By Farooq Sulehria
In an exclusive interview with The News on Sunday in Lahore on
April 2, Tariq Ali declared the World Social Forum Karachi a "modest
success", but urged representation from China in future,
to make the Forum truly serious.
The News on Sunday: How would you evaluate the World Social
Tariq Ali: First point: It is a very good thing that it
happened. I am glad that it took place in Pakistan. It provided
for the first time an opportunity for many groups engaged in struggle
to get together on a national level, to meet each other, and learn
about each other's struggle. That, I think, was positive. I was
never in favour of the demand by some people to boycott it.
Second point: This WSF took place in a country under military
dictatorship, no matter how disguised it is. The fact that it
took place and that it can affect the political situation in the
country is something we have to acknowledge.
Third point: The domination by the NGOs of the so-called civil
society of Pakistan is, I think, an unhealthy phenomenon. Its
not that some NGOs don't do good work. Most of the NGOs doing
good work do it in a limited way, for example on ecological or
environmental issues. Wonderful. I am glad someone is doing that.
But the big problem NGOs create is that funds from Western governments
are essentially used to buy up an entire layer of gifted people,
who would otherwise be engaged in politics, or education, or something
useful and something linked to their country. That is why I said
in public and I repeat: these NGOs might be Non Governmental Organisations
in Pakistan but on a global scale, they are Western Governmental
Organisations. One of the conditions for getting funds is: no
direct engagement in politics. I would remind you here what the
former US secretary of state Collin Powell once said. Collin Powell
said that NGOs in most part of the world are our fifth column.
He wasn't joking. NGOs have a structure such that they atomise
politics. They cannot get a full view of a country. They are not
a substitute for political parties, though some people treat them
like that. Western governments do not release funds for nothing.
It suites them that people remain engaged in activities that are
not directly political.
TNS: Do you think the WSF in Karachi, in particular, and
Social Forums elsewhere, in general, would have taken place had
NGOs not been involved? Also, a Pakistani newspaper has criticised
you for hitting hard on NGOs while taking part in an NGO sponsored
Tariq Ali: Well, the only other choice was not to come.
Arundhuti Roy, a dear friend of mine, decided not to come to WSF
because it is dominated by NGOs. I think she is wrong. I think
she should come so that we can criticise of the NGOs in their
face. The NGOs must be aware what they are. And because it is
an NGO show, [does it mean] we cannot criticise it? Why? The whole
point [of the WSF] is to have an open space where we can air criticisms.
I, therefore, am in favor of going to Social Forums. I have been
invited to the European Social Forum. But ESF is directly political.
It's anti-imperialist. Its theme is linked to anti-war struggle.
I think it is a good thing that the Social Forum happened in
Pakistan. This country has particular problems. But it is worth
noting the fact that a Social Forum held in Asia had no representation
from Asia's largest country, China, no representation from Malaysia
and Far East. I think it was more of a Pakistan Social Forum,
which by the way is good thing. But a World Social Forum in Asia
should be more representative.
TNS: What next now?
Tariq Ali: Asia is a gigantic continent but we have no
possibility of a serious Forum unless we have a large representation
from China and India. That means it should be held in a country
not posing visa problems. That's for a start. We have to try and
find a space that is unrestricted. We have to make sure that we
have representation from Chinese peasant movements, labor movements,
and from dissident Chinese and new left intellectuals playing
an important role. It will help Asia know what is happening in
a country which is the most dynamic capitalist country in the
present-day world. We need to discuss this. Otherwise, the WSF
may become a self-indulgent exercise. We do not want to degenerate
into that. The World Social Forum has a certain use. Once it will
stop having use, it will die a natural death.
TNS: The Social Forum in Asia may not be dynamic, but
in Latin America and Europe it is dynamic, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist.
What future do you see for it globally?
Tariq Ali: I think even in Latin America, the social forum
movement is on the decline. The reason is that it has been overtaken
in Latin America by the revolutionary governments of Venezuela,
Cuba and Bolivia. The pole of attraction in Latin America is now
Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia. These three countries are roughly
on the same road. This is now creating a big debate throughout
Latin America. Now Latin America is polarised by a discussion
on real politics. At the Social Forums, what often happens is
virtual politics. That is why Latin America today is leading.
I think the problem with Asia is, it is a continent over-determined
by economics and money rather than politics. This has meant a
depoliticisation in many of the large countries of the continent.
This has to be challenged and I think Social Forums have a role
to play in breaking the isolation of China. If that is the main
principle of the next Forum, than some progress is possible. At
WSF Karachi, there was no overt political agenda. Today we have
an Empire occupying the globe. Today, the USA has military presence
in 121 countries of the world. This is an obvious focus for a
campaign -- to remove military bases from the Asian soil. We did
not achieve such a success at Karachi WSF. But, still, I think
it was a modest success. At the same time, I retain my criticism
TNS: The political parties are not eligible to participate
(in the WSF). What do you say on this position?
Tariq Ali: I do not accept that position. I do not like
that position. This position is linked to a fear of many NGOs
that if they allow some of the political parties to participate
in the Social Forum process, there funds might be cut. Let me
be blunt. It is this fear. They are afraid that the event will
become political. But political parties, whether they like it
or not, are not going to disappear. The Mumbai WSF might not have
taken place without the support of CPM (Communist Party of India,
Marxist). Everyone knows CPM saved Mumbai's Social Forum from
collapse. Officially, CPM was not allowed to participate. The
CPM participated through its front organisations. So why not allow
political parties that stand for social justice and are against
neo-liberal agenda, to participate directly? I would be in favor