Pakistan Social Forum vs World Social Forum: Local vs Global Struggles
With this backdrop of the evolving struggle to restore citizen's right to information and participation in democratic processes, Pakistan Social Forum (PSF) was born in 2003 as a forum motivated by the similar world under World Social Forum (WSF) to set a process to contest the prescriptions offered by neo-liberal economic policies and capitalist-led globalization. Built around the slogan of the World Social Forum “Another World is Possible”, it seeks to provide a space for discussing alternatives, exchanging experiences, for strengthening alliances and building coalitions between mass organizations, social movement and NGOs.
The process for forming Pakistan Social Forum formally started after the 3rd World Social Forum in Porto Alegre Brazil in January 2003. The participation of some of the leading social activists, human rights workers, and peace activists and workers federations from Pakistan motivated them to start diffusion process of WSF in Pakistan.
The PSF process aims to be a broad based, inclusive process, uniting the social movements, mass organizations, and non-governmental organizations. It attempts to integrate with other regional and global social forums held around the world. PSF draws on the spirit fostered in World Social Forum events and its dynamic grassroots movements and provides an open space to promote dialogues for those marginalized by globalization phenomenon.
In about last two years the process was taken to more than 87 districts of Pakistan and a large number of social activists, human rights and social activists, peasants, workers, journalists, teachers, students, clerks, forest dwellers, fisher-folk and other actors of the civil society joined the process. The emphasis of the process remained on mobilizing social and political forces all over the country, especially focusing on people involved in livelihood struggles, social movements, democratic and peace movements as well as rights-based struggles especially in the context of economic globalization.
In four provinces, provincial social forums are now active. These provinces have already formed committees to discuss ideas, coordinate and evolve strategies at the local level that will lead up to social forums in each of these provinces. Through a membership drive about 2000 organizations, networks and individuals have joined the forum. It is also constituted by organizations across the country working on issues including economic justice, human rights, environmental, labor, youth, indigenous people and women's rights. The first Pakistan Social Forum was organized in January 2004 as a process leading up to WSF Mumbai 2004.
Now on the offer of Pakistan Social Forum, the Asian Council and International Council of WSF has agreed to organize WSF Polycentric Continental Event in Karachi Pakistan from January 24-29, 2006 . It expects around 100,000 delegates from all over the world (mainly from Asia continent) who will attend this large assembly in Pakistan This mega event will be coordinated through an event secretariat and an organizing committee.
Although the concept of Polycentric Forum offers a great opportunity for the convergence of local struggles in Pakistan to find a platform to give voice to the local issues and problems, there are several challenges that need to be encountered before convening the polycentric forum, Karachi .
The apathy of mainstream media to project the upcoming event is a challenge as in the cases of the WSFs elsewhere. However, the importance of mobilizing support from mainstream media to create awareness among general public cannot be overlooked and the challenge has to be met in some way or another. In spite of the mainstream role of some leading non-government players in the organization of the Forum, support from influential players from the public sector still needs to be sought to make the Forum strategically effective. There's lack of information infrastructure as well in order to use alternative tools of information and communication technology to mobilize people. This is where one needs to implement alternative strategies of what Gill (2000) refers to as ‘indigenization of universalism'; to appropriate information architecture to meet the local, specialized needs – the promise of which is not yet possible due to the lack of technical information infrastructure for the isolated communities of Pakistan. Before the realizayion of this goal, there are several issues that need to be sorted out. From lack of education and computer literacy to the readiness and acceptance of masses to adapt to the opportunities provided by ICTS is important. It cannot take place overnight. A slow and incremental nurturing of this process along with support for providing access to infrastructure and information are multi-tiered challenges that call for a concentrated and strategic approach both from the voluntary sector as well as players of new social movements in Pakistan .
Inspite of these multiple challenges, the opportunity of Polycentric Forum provides an inroad to the possibility of realization of ideals of participation and democratic change in Pakistan.