Submit :
News                      Photos                     Just In                     Debate Topic                     Latest News                    Articles                    Local News                    Blog Posts                     Pictures                    Reviews                    Recipes                    
Political Play
Zulfiqar Shah
Personal reflection: Politics of development and civil society of Pakistan 08 January, 2014
Politics of development and particularly international development is highly complex structure of studies; however when it is attempted to understand in a very naïve way, it becomes easiest for the common understanding.
Being associated with the human rights, journalism and development sector during my career time in Pakistan, I have a few simple readings, observations, feelings and understandings of practical political aspects of development and rights based activism and their funder nexus. I am sharing these briefly and in simple manner avoiding the larger academic discussion and discourse around the development politics in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the leadership of development and rights based initiatives is primarily dominated by ethnic Punjabis, together with their ethnic Urdu speaking as well as to some extent their sycophants from Hazara division in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa. The visible participation of Sindhi and Baloch civil society leadership at the Central level is as unimaginable as their visibility in Pakistan’s military and civil bureaucracy and the security fraternity.

Pakistan has been reluctant to include Sindhi and Baloch into cricket and other sports team, therefore, the popular and sarcastic name of ‘Pakistan Eleven’ team by people of Sindh and Balochistan is ‘Punjab Eleven’ although the team accommodates a few Urdu speaking players and Pashtuns as well. No Sindhi and Baloch cricketer has been taken in the team in last three decades.

It is worth mentioning that a high quality cricket team of Sindh was there before partition of India, which played many matches with internationals teams, the popular of which was the match between the teams of Australia and Sindh on November 22, 1935 that was won by Sindh team comprising Hindu and Muslim Sindhis. The match held in Karachi attracted at least five thousand viewers at that time.

The civil society initiatives, human rights activism, and development politics in Pakistan have similar trends of ethnic composition of almost every state and non-state institution. Punjabis and their Urdu speaking junior partners, and a smaller quantity of the Pashtun and Hindko speaking people dominate Pakistani establishment. Similar trend is found in almost every sphere of life in Pakistan particularly of civil society, funding mainstream and flow as well as civil society leadership.

Politics behind networking

The art of networking is the modus operandi through which the powerful Punjabis, Urdu speaking and Hindko speaking capture the leadership of the civil society of Sindh, Siraiki South Punjab, Pakhtunkhuwa and Balochistan.

It is a strange coincidence that a large number of retired military commissioned officers have registered and are running their own NGOs, despite the fact that the top leadership of civil society in Pakistan, which mostly is Punjabi and Urdu speaking.

Most of the Pakistan level civil society leadership is Punjabi and is closely or remotely family relations with the serving r retired senior military officials who usually hold rank from Brigadiers to Lt-Generals.

Punjabis, Urdu speaking and Hindko lead the major networks of civil society organizations / NGOs. Some Lahore, Karachi, and Quetta based organization run by Punjabis and to some extent by Urdu speaking have only one role. They primarily establish their networks of community based organizations of Sindhis, Balochis and Sirakis; manage to elect themselves as their leader; and start owning their initiatives and market them to the donors.

Besides receiving funding, they start their networking with the world outside Pakistan, so that the image, feel, perception and the reality of Pakistan’s internal society they want to show to the others may not contradict the overall policy of Pakistan. Besides, by doing this, they undertake a triple advantage of acquiring central leadership role of being civil society, become the people’s diplomats outside Pakistan and receiving larger international funding.

The outcome of this is propelling the softer cloud around the overall Pakistani establishment’s opinion in the South Asian, continental and global civil society orbit, rights bodies and intelligentsia so that Pakistan’s official opinion on internal and external affairs could be defended in a milder way. Thus, the international criticism on Pakistan is attempted to be tackled and toned down in the softer manner.

A virtual monopoly

Roughly, five major civil society organizations of Pakistan are controlling, dominating, and holding the black and white of the civil society. These civil society organizations and their leadership is the heads, members and leaders of almost all civil society networks.

