By Ghulam Amin Beg
Is the grassroots civil society organizations in Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan de-politicising society or is this first generation social mobilization (organizing people at village levels into informal community action groups) at grassroots levels, now opening the way for more engaged popular mobilization for civic engagement in governance and leadership through more organized second generation (formalized civic groups engaging in advocacy and lobbying and as watchdogs) local civil society actors?
There is a discussion going on, on the role of civil society in the post 8/11 incident in Hunza in various quarters and blogs and we need to discuss, reflect, analyze and agree on some basic principles and framework as a way forward.The general feeling and mode was if the majority political party who is in government is corrupt, non-responsive to the legitimate demands of the people, fails to protect the lives and honour of the vulnerable groups, is disrespectful of the people's rights, and if the opposition parties are either very small, disorganized or selfish, or if the society is too polarized, what options and forums are there for the society to protect their rights and defend the people?
This needs a stocktaking of some key historical milestones. In a post 72-74 Hunza and GB, there were many challenges:
1) when Prime Minister Bhutto abolished whatever local autonomy ( in the form of feudal states like Hunza, Nagar etc.), there was an institutional, administrative, judicial and political vaccum created, as overnight a state system that was there for hundreds of years, was destroyed( i am not saying that was a good system, nor i am advocating any family rule, dictatorships or rule of aristocrats).
The abolition of states were not through majority political will of the people ( it was through finding some local inter-locators in the form of youth groups residing outside Hunza, use of administrative machinery, humanitarian aid in the form of Atta, sugar, ghee, salt and kerosine oil, and second hand relief items, through civil supply depots). In fact in all subsequent elections for over 20 years, people voted for the same ruling family.Though much could be related to the roles played by the post Bhutto regimes sitting in Islamabad and governing GB.
This shows that, while the Hunza state was abolished, there was no organized political mobilization mechanism, except the clan and village-based political and administrative setup by the old state, who were pro Mir and pro Hunza state.However a disorganized youth and entry of the new king's party, the PPP was gaining government patronage and popular support, but no real political base.
The government declared initially Hunza as additional district and later as sub-division. Only opened an SDM office to replace the office of the British colonial political agents in Aliabad (they did not dare take over the Mir's palace, or shift to Baltit which was the capital of the state for centuries!!). A magistrate with judicial and executive powers and a police station office was opened to administratively control the area. Most of the officials posted to Hunza were from outside Hunza. (Interesting it still continues to be so. Unlike other districts and sub-divisions and tehsils, Hunza is the only area, where over 80% of the government jobs starting from grade 1 to officers levels are from outside the area, denying the the first right of refusal to the local people in government employment. If someone may come up with a statistics on this, this would be revealing?)
It was in this vacuum that first the community religious institutions with head offices in Karachi, who are also absent during the state era (this was symbolically present, but all decisions were made by the Mir; the Mir and Wazir were acting both as king and the Pop).spread their grassroots institutional structures at village and valley levels and mobilized a system of Councils and religious and secular education boards, health systems, arbitration and conciliation systems. For the first time social mobilization was started and common people were asked to nominate representatives for various leadership positions in the villages, without the permission of the Mir or the old aristocrats. These volunteer activists or local leaders then identified their basic needs of education, health, food security and income and prioritized development needs to be addressed through community actions. Many schools, health units, cooperative societies and shops were opened, and local conflict management was done outside traditional courts.
So, between 1974 and 1982-3 there were very few or no CBOs or NGOs in that traditional lingo. It was either the government, the PPP and then the community religious institutions who came after the abolition of the state. Between 1974 and 1977, the question is whether the PPP lost the time to mobilize people at grassroots levels, but then after the 1977 Martial Law the PPP and all political parties remained under-ground, so there was no opportunity for political processes.
However, besides the LFO and NA advisory Council, in 1979, the government promulgated the NA Local government Order and union and district council elections held. This created an opportunity for political mobilization and the choice or leadership and development programs.
