Society in India and Pakistan, 2
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.
Civil society and political/institutional change
with special emphasis on the impact
of civil society on politics; evolution and prospects of NGO-Government
I. A. Rehman (Pakistan)
Dr. Sri Ram Khanna(India)
Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan(Pakistan)
I. A. Rehman
Quotes from the
I do not include the religious obscurantist
groups as a part of the civil society because the civil society
by definition accepts discourse, accepts possibility of changing
your views, accepts the principle of dynamism of growth and
evolution whereas religious groups begin by denying evolution,
by denying change, by forcing rigid formulas whether they
are applicable or not.
I am afraid I have not been able to give
you any examples of the civil societys impact on politics
because I feel that the task before us is not the measurement
of the impact of the civil society but first to ponder how
to form the institution of civil society and secondly how
to establish them in a manner that they do not function as
associations but perform the essential task of a social movement.
We are fond of describing Pakistan as a
land of contrast, and one of the greatest contrasts is in
the area we will be describing in a moment.
It is not possible to apply civil society
term to a mass of people who occasionally set themselves a
single-point agenda. They may come together to secure freedom
from colonial rule, to replace dictatorship with a representative
government, or even to overthrow an oppressive socio-economic
order, but anti-colonial movements, struggles for restoration
of democracy or even revolutions are in the nature of short-term
popular fronts. They may succeed or fail or they may partly
achieve their objective [but] their impact is transitional.
You can have a non-military regime that
raises slogans to uphold the civilian rule against military
dictatorship and yet be in confrontation with the civil society.
The civil societys role presupposes
a degree of permanence and dynamism. It is only those movements
which have the capacity to monitor their own objectives that
qualify as civil societies.
When Ayub Khan passed university ordinances
or when he created national press trusts or Writers
Guild he was close to Mussolinis tactics of turning
the civil society into an appendage of state system.
Political parties should also interact
with the civil society because if they do not then the state
Mr. I. A. Rehman focused on the
impact of civil society on politics in Pakistan, "or the lack
Democracy did not evolve in the case of Pakistan through
change in the relationship between the people and the government
as this was a state created by the people in full consciousness
of their democratic rights. "And we started under this compact
to form a federal state governed in accordance with the parliamentary
principles in accordance with the constitution."
Mr. Rehman pointed out the basic problem as "a
Constitution which does not represent the will of the people"
but rather a political design imposed upon the people by a single
individual who had no sanction except of brute force. Even though
the constitution at present may represent certain principles reached
upon through consensus it nevertheless "casts the state and
the people in adversarial roles."
Another peculiarity which needs to be taken into account
is that the people have attempted on several occasions to correct
the political codes of the state.
Mr. Rehman summarises this aspect through the history
of Pakistan in the following points:
- In the early years, the mandate of the people
was not respected but the facade was maintained. The people
did not get what they had been promised and what they had fought
- Then a military adventurer came and imposed his
own ideas about a controlled democracy. His system was tested
and suffered for a decade and then rejected by the people. But
did the people get what they had fought for?
- Another praetorian regime took over, it conceded
some of the points the people were asking for, but on some other
issues it was so obdurate that the resultant conflict was resolved
only with the dismemberment of the state.
- Then a new beginning was made but again, in terms
of slogans that were derived from the people. And again it didnt
- Another military adventurer came and he imposed
his will on the people.
- Since his death the people have elected representatives
four times but the constitution framed by Gen. Zia-ul-Haque
is still in force and the essential features of an authoritarian
state persist despite many changes over the last ten years.
Mr. Rehman raised several questions out of his overview
of the fifty years of Pakistan:
- Can the popular movements for restoration of
parliamentary democracy be described as attempts of the civil
societys attempts to secure its role in the political
- Does the present dispensation accord with a civil
societys political ideals of a parliamentary federation?
- If not, is it possible for the civil society
to secure its due from the custodians of state power?
Mr. Rehman suggested that the term civil society has
been used in Pakistan rather quite carelessly. The apparent reason
for this seems to be that the military rule has been so frequent
in this country that everything that is non-military gets the description
of "civil." While it is true that certain elements of
the civil society contributed in the movements against Ayub and
Zia but this does not give a picture of a civil society that should
not only wake up "to its fire brigade role in the moments of
distress but should also be active in all seasons and is able to
discharge its functions more or less on the basis of a social movement."
In mature democracies civil societies and democratic
systems develop side by side, in fact in some cases the civil societies
emerged first and actually exerted pressure for the birth of democracy.
Not so in Pakistan, where the institutions of the civil societies
have been usurped by the state directly or indirectly. Our authoritarian
rulers have tried to
hegemonic interests in two ways. First,
by making laws that restricted the functioning of the various groups
of professionals and concerned citizens in the civil society and
second, by imposing state nominees on their associations. (The one
group that has escaped their attention is that of landlords, and
that for the obvious reason of their hold over the state power.)