This include the thematic networking on the urban labor, land rights, human rights, political rights, democracy, governance, minority rights, peace and human security, India-Pakistan peace initiatives, youth networks, South Asian unity, Global South initiatives, Pakistani, South Asian, and world leftist activism, World Social Forum, flood relief, disaster management, community mobilization, election monitoring, honor killings, bonded labor rights and a vast number of other affairs.

These five plus a couple more civil society outfits represent Pakistan around the world. Their business is that the international funding, province wise donors funding flow and civil society leaderships’ foreign interaction should maximally be Punjab based and Punjabi-Urdu oriented.

Donors’ interests and their development politics

International interests associated with the foreign policy of the developed countries are the reason behind their funding to the developing countries. The simple, common, and naïve form of their interest is that donning country’s contribution should be acknowledged in the fund-receiving countries by government, society and the civil buffer that is usually called civil society.

At the end, they usually demand visibility from the receiving organization so that community and / or the targeted civil society layer may keep a positive corner for the funding country. They also developed a country strategy / policy in consultation with the experts and civil society organizations so that they may strategies their funding priorities. Moreover, during the funding cycle, they collect the reports and results as well as overall outcomes of the particular indented funding.

This typical development and rights intervention planning and reporting mechanism do not only serve the monitoring and transparency requirement of a donor / project implementation process, it also give a broader feel and feedback to the funding country to assess Pakistan society, be informed on the social dynamics as well as issues. This is the point where Pakistani establishment wants the infiltration into Pakistani civil society in a manner to guide, control, and manipulates the outgoing feedback, perception, and feel.

A strange example for that is the Punjabi-Urdu-Hindko led Pakistani civil society has been transferring the messages to the most of the developed countries through development politics messaging that honor killing, law and order is the bigger problem in Sindh. Honor killing, burying alive, feudalism is the major problem of Balochistan. Talbanization is a gross level issue of Pakhtunkhuwa.

Honor killing and bonded labor is the issue of Siraiki speaking South Punjab; however police atrocities as well as right to development like health, education and poverty is the major issues in the central Punjab. Through thus, they successfully damage the image of Sindh and Balochistan where freedom movements are strong, limiting the Talibanization to Pakhtunkhuwa so that the existence of Talibanization factories in central and northern Punjab may camouflaged.

Most of the Urdu speaking civil society mention that feudalism is the biggest problem in Sindh; by saying this, they mean that Sindhis are backward, rural, and illiterate.

At South Asia level interaction, most of the civil society leadership has been creating an environment conducive to the interests of Pakistani establishment and their partner like Mutahida Qomi Movement and Taliban. The examples of such fallacies or propaganda can be heard easily in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Here are some examples of the negative propaganda against Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtuns in South Asia spread by the civil society leadership which is known back in Pakistan as ‘always-in aero-planes’:

Fallacy I: Sindhis are minority in Sindh where illiterate Sindhi feudal lords, Punjabis and military does not want that Urdu speaking refugees of Indian partition to live a even a middle class Urban life.

Reality: Sindhis are at least 68 percent in Sindh. Urdu speaking are a ethnic minority in Karachi; however they have been taking 70 percent of economic and opportunity share of Sindh since last sixty seven years.

Fallacy II: Sindhi feudal lords harass Sindhi Hindus, they disallow them to burn their kinds dead bodies and kidnap their girls.

Reality: Sindhis and Baloch are the only ethnicities of Pakistan that support and defend as much as they can their Hindu brothers. Establishment supported Mullahs that are imported to the Saudi Arabia funded Madersas harass Sindhi Hindus. The builder mafia associated with MQM demolishes the historical villages of Hindu community in Pakistan.

Fallacy III:
It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a Sindhi, who wanted military operation against Bangladesh. Punjabi and Urdu speaking have a lesser role in that.