Then came the geo-politics. Martial Law in Pakistan in 1977 and hanging of Bhutto in 1979. The Karakoram Highway(KKH)was completed by China and opened the same year. The Sur revolution in Afghanistan and the Russians entry and Pakistan joining the US and western governments to support the Afghan rebels- Mujaheeden. The same year the revolution in Iran succeeded. All this impacted Gilgit-Baltistan due to its geo-strategic location and undefined constitutional status.
Some youth groups, nationalist groups emerged who were mostly addressing the larger question of constitutional and political rights, and the legality of LFO and the legal and historical links with Kashmir and the UN resolutions. These mostly lived in cities and relied on advocacy and activism through press and struggled with mainstream nationalist and leftist parties for broader issues encountering Pakistan.
After the non-party local bodies elections all over Pakistan in the early 80s, the UN (UNICEF) came in support of the martial law government, and advised to create community-based programs where elected representatives work closely with communities and community action groups to address local development needs.
It was in this backdrop and vacuum and to cater to new opportunities, fostering social mobilization and self-help mechanisms at village levels came as one response through village and women organizations with support from AKRSP mostly between 1982-3 and 2000. Currently the AKRSP focus in on fostering a second generation civil society organizations which are alliances or federations of small village-based self-help groups so that challenges of hunger, ill-health, illiteracy, child, women and human rights and human dignity etc.are addressed locally.
But after the first PPP government in 1989 most of the political parties are open to work for their constituencies and mobilize people. How many political parties both local and federal actually worked on organization or tanzeem sazi, membership drives, organizing their voters and broadening their support base? what were the constraints and challenges? why no geniune democratic culture was evolved within these parties? how many of these parties have manifestos, elections, leadership change processes, accountability to people, whether they are in power or not? how many women are members and in leadership? there is still a long way to go.
What can the self-help civic or community groups at the grassroots levels (call it membership organizations, small traders/business associations,LSOs, women and human rights associations/groups, student and youth groups, arts councils, labour unions, NGOs, CBOs or non-profit or civil society sector etc.) do to fill the vacuum?
Can we agree on broad principles and a framework for state-civil society interactions? I think yes, lets agree on a new social contract between political action and social action or say between political actors and social actors to bridge the gap between state and society:
a) the civil society is the bedrock of a political system.They act as local 'voice groups' and 'representative forums' and 'think tanks' for political parties who engage with them for dialogue, support, communication and education:
b) Comparatively speaking, the local civil society actors have demonstrated reliability and consistency in promoting principles of participation, transparency, accountability, peace, social harmony, women and human rights, freedom of speech and association as well as in raising issues of hunger, ill-health, illiteracy and economic deprivations from the grassroots levels;
c)these local civil society organizations can create broader and pluralistic foundations for political constituencies and support mechanism for effective delivery of public services, sustained political pressure, popular mobilization and civic engagement in governance;
d) These local civil society groups serve as a platform and nursery for future young political leaders as the start their career through community service, youth service and engagement and learn the issues, problems and challenges of the people and their constituencies, and learn how to plan and implement local advocacy, lobbying, and campaigns;
Personally i feel, It is high time, the genuine local political parties and democratic parties interested in pro-people, pro-gender, pro-poor, pro-growth and pro-environment and pro-youth politics and inclusive and pluralistic and participatory governance agenda to open their hearts, doors and minds to this great resource at the grassroots levels.
As traditional politics in Hunza and GB is highly disorganized, divisive, corrupt and elitest, nor such political actions are contributing to broader state-society relations or any full understanding and practices of democratic principles and processes, allowing dialogue between civil society groups and political actors through civic dialogues will help create new opportunities and relationships and to debate performance of political parties and leaders, create support base, highlight and prioritize issues and development agenda and to assess the mode and perceptions of the people through organized ways.
Broadly speaking it will contribute to protection of the rights of association, freedom of speech,enhance women’s rights and the rights of vulnerable groups such as children and help to develop and enhance people's and local civil society participation in political decision-making.