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NGOisation 3: The link between the Nonpartisan Practice and Partisan Politics

Fayyaz Baqir

April 24th, 2017

 

 

NGOs have delivered 4 times the size of government spending in terms of human development during the past three decades. Through their nonpartisan path NGOs have accomplished more than what their political affiliates have achieved through partisan politics. In terms of power politics Left wing parties have abandoned the armed discourse but miserably failed in democratic discourse. This failure cannot be explained in terms of the class power of their adversaries. Their failure is due to their extremely limited understanding of ground reality. They have not made use of insights gained through the nonpartisan work. The only exception is Jamshed Dasti-a political leader from lower middle class who was able to defeat the most prominent national level politicians in the feudal heartland due to one characteristic he had in common with CSO’s work and that is serving the people. No Left-wing political party worth its salt can hide behind the clichés of class and Mullah power to explain its failure in electoral politics in view of Jamshed Dasti’s success in Muzaffargarh. People ranging from ordinary voters in Muzaffargarh to Jamil Omar to Dawns’ editor agreed on one thing; if you called both 15 and Jamshed Dasti for help Dasti would be the first one to appear. This is what he had common with the most admired NGO leaders like Edhi and numerous others; he was always only one phone call away from his constituency.

NGO work can be viewed from another angle. NGOs have flipped the axiom of “Never fight a losing war” and turned it into “Pick the battle that you can win, pick one battle at a time and move from smaller to bigger battles”. It may be seen as another version of Permanent Revolution, or a step ahead of Gandhi’s idealisation of an Indian village. While Gandhi was fascinated with the idyllic village life, he had no vision for growth and development of village communities. NGOs have moved one step ahead. They have been able to put in place processes that help communities unleash their own potential and place professional in the role of technical facilitators rather than decision makers.

Akhter Hamid Khan offered some unique insights on the relationship between communities and the outsider-whether technical expert or a politician. He though that when communities disagree with the outsider it does not mean rejection of outsider’s vision but it represents anarchy. It means they are unsure about the outsiders’ vision, not confident of their own capabilities and have no trust in the outsider. He called it anarchy. In the case of anarchy, he said, don’t take it as rejection, find early adopters and demonstrate, if you succeed it will have a snowball effect. But there is a word of caution here. He said, start small. He used to say, we Muslims suffer from megalomania; we cannot fix our home or street but we want to change the world. I think Left’s democratic politics also suffers from the same malaise; we cannot win a Union Council election but aspire to change the ‘system’. NGOs’ work is premised on the interdependence of the state and the citizens; and builds on the processes that build participatory, not representative forms of democratic change; it builds community’s self-confidence and builds its trust in the outsider. This is the best form of social accountability. It is not of interest to many traditional rebels because it demands, humility, patience and responsibility

I did not learn all these things in my few meetings with Azmat Qadir but bit by bit over the course of next three decades working with community-based organisations (CBOs), NGOs and CSOs. In the meanwhile, I got in touch with many progressive friends spread over Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo, Berkeley, Wisconsin, New York and other parts of USA. Nazeer Chaudhry and Sagheer Nawaz were living in Aldine Bender, Houston,  Khalid Mahmood in New Orleans, Agha Khalid Saeed, Tayyeb Mahmood, Yasmeen Tayyeb and Ijaz Syed in Berkeley, Aurangzeb Syed at Buffalo, Manzur Ejaz in Washington D.C. Shafqat, Iftikhar and Abbas Ather in New York. By this time Nazeer had stopped publishing Pakistan Commentary and Professor’s Group was formally dissolved. MKP split into two factions and it's splinter group Punjab Lok Party later merged with the Communist Party. Despite the individual heroism of many Left-wing activists, their narrative found little traction among the people and I will dedicate my next post to the question of narrative.  

 

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