The Dawn: Jan 30, 2015

Punjab Notes | Emergence of new heroes: NGO’s executive-III

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: — AP/File

— AP/File

NGO (non government organisation) is not a new phenomenon. Some of religious institutions, philanthropic bodies and social welfare organisations have been and still are NGOs run by both the upright and charlatans. That they are usually not perceived as NGOs is due to the fact that they are organic products born of socio-ethical and religious values in a long process of social evolution. Moral ethos surrounds these entities and their unobtrusive presence is hallowed by tradition. But if we look at their structure and function they are, in fact, precursors of modern NGOs which have a high profile on our socio-political map.

The visible difference between the traditional and the modern NGOs is in the simple fact that the latter have been designed by the influential countries with specific socio- cultural and politico-economic agenda, proclaimed and hidden; in order to intervene in the process of overall development in the less developed countries. The whole phenomenon is subtly but inexorably linked with the geo politics of dominant nations which, by very logic of their dominance, are pushed to make the world move in a particular direction where, they envisage, lies the future of mankind. What kind of future mankind deserves is defined not by the people but by the leaders of the leading states who represent the vested interest-driven vision of the super elite that sits pretty with a highly disproportionate share of wealth in a system where the more the people produce the less they get as reward of their work.

The formation process of modern NGOs in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, started in 1980s during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq when the Cold War heated up to its climax in the aftermath of Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The West led by the US employed a two pronged strategy to mobilise different segments of Pakistani society in a display of bonhomie that was little more than an empty charade. On one hand it started funding the old NGOs of religious type to muster forces for Jihad against the communist infidels and on the other it lured the Left away from the seemingly anti-capitalist struggle by opening up its coffers to it in the name of ‘sustainable development’ with the deceptively attractive slogans of poverty alleviation, women empowerment, gender equality and human rights etc.

Not that these are mean goals, especially in our hierarchy-ridden and patriarchy-driven society. The problem is with the Pundits, accountable to no one, who set the agenda with hidden motives from a perspective that is alien to the untouchables whose lot they profess to improve.

Funding the religious NGOs is neither new nor surprising. What is new is the mushrooming of modern sort of NGOs staffed by liberals and erstwhile leftists from middle and upper classes. Liberals have always been enmoured of social, cultural and political values of open democratic society that we find in the West. Amusing is the volte-face of our leftists who with no holds barred attitude used to debunk what they called the myth of open society, a euphemism for the capitalist system manipulated by CEOs of corporations to their class advantage. How some part of the Left morphed into something of its opposite? How it discovered the healing touch of the predator called Western imperialism? It’s interesting to note that religious NGOs were supported to inculcate ideology in the new recruits while the modern ones were created and bolstered up to wean away the Left from the ideology that seemed to threaten the capitalist structure. The scheme aimed at reducing the chasm between the ‘holy men’ and the ‘revolutionaries’ with the express but undeclared purpose of forming a united front against the intruding Soviet communism.

The leftists in Punjab had two options; either to continue to face the extreme repression and persecution under the ruthless martial law regime supported by Western powers or to go for new jobs that offered prospect of comfortable life while maintaining some semblance of pro-people socio-cultural politics with their old but innocuous slogans. A sizeable number went for the latter option. So gradually but steadily ‘NGO-isation’ of the revolutionaries started. Huge international funding within few decades created a new NGO culture which expresses itself in fashionable slogans, colourful banners, obtuse seminars in awfully expensive hotels and an unending stream of unreadable reports. All this happens in the name of the people. There is no denying the fact that some of the NGOs are doing a great service to society such as Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Edhi Foundation.

What is amusing is that lot of NGO gurus are having a hell of a good time with immense funds at their disposal. Their detractors deride them for squandering the money or enriching themselves with it, not realising that the money showered on them is perhaps not meant for such purposes. It rarely ruffles donors’ feathers when an NGO guru sitting in his/her high tech air-conditioned office in Lahore, Islamabad or Multan opens a sub office in a far-flung village with a few thousand rupees and buys a land cruiser worth eight million to visit it.

NGOs, also called third sector, are an outcome of new-liberal globalisation process. The world is viewed as a market and the people as consumers with similar socio-cultural habits. ‘NGO-isation’ as pointed out by Arundhati Roy, intends to depoliticise the discourses and practices of peoples’ socio-political movements with its voodoo of ‘bottom up’ democracy.

Back to Mushtaq Soofi's  Page

Back to Column's Page