Reflections On The World
Social Forum, Karachi
By Ingmar Lee
05 April, 2006
Polycentric World Social Forum was planned to be held simultaneously
in Karachi, Pakistan, Caracas, Venezuela and Bamako, Mali, but Karachi
had to be postponed following the disastrous October earthquake in northern
Pakistan, while the other two went ahead. I've just returned home from
this momentous gathering and my experience at the WSF Karachi is now
melding together into a big blur, from which I can extract some overall
impressions. The big blurry picture is of course, interspersed with
a clearer myriad of details, many of which warm the heart and inspire.
With a theme slogan of "Another World is Possible," energetic,
exuberant, flamboyant, and celebratory are the predominant adjectives
which come to mind to describe the event. It was a very joyous meeting.
There was an overall impression of gender balance, and although there's
no doubt that the event attracted the most progressive women in Pakistani
society, there was also wide representation from rural and tribal women.
Women spoke out freely and worked together with men. Men participated
in women's forums, women and men marched together, and there was gender
balance in the facilitation of meetings.
About 20,000 people a day
visited the Forum which was primarily centred at the KMC Sport Complex,
located somewhere in that flat megalopolis of 15,000,000 people. There's
no height of land around Karachi, nor are there any tall buildings from
where anyone can get a true sense of the enormity of the city. Each
day, there were more than 120 activities to choose from, which were
held in 50 giant 'shamyana's' (open-air Pakistani tents). Activities
included cultural expositions, rallies, seminars, music, testimonies,
workshops, theatre, conference/panels, film screenings, exhibitions,
dialogue tables, assemblies and celebrations. There was also an excellent
food and crafts fair which continued for the duration, which featured
items from all over Pakistan. There were perhaps less than 100 white-skins
there ( I met one American) and accordingly, most of the discussion
was conducted in Urdu, which was, quite generously, often translated
into English. Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the Urdu, Sindhi,
Seraiki, Punjabi, Hindi, Balochi and Pashto speeches simply for the
beauty of the language and the animated passion of the speakers. And
with many familiar thematic keywords, one could get a fair gist of what
was being said.
The language of dissent has
widely permeated into the farthest regions of the world, and farmers,
tribals, fisherfolk, and others at the low eschalons of the class cline
have been well-familiarized with concepts like globalization, gender-equity,
environmental degradation, militarism, GWB and the USA global hegemony
project, Peak Oil, GMO's, and the evils of the WTO and the IMF. Similarly,
the Pakistani street is, I would say much more aware of global geo-politics
than are their CANWEST-Global-benumbed counterparts in Canada. There
were many accomplished public speakers, but there were also just as
many who faced the mike for the first time. It was wonderful to see
tribal women get up on stage, and with hearts-in-mouth, make their case.
Inevitably, after their initial stage-fright, they were able to relax
and speak their piece.
The idea for the World Social
Forum was born out of the enormous, unprecedented grassroots demonstrations
which materialized at the Seattle WTO meetings in November 1999. It
was founded in 2001 by community organizers, youth groups and academics
as an alternative to the establishment World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland. The Seattle demo's were enormously motivating and successful,
but they were spontaneously organized if organized at all, leaderless,
free-structured, free-flowing, individualistic, non-committal and non-dependent
on funding, all of which of course, are anathema to the NGO, or any
other structured human organization. There is some kind of catalytic
critical mass convergence that arises from time to time, which brings
people together to demand change. We need to learn to recognize, predict
and make those catalysts happen. Nobody has ever defined what exactly
worked at Seattle, but I believe it set a prescient example that the
clear majority of humanity can become focussed and channel its energies
and imagination into action which can change the status quo. It reiterated
that humanity can spontaneously mobilize to powerful, non-violent action,
beyond any of the extant, status-quo social organizational structures.
But action is simply not enough without a new vision for the world.
Objections have been voiced
that many of those seeking a change in the world do not know what they
are looking for. Naomi Klein, the author of No Logo who attended the
first forum, wrote, "After a year and a half of protests against
the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund, the World Social Forum was billed as an opportunity for this emerging
movement to stop screaming about what it is against and start articulating
what it is for." President Chavez of Venezuela where the WSF was
held in January also expressed the same fear when he appealed for a
serious political discussion and the need for direction. I didn't hear
a whole lot of visionary discussion at the Karachi Forum. There were
countless NGO's presenting their efforts, railing against the powers
that be, but other than a sense of solidarity, no discussion arose by
which the global activist community might grow their movement. I didn't
see any "Big Picture" emerging.
