Components of civil society:
The best way to ascertain the importance and real value of a construct like civil society which resists any standard measurements is by breaking it apart and analyzing its different components and their respective importance. As mentioned earlier, civil society is a sphere of different organizations which people from the society construct and join to further a common end. Thus, two most important components of civil society are its Organizations and individuals. To gauge the real value of Pakistani civil society, we must analyze the organizations comprising it and the individuals who take part in these organizations and movements.
Organizations of civil society of Pakistan:
Civil society of Pakistan is manifested through many forms on our national and political stage. But it can generally be categorized into two major organizations and one relatively minor body. These are NGOs, Media and Private Universities. Although, these organizations are distinct from each other in terms of dimensions and scope of work yet they share many lateral linkages and associations to achieve common goals. In recent times these bonds have been strengthened further to form a cohesive federation of organizations that can work together to promote and enhance each other.
NGOs (Non Government Organizations) also termed NPOs (Non Profit Organizations) or CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) are the major stake holders in the civil society of Pakistan.
Their raison d’être is the failure of the Government to provide basic services to large swathes of population and having no clear policy forming networks of its own.
The total number of such Non Government organizations is somewhere around 45,000. But it’s important to note that the bulk of this number is formed by Religious Organizations and Madrassahs. Their function ranges from welfare work to providing free boarding and education to one third of the country’s school-going population. Although they are included in the surveys conducted by other NGOs to provide a bulky figure of 45,000 but are systematically excluded from every public discourse and legislation relating to civil society. They clearly have a huge transformative potential by sheer dint of their large number. The obvious reason for this hostility and utter disregard is the ideological differences between the two.
NGOs are classified into three categories based on their avowed functions.
1- Welfare NGOs
2- Community Development NGOs
3- Social Change and Advocacy NGOs
In recent times, a certain amount of overlap has been observed between different categories, especially between last two types of NGOs.
1- Welfare NGOs:
They are the oldest among the three categories as they have been in existence since Pakistan came into being. These charity based organization e.g. Edhi Foundation etc provide relief services including shelter for homeless people especially orphans and widows, ambulance services, medical camps etc. These services are termed “alleviative” by civil society experts in contrast to “transformative”, as they do not actively work towards changing social and political mores of the society they operate in, rather being content with providing relief in distress. Many faith based organizations and trusts have also of late started to invade this category of NPOs.
The primary funding source for these organizations is public donations e.g. Zakat, Sadqa etc and some government funds from Bait ul Maal. They enjoy great standing in the public eye which often entrusts them with large amounts of donations to dispense with. Recently, many of these organizations have started providing basic services like Health and clean water due to their funds’ expansion and also ever increasing Government failure to deliver on grass-root level.
One of the main characteristic of these organizations which differentiates them from the rest is their conscious decision to stay away from political advocacy campaigns, lobbying and attempts at bringing about discernible changes in the current social norms.
Their life saving services have been appreciated by other NGOs by and large but they are also criticized for not joining in their campaigns for social change to bring Pakistani society closer to a more liberalized western denomination.
2- Community Development NGOs:
Organizations that fall into this category emerged in the early 80s with a stated objective to provide development services like structured Health service, and parallel development structures in the geographical periphery of Pakistan.
Following three examples will clearly delineate the salient features of this category of Non Government Organizations.
a- Shaukat Khanum Hospitals and Laboratories is a well organized network of hospitals and laboratories ,present all over the country doing quality research in Cancer. It has a well maintained staff and continuous funding source from foreign donors and investments in different stock markets. They have a working business model with some alleviative benefits to poor cancer patients who cannot afford the extensive treatment regimens.
b- Agha Khan Rural Support Program(AKRSP) in the Northern areas of Pakistan is a development organization with an efficient central structure and many daughter CBOs ( community based organizations) that is providing all the government services to some 1100 villages including but not limited to Education, Health and Energy. Although AKRSP workers and managers deny having any overt political or social “transformative” agenda yet there is a visible social change in many of these far flung areas.
The success of AKRSP has convinced the government to create such Rural Support Programs (RSPs) in all four provinces since early 1980s and 90s imitating its model. These RSPs work in close collaboration with the local NGOs under government umbrella. With the help of foreign donations government sanctioned the development of NGO Support Programs in early 1980s. These government-sponsored NPOs with the help of Community Based Organizations have created funding channels to achieve diverse developmental inputs, for example credit for small productive infrastructure and micro-finance packages or providing technical training to set up small rural enterprises. Government has given full support to AKRSP and similar organizations and over the course of time has willfully shrunk its sphere of influence in these peripheral areas, unwilling to provide effective basic services that lie squarely in the state domain. According to the Ministry of Finance in 2003, Government had granted lands and funds to such NPOs to facilitate their functioning. They continue to enjoy the dual support of Government and Foreign Donors making them impervious to any fluctuation in their efficiency and productivity.
AKRSP is also training many NGOs in terms of staff training and community-engagement.
c- The Family Planning Association of Pakistan is the largest Non Government Organization in Pakistan. It started as a contraceptive service provider but evolved over time into an Alleviative cum Transformative Organization with a multi-pronged approach to Women development centered on its core aim of providing reproductive services. It has enjoyed strong links with every government by partnering with Ministry of Population Welfare (sometimes even sharing a common President).
The people working in this organization are fully alive to the ‘transformative’ impact of their organization on Pakistani society but they have adopted a policy of downplaying that effect and also their liaison with the government to save them from any major social or political backlash.
From above discussion it becomes evident that many NPOs in this category exhibit duality by being openly “alleviative” and overtly “transformative” in nature. Their other defining characteristic is an efficient structured methodology and also direct and indirect government patronage.