Reality: Eighty percent of Pakistan Army is of ethnic Punjabi origin. At the time of 1971 war, they were more than ninety percent of the army. It was institutional decision of Pakistan Army to undertake military operation in Punjab.

Fallacy IV: Talibans are the Pashtun’s business. They are also infiltrating in Punjab.

Reality: The thought, factories and business of Islamic extremism is Punjab based from where it infiltrate into rest of Pakistan, South Asia and the world.

Besides, some civil society alliances on peace and governance have were used for the agenda of creating new provinces in Pakistan, in which their workshops were moderated by Urdu speaking and in Abbottabad, their sessions were moderated by a Hindko speaking civil society leadership so that they may reach out a document to be shared broader in which they could claim that the demand for new provinces have come from Pakhtunkhuwa, Punjab and Sindh and equally.

Politics by the civil society leadership

There are two trends in political involvement of civil society leadership in Pakistan. Almost all of the recognized country level and provincial level leaders of the civil society are associated are with certain political thoughts, and majority of them is part of the political parties, and some have developed their own political parties.

Censuring names of the individuals, there level ranges from the advisors, think tanks, and central leaders of the parties of General Musharaf, Nawaz Sharif, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Asfandyar Wali, Imran Khan, Altaf Hussain, Mehmmod Khan Achakzai, Ayaz Lateef Palijo, Dr. Qadir Magsi; Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Dr. Hai Baloch, Dr. Malik Baloch, and Mir Hasil Khan Bizanjo. Out of them, ethnic Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindko speaking are well connected with the Pakistan’s security establishment; a few Sindhis are also at the outer level of engagement with the security agencies.

The civil society leadership of Sindh and Balochistan that have dissent with the establishment, are against the military’s anti-people role, or are critics of the security establishment backing extremism are discouraged, unemployed, persecuted, and trapped through the existing top level or second tier leadership of the civil society in Pakistan.

The case of Omar Asghar Khan, who dissented General Musharaf, Asim Akhund, who refused to work for ISI’s Russian section, Hassan Dars, who kept on inspiring the Sindh youth, Nausheen Qambrani who was an inspiration and vocal civil society leadership for Balochistan and myself in Sindh prey victim of them. Out of these known cases to me, Nausheen Qambrani, a mother of one child, has survived the persecution and I am still alive after the murder attempts in Pakistan, Nepal and India.

Compromises by Pakistani civil society

The level of compromise by Pakistani civil society leadership is astonishing. Once I sent an email to Asma Jahangir and CC’d to a couple of seniors and friends like Mr. Karamat Ali and Mohammad Tahseen while I was working with South Asia Partnership Pakistan over the issue of Zarina Mari, a Baloch girl kidnapped by Pakistan Army from Balochistan and was made sex-slave by the intelligence unit.
None replied.

When talked on the phone with later two friends, I was told that they would prefer to talk about broader issues of Balochistan in the public civil society discussions but would keep mum over the Zarina Mari’s issue, as it was an individual case. ‘Zulfi we should keep ourselves out of this. Balochistan is an entirely different affair,’ I was told by a friend.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s visits of Balochistan in 2009 and 2010. When Asma Jahangir visited Quetta, Balochistan according to an Urdu daily of Balochistan, a mother of the Baloch activist asked her for legal support for her missing young son who was kidnapped by the Pakistani intelligence agencies.

She replied her, according to the newspaper; she will not forward the legal support to the persons who are killing the army men and Punjabi civilians; however, the same Asma Jahangir offered to be lawyer of Ajmal Qasab because according to her, Qasab’s right to fair trial was being violated.

In my personal matter, when ISI and MI were forcedly ousting me from Pakistan, I shared this with honorable Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute for labor Education, Research (PILER), and Mohammad Waseem of Indus Resource Centre (IRC). They were unfortunately weaker enough that they suggested me to leave country, rather staying in Pakistan and putting the life in danger.

