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Dr Rene Klaff (Friedrich/Naumann Foundation)


Ghazi Salahuddin | Rene Klaff


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.

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