3-Social Change and Advocacy NGOs:
The third category comprises the youngest generation of NGOs with a stated aim of lobbying and advocacy campaigns for social and political changes in the society. A few of these organizations emerged in the second half of the 1980s to protest Hudood and Blasphemy Laws. They were not an isolated phenomenon as they have been depicted recently by various newer NGOs. Instead, they were a small offshoot of a larger political protest in response to a declining Military rule of General Zia. They were based in the urban settings of Lahore and Karachi with most members belonging to the elite class of society and headed by sacked liberal Professors and teachers of Universities. In a larger picture, this was a manifestation of elite backlash against rising lower middle-class religious sentiment in 70s which was later co-opted by the Military regime to gain legitimacy.
These early NGOs had an extended agenda from women rights to governance issues. In 1990, Peoples Party came into power and subsequent governments supported these advocacy NGOs and often included their input in policy making forums. Despite this relatively amenable environment the early NGO wave of 80s gradually petered out due to lack of proper organization and general agitative nature of the earlier NGOs. Some of these NGOs still exist and serve as parent organizations for new NGOs. They include Shirkat Gah, Sungi development Foundation and Aurat Foundation etc..
After 2001, both national and global political environment took a sharp turn. In Pakistan the new military government this time co-opted the NGO community whole heartedly in order to gain global legitimacy. Many NGOs were extended formal Government support and their presidents were included in the policy making forums. This extensive and well funded government sponsorship revived many of these advocacy NGOs. Their structure and funding was more streamlined. NGO Support Organizations in the third category were instituted imitating the second category NGO model. These support organizations provide human resource support and information sharing and co-ordination among the advocacy NGOs.
In addition, some rural based Community Based Organizations and NGOs, that started off as welfare organizations were connected with these urban based well-organized and well-funded NGOs. In return these CBOs started acting as a rural arm of these urban-based NGOs by transforming their basic aims to be more ‘transformative’ and ‘data-gathering’ in nature. One of the biggest complaints against these third category NGOs is their elitist and urbanized nature. By assimilating these rural based NGOs they have attempted at gaining a sense of legitimacy for better fund-flow from foreign donors. An example of these rural based NGOs is The Sanjook Development Network in Lodhran District in South Punjab, comprising of some 15 CBOs.
In addition to this strategy, urban-based NGOs have formed Joint Action Committees and Citizen Action Committees in few districts to gather data about relevant events on local level. Recently, Micro Finance Network was set up by micro-finance NGOs. In addition to providing micro-finance training it is acting as a lobbying arm of these NGOs. It has been lobbying with State Bank and Ministry of Finance to develop banking laws that are more favorable to their agenda.
These third category NGOs are mainly reliant on foreign donations for institutional and project support. But learning from the past NGO ventures, many modern NGOs have small endowments and investments to sustain them in lean periods when these foreign donations become deficient due to local or global political events. Another factor that has helped these NGOs to survive for longer duration is the intensive horizontal networking and coalition-building with sister NGOs and also some development NGOs of the second category. This policy helps in acquiring strong lobbying muscle and also lends some credibility to them.
Over the course of time foreign donors have also changed their policy from issuing lump sum money to providing institutional grants, human resource development and management review support. This new strategy is more efficient and difficult to be curtailed by a weak national government even if it was willing to do so.
♣ Social Movements in Pakistan:
Pakistan is a dynamic country, with its society constantly in flux due to the strategic location and strong antagonistic social forces in the country. The lower and middle classes, who comprise the majority of this country, have always favored a more religious image of state and society. The elite and upper middle class on the other hand have always envisioned a more secular outlook for both the state and society.
They consist of a minority but have always held the levers of power, both economical and political and have never shied away from manipulating this undemocratic advantage for their benefit. In both democratic and non-democratic governments, the upper classes have controlled all the avenues of policy making. Thus, over the course of time the state machinery has become completely secular and liberalized in nature with slight surface changes to suit any changing global political necessity.
Despite being locked out from all higher sources of power the lower classes have from time to time asserted their will in the form of agitation or mass mobilization. Examples include 1950s riots in Punjab, 1970s Nizam e Mustafa movement and recently a mass movement demanding Islamic laws in Malakand division. These seemingly isolated events are usually quickly suppressed either by force or by political maneuverings. The government, instead of honestly trying to understand the public sentiment and modifying its policy, has always acted as a damage-control valve during these mass movements. Despite this lower classes have held fast to their religious vision of state and society. Madrssah Education system despite state repression and virtually guaranteeing joblessness, for lack of being streamlined with the rest of the country’s education system, is still a major education provider. The continuous blocking out of the alternative ideology and systemic corruption and manipulation of purely religious social forces by the state machinery has over the years left the majority of this country strongly polarized. To counter these indigenous movements, NGO movements have been setup in the country from the beginning. The idea that somehow these NGOs act as a bulwark of democracy and freedom of choice is erroneous at best. The NGO movement saw its biggest boom in the times of Military rule and has always sanctioned state repression and brutality against religious inspired movements. Despite this, it will be foolish not to recognize changing ground-realities. There are some irreversible changes taking place in the Pakistani society since last two decades that were not present before. Due to massive urbanization, electronic and social media overload and ceaseless propaganda of advocacy Organizations through government channels has eroded in large part the religious sentiment of this newly created ‘nuclear’ urbanized middle class. This changing social dynamic is being closely monitored and tested by many organizations and their research wings through electronic and social media.
Since, we are discussing the role of Non Government Organizations, it’s necessary to analyze two closely related social movements generated by them in recent times i.e. the NGO Movement and the Women Empowerment Movement.
Author’s Note: The next section of this essay will describe in detail these two social movements and their significance. It will also include the remaining two components of the civil society of Pakistan.