"When governments change the head of the bar councils, media
organisations and literary academies change
One can give several
examples of how the state has encroached upon the institutions of
the civil society."
There have been signs to show that the civil society
in Pakistan is conscious of its rights and position. But the state
has steadfastly refused to negotiate, for instance in the examples
of Hudood Ordinance, Anti-terrorist Law or the situation in Karachi.
Mr. Rehman noticed that it is quite difficult at the
moment for the civil societies in Pakistan to function as social
movements "where university teachers are forbidden to
express views on political issues and where NGOs are required to
eschew politics, and the state tells whether a Muslim woman can
marry of her own will or whether she cannot"
Mr. Rehman also cautioned that their is a limit to
the role of the civil society: the main vehicle for the expression
of the peoples wishes will always be political parties.
Quotes from the
The government has become the enemy of
The inefficiency of the governments has
led to the rise of NGOs.
The role played by the NGOs is directly
related to the type of government you have in a society.
Mr. Nitai Mehta pointed out that
the civil society had always existed in these regions even though
it was developed on modern lines primarily through the British education
in the last century.
Before independence, India contributed 2% to world
economy which has now been reduced to 0.5%. The founding fathers
of India were aware of the role of the civil society but the governments
that followed them were inefficient and devised wrong policies.
Instead of learning any lessons from their own mistakes they vested
their interest in pursuance of such wrong policies so that eventually
the state assumed the role of a super-employer, and nothing more.
Today, we can see the governments enacting laws that
they do not have the power to implement, such as the laws against
caste prejudice. In fact such matters require much more than enacting
laws but the governments are incapable of doing all those things.
As a result a huge number of NGOs (around 80,000) has come up to
provide people what the governments cannot.
In a developed country the role of the NGO is to aid
the government and not to replace it. Whereas in our societies NGOs
are taking over to do jobs that should actually the governments
should have been doing. For instance, in Bombay, the failure of
the judicial system to provide justice has led to cases where people
have taken help from the so-called NGOs to get back their money
through extortion. Another example is the caste-armies in Bihar
formed to save people of certain caste a job that should
have best been done by the government.
Mr. Mehta observed that it is imperative for
the NGOs to add one extra item on their agendas: to develop a stable
civil society. In such a society the NGOs would be left only with
the role they should actually be doing in a developed country: to
be the watch-dogs for the society.
Quotes from the
Collaboration between NGOs and government
The contribution of the NGOs is not as
visible as the number tells us.
NGOs have always been there in this part
of the world but there role was restricted to running desirable
institutions of community- service.
Information is power and that power is
well-guarded by the government.
What we have seen closely, and we were
pleasantly surprised, is that the government of Pakistan has
very progressive policies
their implementation is the
The linkages of the civil society have
a great potential to be strengthened because the people are
the same, the issues are the same, there is a lot to learn
from each other.
If we are serious about collaboration between
the government and the NGOs then the NGOs will also have to
do something to become more transparent and accountable because
they are talking about the accountability of the government
all the time.
Ms. Sadiqa Salahuddin, Director NGO Resource
Centre, Karachi, presented an evolution of the NGO/ Government relationship
and offered her views on the prospects for future.
Ms. Salahuddin pointed out that just
as Pakistan is a land of contrast, the NGOs working in this country
also present a contrast within their profiles: there are thousands
of NGOs -- all types, all sizes, all kind of motivations, all kinds
A study recently conducted by the NGORC estimated
the total number of NGOs registered under the Social Welfare Act
of Voluntary Agencies Ministry in Sindh as around 5000. It is estimated
that the number of NGOs registered with the Social Welfare Ministries
in all four provinces is around 17,000 while many more are registered
under other laws.
Just as there are all types of NGOs, so are there
all types of governments. It is very important in a country like
Pakistan to know who is sitting where in the government and whether
you know the right person simply because there are all types
of people in the government departments.
The role of dialogue between NGOs and Government is
being felt and consultative meetings being held due to the international
pressure for some kind of good governance imposed conditionalities
by major funders like the World Bank: the government should be involved
in providing environment for the civil society to play its role
and the rest should be left up to the civil society itself.
There is a tendency of the market economy becoming
exploitative and coercive just as there is a tendency for the government
to become coercive and exploitative. "Who will play the watchdog?
And here comes the role of the civil society." That is
why it is being said that the civil society should be made stronger
and stronger so that it could ensure a permanent and not
a one-time institution of public accountability.
