By Farooq Sulehria
The fiveday World Social Forum at Karachi attended by 40,000
delegates, from 59 different countries caught Pakistan by a surprise.
A nice surprise by the way.
The very fact that it went ahead in a country like Pakistan was
a surprise in the first place. And the numbers of attendees -
40,000 people - took even WSF organizers by surprise.
The opening session on the evening of March 24, with 20,000 strong
enthusiastic crowd, every now and than dancing to the tunes of
Sufi music, set the tone for rest of the week. Many a small left
groups, intellectuals, and journalists had boycotted WSF on the
plea that it was an NGOised show. But from day one, it was very
very very politicized. NGOs got marginalized.
Among the many participants, at opening session, were peasants
from Punjab, activists from Baluchistan struggling against the
armys land grab, campaigners calling for an end to child
and bonded labour, anti-dam activists, Kashmiri independence activists,
Palestinians, anti-war activists, unions and many womens
groups. The Labour Party Pakistan, Peoples Movement, Singdh Progressive
Party and the Pakistan Peoples Party (SB) were among the
parties represented and there were big delegations of worker activists
from India and Sri Lanka.
In a fiery speech, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistans
Asma Jahangir hit out at capitalism, which she described as a
free market for the mafia, and told the crowd that
it was fitting to have the WSF in Pakistan as its people were
used to struggling for their rights. Palestinian activist Jamal
Juma received rousing applause for saying that Palestine was not
for sale and that the US could go to hell with
its threat to withdraw aid. He said the rise of progressive forces
and governments across Latin America also showed that the USs
colonial project is failing.
Those who predicted that the Iraq war would not go well
have been vindicated, said Tariq Ali, speaking Urdu. Ali
pointed to the 1200 Cuban doctors who assisted earthquake-ridden
Pakistan and Kashmir as an example of international solidarity
that Pakistanis will never forget. However, one significant absence
was Arundhoti Roy. Organisers had announced Roy as one of the
key speakers at inaugural session. But she abstained, perhaps
boycotted owing to the NGOisation of WSF as many activists
at WSF were heard saying.
Held at Karachi Sports Complex from 24th March to 29th March,
WSF Karachi brought together most of the movements in Pakistan
on one platform. It was from peasants to fisher folk, from women
rights groups to national liberation struggle groups, from trade
unions to peasant bodies, all were there.
Never before in the history of Pakistan, were so many different
walks of life united in opposing new liberal agenda, militarization
and imperialist globalization. There were countless rallies and
cultural programmers during the five days... It was indeed carnival
of the oppressed. It was activists at freedom to say anything
at the time when they are unable to say it in public due to the
fear of prosecution at the hands of present military dictatorship.
It was activists and workers at liberty
Never before, delegates from 59 countries got together at one
platform in Pakistan. They were here to show their solidarity
with Pakistan masses in their struggle against imperialism and
religious fundamentalism. They were at WSF Karachi despite an
atmosphere of fear. There have been, of late, many unfortunate
incidents of bombing and firing either by the state forces and
religious fundamentalists. But to the luck of every one, nothing
of that sort happened.
TREMENDOUS MEDIA COVERAGE
What made WSF Karachi an event with national impact was the big
big media coverage. Prior to the WSF, there was a near black out.
Hardly any newspaper or any of the private TV channels mentioned
WSF. The Pakistan media was caught by surprise at the opening
session. Not that Karachi, a city of 12 million, is not known
to big manifestations. But Karachi, a political stronghold for
ethnic-fascist party MQM, certainly was not seen any more as a
platform for radicals.
The media gave full coverage to the cultural and serious political
and social issues during the all five days. It was newspapers
full of WSF stories on the front pages. The journalist was also
amazed to see the response of the people and the way they were
expressing their feeling against the rotten capitalist feudal
system. They had many good stories to report from one venue. The
state TV, PTV< however continued censoring the news. Not a
single report was aired on PTV. The media could not find any issue
to bring against the WSF Karachi as was the case at Mumbai during
the WSF in 2004. At Mumbai, the media fabricated a story of rape
during the WSF.
Though there were some significant absences as Tariq Ali points
out in his recent article for Counterpunch: Absent was any
representation from China's burgeoning peasant and workers movements
or its critical intelligentsia. Iran, too, was unrepresented as
was Malaysia. The Israeli enforcers who run the Jordanian administration
harassed a Palestinian delegation. Only a handful of delegates
managed to get through the checkpoints and reach Karachi.
Reason? The huge earthquake in Pakistan last year had disrupted
many plans and the organizers were not able to travel and persuade
people elsewhere in the continent to come. Otherwise, insisted
the organizers, the voices of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Fallujah
would have been heard.
However, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Balochistan (Pakistans province
in grip of civil war) and Tribal Areas (where an unending war
on terror is going on but it sporadically makes news when
death toll is too big to be hidden by military authorities) got
a lot of attention. Elsewhere at WSF platforms, such burning questions
hardly got a mention.
Though Cuba (a Cuban delegation participated) and Venezuela (no
delegation) were also missing in 300 events. But both Cuba and
Venezuela were a reference most cited.
LABOUR PARTY PAKISTAN AT WSF
The Labour Party Pakistan, a sympathetic organization of the USFI,
had a very successful intervention. Farooq Tariq, LPP secretary,
told Intis that LPP never in its history was able to attract such
big crowds at its events. First time, activist from outside
the LPP ranks came to listen us at such big numbers.
Labour Party Pakistan supported organizations like Women Workers
Help Line, National Trade Union Federation, Progressive Youth
front, Pakistan Peasants Coordination Committee; Labour Education
Foundation organized seven different workshops and seminars during
the five days. Dr. Mark Glavinon from Russia, Tariq Ali, Jamal
Jumma from Palestine spoke at various LPP platforms.
Pierre Rousant from French LCR and Oliver Bonfond CADTM (Committee
for the Cancellation of Third World Debt) also spoke from different
LPP platforms. Pierre was also interviewed by Geo TV, largest
private TV channel.
Though the event was a success in many ways yet the organ users
ability to organize a mega event came under severe criticism both
by media and activists participating. First of all, there was
no arrangement for garbage disposal. Another world full
of litter is possible was one of the posters an activist
had pasted on a notice board. The dustbins were simply missing.
Toilets were yet another big hazard. Similarly, the plenaries
were held in tents erected next to each other. The voices from
one meeting, through loud speakers, would mix host of other speeches
held simultaneously at various plenaries would sometimes make
it impossible to concentrate. With temperatures soaring 35 degrees
Celsius, and infamous Karachi humidity, it would have been better
to organize plenaries indoor. Also, many a plenaries had to be
cancelled owing to mismanagement since same venue was allotted
to more than one group or no venue was available at all. The food
Apart from seminars, the WSF was a non-stop series of demonstrations.
All around the stadium, loud and colorful groups of activists
marched with their flags and banners held high. On March 28, many
organisations joined a rally against the demolition of shanty
towns in Karachi. Hundreds of LPP red flags were distributed,
and the most popular chant was: Surk hai! Surkh hai! Asia
surkh hai! (Red is, Red is, Asia is Red!)