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World Social Forum Karachi


By Farooq Sulehria

The five–day 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 army’s 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 women’s groups. The Labour Party Pakistan, Peoples Movement, Singdh Progressive Party and the Pakistan People’s 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 Pakistan’s 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 US’s 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 (Pakistan’s 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 stalls

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!)

 
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