The criticisms of the "NGO-ization"
of the World Social Forum, levelled by Arundhati Roy, (who declined
to attend), and repeated by Tariq Ali, (who stayed only for his own
speeches and then flew away back to England) are valid. These criticism's
were circulating around the conference, and they have been heard, apparently,
by whatever there is of a WSF management hierarchy. One hopes that there
will be some flexibility and a maturation of the event to include these
concerns as a central aspect of examination at future forums. But on
the whole, for Pakistan, even as an NGO-fest, the WSF justified itself
simply to get so many activists together, many for the first time to
see each other's projects, to recognize the importance of dissent, and
to feel solidarity with their neighbours, of which more than 5000 Indians
were said to have been present. Although there was a professional and
international presence, by far the greatest majority were Pakistani
and South Asian volunteer, grass-roots activists. This Forum was valuable
for everyone who showed up. Demonstrations and mass rallies are very
empowering and inspiring. These qualities are in short supply, in a
world overwhelmed by apathy, inertia and despondence.
Nevertheless, considering a heavy leftist presence, the WSF could easily
become another redundant status quo power-pyramid, ~yet another self-feeding
bureaucratized, celebrity-professionalized fundraising compromise/collaborationist
gab-fest. I must say that nothing appeared more ridiculous than the
tired old all-expenses-paid union flacks pontificating in the crowd
of Kashmiri, Sindhi, Baloch and Palestinian activists, advocating labour
solidarity as a panacea for all that ails. One hopes that the WSF can
rise beyond such predictable insidious entrenchment. As a person involved
in the battle to protect ancient forests, I see no difference between
those right-wing corporate lackeys who destroy forests, and those left-wing
labour lackeys who demand the job of cutting them down. Not to mention,
that in my own city of Victoria BC, -to have a union job is to live
a bourgeois life of entitlement, ~an exclusive elite far removed from
the incessantly increasing ranks of the desperately poor. While some
might say that it's unfair to compare Canadian abject poverty with that
of Pakistan, I would contest that.
Pakistan is also directly
affected by the American global hegemony project, -which is an issue
that no amount of democracy can resolve. The direct link between the
American trans-Afghan pipeline scheme, and its intended route to be
ploughed across Balochistan to deliver central Asian oil to the Arabian
Sea, and the Pakistan Junta's military atrocities in the area is well
recognized. Balochi's have always been fiercely independent and their
country takes up 43% of what's called Pakistan. This shortest route
to the oil-ports is of course, the only reason that Americans, and their
Canadian lackeys have ever had the slightest interest in Afghanistan.
The USA Neocon's badly want a north-south pipeline across Balochistan,
but they will not tolerate the proposed east-west "Peace Pipeline"
which would deliver Iranian natural gas to India, and would require
peaceful, stable good relations for all involved. And it seems that
neither the American, nor Pakistani or even Indian government has recognized
that no matter how much force of violence is exerted, if the Balochi's
don't agree to a pipeline, it won't happen. Having been recently insulted
by the stingy, fortified Bush 'visit' after his gushing sojourn in India,
Bush should recognize that the "Goodwill to Muslims" political
capital he invested in the Pakistani earthquake has been amply upstaged
by the 1200 Cuban doctors, -600 women and 600 men, who continue to toil
in the disaster zone.
The overwhelming feeling
of solidarity which pervaded the whole event, was especially important
given the context in which it was held, -the extremely precarious and
divisive Pakistani political situation. For Pakistanis to meet so many
fellow actists was more important than the big picture discussion. Although
some people might believe the pipe dream that what ails Pakistan, -multiple
independence struggles, environmental and natural catastrophe, widespread
poverty and illiteracy, and the leadership of an unelected, uniformed
USA-Puppet general commanding a military junta can be solved within
any existing democratic process they are wasting irreplaceable time.
It's abundantely clear that no politics can deal with, or is even recognizing
what will happen to Pakistan's, or any other economy in the world, once
the price of fuel, doubles, triples or quadruples, as it may well do
this very year There is no political system in the world that can deal
with this, nor have any even begun to consider it.
Not a single status-quo extant
political system, nor any of its players, which are currently arrayed
along a left/right cline are offering anything which can check our path-dependent,
headlong rush to global catastrophe. No Robert's Rules meeting can produce
the required course of action. A clear majority of humanity understands
clearly what is wrong with this world, yet is completely stymied by
the zero political options to turn around this hell-bent march to destruction.
This human majority is mutually instantly recognizable, -we can spot
each other out of crowds of thousands, regardless of nationality, class,
colour or creed. There is a desperate need for a new political paradigm,
and that's what needs to be discussed at these kinds of Forums. The
World Social Forum should be the place where this discussion happens.
I don't know of any bigger gathering of people who are trying to believe
that "Another World is Possible."