“Hush! Do not hold press conference! This is not the proper time for these things,” Karamat Ali told me when we were driving together to join the dinner with a Bangladeshi Official of the OXFAM GB, Asia Office situated at Bangkok. He also shared some similar views when we were attending the Karachi Book Festival and all of sudden were interrupted by the arrival of the Ayesha Siddiqa at that corner.

Around May 20, 2012, I was taking flight to Nepal for holding a meeting with the Kanak Mani Dixit to consult with him since a few days ago I was asked by the Pakistani establishment’s seniors to quit Pakistan. Unexpectedly, Karamat Ali, Mahesh Kumar and some other journalists of Karachi and Hyderabad Press Club were about to take flight for Mumbai, India.

I took Karamat ji to a side and told him the situation and shared with him that I am leaving country. He simply relied that he would be traveling to Holland, after visiting India and would be unable to do anything regarding my issue. “While getting settled outside Pakistan, please complete the position paper on the land rights in Pakistan and send the document back to Zulfiqar Shah (not myself) of PILER,” he suggested.

After returning back from Nepal (I was maneuvered tactically by ISI to return to Pakistan), another friend, and senior of mine, Mohammad Tahseen was unable to do anything to save me. Similarly, Marvi Sirmad, a prominent rights activist, when was asked by the First Post reporter in India regarding my issue, she refused to know me. The facts are otherwise.

Our organization, The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan (ISM) worked in association UNDP-SDPD led by Marvi over the larger consultation in Sindh province regarding the implementation of eighteenth constitutional amendment in Pakistan. Similarly, some Sindhi leaders of the civil society were either compromised or were pressurized enough to keep quite. Moreover, some civil society actors themselves became the sources of disinformation to the world outside Pakistan!

It is popular tit-bit of the Pakistani civil society that NGOs and the Military have commonalities. Both do not go for elections and both want the deep engagement with the people. And, at the end they are responsible not to the people, but to the superiors or the funders.

Adorable for the military

Punjab based major civil society organizations have a different culture. By mid of 2013, Imtiyaz Alam of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) invited Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum leader Mohammad Ali Shah and his friends over the dinner. When both discussed the issue of controversial Kalabagh Dam, against which Sindhi have been struggling since last a couple of decades, Imtiaz Alam asked his gunmen to point the gun on Shah and asked shah to agree with him on the issue of Kalabagh Dam.

There are two popular terms in some of the Punjab based leading civil society organizations of Pakistan. They informally call their Executive Directors as Generals, Deputy Directors as Lieutenant Generals, and Program Managers as Brigadiers.

The worst example of some Pakistani civil society’s Punjabi-Urdu leaders’ love for the military dictators was their support to Musharaf after his coup against Nawaz Sharif. The leading Punjabi civil society faces of Pakistan who have been traveling in South Asian countries since beyond last one decade, asked Musharaf to accommodate Omer Asghar Khan as a Minister, and he took oath under Musharaf as a Federal Minister.

One of our Sindhi senior friend from district Sanghar stitched his waste coat, to become the Governor of Sanghar, since Musharaf was planning to declare the districts of Pakistan as Provinces. In so many cases, military of Pakistan matters a lot in wining positivity for their friend civil society organizations.

How the civil society of Pakistan is militarized, Punjabized and Urduized and how Pakistani establishment easily manipulates international feel and perception and use it as a tool of disinformation is one of the worth analyzing model of the genuine mess in Pakistan. Amid such a situation, peace, rights, and civil democracy are almost impossible in Pakistan!

My apologies to my good old Pakistani civil society friends and seniors that I have shared a tiny part of our conversations, hiding the major part of these is a conscious act to keep on the good will!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Zulfiqar Shah is a stateless activist, analyst, and researcher. Although he is a refugee, and living a life in exile, he is a born Sindhi and South Asian. Currently he lives in India.
Email Id
Verification Code
Email me on reply to my comment
Email me when other CJs comment on this article
Sign in to set your preference
merinews for RTI activists

Not finding what you are looking for? Search here.