Unfortunately, the need for dialogue has not been
felt by the government itself but is mostly a result of external
pressures. A case in point is the Social Action Programme carried
out a couple of years back. The government eulogised its achievement
but it turned out that the only part of the Programme that did meet
success was the one covered by the NGOs whereas the part run by
the government could not be successful due to lack of good governance.
That all the Social Action Boards comprised of politicians was seen
as one of the major reasons for this.
Most of the dialogue is on one-to-one contact basis
but there is no institutional mechanism for continuing this dialogue
on an institutional basis.
When the government and the NGOs work together they
use phrases that they have picked up together but mean different
things to different people, e.g. participatory development. By this
particular phrase many government officials mean that the community
should pick up some of the expenses for the facilities being offered
rather than the communitys involvement in the whole process
and in the decision-making. "Here, again, the dialogue suffers."
Another problem that needs address is that "there
is a feeling among the NGOs that the government still thinks that
the NGOs are their implementing arms." There is hardly any
seminar where Orangi Pilot Project or Aga Khan Rural Development
Programme is not mentioned but on the whole they are merely seen
as sub-contractors to implement the plans made by the government
and not as institutions who should be involved in decision making.
NGOs always object to this saying that if they are equal partners
then they should be involved in the entire process rather than seen
as only the implementing arm for doing the dirty work.
As far as NGOs traditional role is concerned
they were always present in this part of the world but they were
usually doing community service and confined to running charity
organisations. The government has no problem recognising this role
of the NGOs but problems arise when the NGOs go beyond this traditional
roles, for instance, "to explore the real causes of the poverty,
or when they move into advocacy, lobbying, or when they start
talking about problems and collecting data, analysing it, coming
up with alternate actions, alternate proposals, having dialogue,
putting pressure, then the atmosphere in which the dialogues (between
the government and the NGOs happen) is not very conducive."
Hence, on one hand the government is recognising the
good work done by the NGOs and on the other hand the government
is also coming up with legislative actions that are control-oriented,
which are quite disabling to the NGOs to function.
Quite contrary to the common perception, the government
of Pakistan has quite progressive policies. But what happens is
that the policy documents are kept secret and that makes their implementation
difficult. In some instances, even the district officers of the
same ministry do not know about those policies and are unaware of
the procedures. The reason for this secrecy about the policies is
that "when you give information to the communities about those
policies them that information empowers them and they can go and
talk about their rights. And when they talk about there rights then
they also raise all kind of questions and they even talk about the
selection of their contractor." For instance, it was pointed
out in one of the seminars on the Social Action Programme that the
only group that has really benefited from the Programme is that
of the contractors. "Now where have these contractors come
from?" Obviously, the politicians and the bureaucrats do not
wish to answer that because they have a very strong tripartite with
the contractors mostly the friends or relatives of the politicians
in which they all have a share.
Thanks to the NGO Bill, which is just one of the legislative
actions desired by the government to increase its control, the NGOs
that had so far been working in isolation have recently started
coming together: now there are fora on all levels; at provincial
levels as well as the national level. These fora are now recognised
as bodies for dialogues."
Ms. Salahuddin pointed out that the problem was not
the quality of work being done by the NGOs but the real issue was
isolation NGOs of various professionals and social workers
need to come together so that their efforts are consolidated towards
achieving common goals. In the international context also efforts
in this direction also been made with the Asia-Pacific Movement
in which Bangladesh is taking a lead role for solving issues like
power, corruption, militarisation of the government, child labour,
women rights, human rights issues that are not confined to
any geographical or administrative boundary but are common to all.
Capacity constraints and the organisational culture
of the NGOs were pointed out as two important issue for the NGOs:
sometimes the credit given to an NGO is more than their actual participation
and therefore they have fallen victims to their own performance
hence the need for capacity-building among the NGOs. On the
other hand, the perceptions that the government and the NGOs have
about each other is related to the issue of organisational culture:
the government thinks of the NGOs as extravagant in Pakistan (unlike
their counterparts in India and Bangladesh), and to some extent
they are right. Some NGOs have a culture that is closer to the corporate
sector than the people whom they are claiming to serve. On the other
hand the NGOs think the government is corrupt, and they are also
partly right. An effort needs to be made to change these strong
perceptions of each partner about the other.
Dr. Sri Ram Khanna(India)
Quotes from the
In a democracy such as ours the government
is of the people and by the people but is it for the people?
The way government works it is not for
the people it is for those who have connections, who
have power and who can wangle things in some funny way.
Governments too have their customers who
pay the taxes.
If we could influence the bureaucracy it
will be more effective than influencing the government. Thanks
to the British, we have a system of bureaucracy that would
keep things running at a particular speed even if there are
no ministers at a given time.
