freedom, democratic institutions and peaceful conflict resolution. "The concept of civil society implies the refusal of monopolies – be it the monopoly of a single official autocratic opinion; be it the monopoly of a certain way of living; be it a monopoly of the market forces. Rather it demands independent, open-minded and active individuals."

In Dr. Klaff’s opinion, these factors point both to the potentials as well as the enemies of the civil society.

The governments of South Asia have failed to fulfil their promises regarding the lives and development of the people. Judging from the coercive and authoritarian policies adopted by the governments in the region and the atmosphere of regional conflict developed due to unwillingness on part of the state authorities to resolve conflict peacefully, the hope now rests with the civil society.

The potential enemies of the civil society are the traditional elite who consider it as a threat to their own existence. Hence, "the challenge that is evident for us is to overcome the fears of creating more democratic space, and to disband the notion of diversity as dangerous." Dr. Klaff suggested this liberal agenda as possible guidelines to be followed during the seminar.

The concept behind the seminar, as highlighted by him, was the necessity for analysing the role of the civil society with a comparative approach. "And what is more challenging in this part of the world than to compare the Pakistani and Indian sides? Both countries are linked through geography, history and personal and cultural bonds – in many cases family bonds. And yet they often seem so far away from one another because of the political developments of the last half-century." A comparative approach, therefore, is more likely to enable us to identify prospects for the further development of democracy in the two countries, "but also to get a clearer picture of where the dangerous force for the swinging back of the pendulum may eventually lie."

Dr Klaff also suggested the possibility of a follow-up of this seminar a few months later in India with the co-operation of some Indian newspaper group – an idea that he said was proposed by Ghazi Salahuddin and endorsed by the Foundation.

Next Session

Source: The Role Of Civil Society in Pakistan and India:
Peace, Conflict Resolution, Democracy: Procedings of the seminar
by Jang Group of Newspapers (Pakistan) & Friedrich/Naumann Foundation (Germany).
Edited by Khurram Ali Shafique and Farida Z. Hemani

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