Dr. Sri Ram Khanna presented a
case study of the Citizens Charter Movement, a campaign launched
by a coalition of about 40 NGOs who have joined together to ensure
consumer rights from the government. The campaign is aimed at influencing
bureaucrats and politicians to secure a consumer rights charter
for the citizens that could govern all public services offered by
the government these services are, after all, provided in
lieu f taxes and public money.
Some of the guiding principles for such a charter
- Performance of government services should be
appraised against minimum standards of performance. In a recent
seminar on user services the government servants were shocked
to learn what average citizens think of their performance. Such
questions have never been allowed to be asked in the past but
we are now setting up mechanisms to ask them.
- Freedom of information is very important and
the Indian government is now on its way to passing a freedom
of information law that would help NGOs and individuals to learn
about the working of different government departments.
- Complaints should be acknowledged and answered.
- No person working in a government department
should be anonymous. They should all wear badges so that the
customer may be able to identify them if they ask for bribes.
- There should be transparency. If people do not
know what is going inside the government departments then they
cannot monitor them they are forced to accept whatever
services may be offered them.
- There should be accountability.
- There should be autonomy for managers, so that
somebody is held accountable. At present, each government employee
passes the buck to the other when s/he is held responsible for
There is a feeling now amongst the civil servants
that they have to improve otherwise things are not going to work
well for the governments. This is an indicator of success for the
Citizens Charter Movement.
The legitimacy of such NGOs is their non-political
face. "But a consumer movement such as ours still does not
have popular support," Mr. Khanna observes. That is primarily
because the idea of demanding accountability from the government
is quiet alien in countries like India. There is hope for more popular
support as the citizens become aware of their rights and powers
in moulding the civil society.
Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan(Pakistan)
Quote from the
It is not the government that is failing
in Pakistan. It is also the people who are failing.
Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khans brief note of conclusion
consisted of a reminder that "We get the government we deserve.
We get the institutions we deserve."
Overlapping is not an issue in a country
like Pakistan if a woman is educated twice, so what?
Q. Now there are some groups in this
country who in their own interests forget what they have been telling
the people for the past fifty years. For instance, if I am an industrialist
and I can get cheap raw material from India I will swallow my own
ideology and carry out the trade.
Mr. Khorakiwala (India): On these NGOs for peace:
after the incident of the Babri Mosque we set up one such NGO
in Bombay and the purpose was to promote peace in the neighbourhoods.
This NGO has been working for the last four years now.
Q. Could there be a data bank of NGOs so that work
is not overlapped?
Q. Could NGOs play a role in checking the way government
funds are spent?
Sadiqa Salahuddin: Some efforts are being made in
the way of building a data bank of the NGOs, but I feel that overlapping
of efforts is not an issue in a country like Pakistan where the
magnitude of misery is very big if a woman is educated
twice, so then what?
There are NGOs that are looking into the privatisation
of the public facilities such as water supply and they are taking
various type of actions. As far as health and education is concerned
NGOs can only carry out experiments, document them and share them.
But the ultimate responsibility of providing health and education
to all will have to be shouldered by the government.
Q. A question for Dr. Khanna: looking into five years
from today do you think this work of yours [consumer groups movement]
could gain ground? Could you get the politicians to hear to you?
Mr. Khatib Ahmed
Dr. Khanna: I was a political activist once and
when I quitted that I was committed to one objective: you can
bring change from outside the political parties. And when I look
at the consumer movements in the other countries I am convinced
that we, in India, can address the issues and bring change in
the domains that have been addressed by the political leaders
in the past.
But at the same time we see this movement as an
attempt to grab social space and a bargaining position to influence
the agendas of all political parties irrespective to their
colours and stands. So, five years from now (I have a feeling)
that we will be having a afar more sophisticated dialogue with
the political parties.
Q: When Pakistan came into being or even before
there was a lot of voluntarism, which we called social work
and not NGO. My question is: how much voluntarism do you still expect
from the citizens, or do you have to make your work entirely professional
and career oriented?
Begum Mumtaz Rashidi
Dr. Khanna: My group was started by volunteers but
we have learnt that while volunteers can start a programme it
can only be sustained through professionals: a few full-time workers
can bring out a lot more output than a lot of people working on
a programme as volunteers. Still, the guiding role has to be played
by the volunteers who have a vision and commitment.
Q: There is so much disparity between the rich and
the poor in India and Pakistan. Yet the governments of the two countries
have been blaming each other for everything, and doing little to
eradicate poverty. As the saying goes: Kashmir nay humein aur
hum nay Kashmir ko mil ker tabah ker diya
Dr. Khanna: I feel the same way but I didnt
know we are so similar.
Source: The Role Of Civil Society in Pakistan
Peace, Conflict Resolution, Democracy: Procedings of the seminar
by Jang Group of Newspapers (Pakistan) & Friedrich/Naumann
Edited by Khurram Ali Shafique and Farida Z. Hemani
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