Day 1: Bright opening, despite a some early hiccups
Pakistan - March 25 2006 -- Saturday -- Safar 24, 1427 A.H.
World Social Forum
Delegates pleased despite some mismanagementBy Aroosa Masroor
KARACHI: The World Social Forum opened yesterday drawing large crowds. Approximately 8,000 people were present, among whom were local and foreign activists at the Kashmir Road Sports Complex, the venue for the opening and closing plenary sessions and other main events beginning from March 25 (today) and will continue till March 29, 2006.
Although thousands of people were able to make it to the venue, there were many others who had to return because of the parking problems. A huge empty ground has been reserved for parking on Allama Iqbal Road, near Noor Masjid but the walking distance to the venue continued to cause a difficulty. However public transport was an option to facilitate the attendants and participants. Security was relatively relaxed to enable everyone to register for the event. Utilising the very first opportunity to gain attention at a global level, protests were held by activists of different organisations followed by different speeches; supporters of Awami Tehreek opposed the building of Kalabagh Dam, Anjuman Mazarein Punjab (AMP) protested against the government for depriving them of rights to their own land. They appealed that the fertile lands be returned to them because it is the result of their hard work and not the military government’s responsibility.
Where some were shouting their slogans for a cause, there were others enjoying a view from the top of the arena, where public discussions were scheduled. The eating area was not as elaborate as one would have expected. Snacks, soft drinks, and tea were being sold but with barely a few tables around for discussion and interaction. Lights at the venue were dim as well, with slight mismanagement in the seating area. "This is not the not the way an international event should be organised. We need to realise that this is a big deal for the country. With a disorganised set-up in the parking area, dim lighting, absence of guides and maps, the idea could not really be all that successful. "Our citizens may be used to the chaos, but foreigners usually don’t have the tendency to put up with a system like ours," said a police official, who did not wish his identity to be disclosed. However, some foreign delegates, sharing their views about the visit to the city, said that they found Pakistanis to be very hospitable and friendly as opposed to what they had been told through the media. Buddhiyagama Chandraratne Thero, a Buddhist monk and a peace activist from Sri Lanka said that since Sri Lanka and Pakistan enjoyed good relations, he was not as pessimistic about his visit to the country. "I was slightly frightened by the notion of ‘Islamic terrorism’ though but after I came here I realised that Pakistanis are actually quite friendly and am not scared anymore." However he said that transport was an issue for him and the other delegates who have to pay a lot for commuting the distance between their hotels and the venue. Around 300 delegates from Sri Lanka will be attending and participating in the WSF.
Young Bangladeshis were quite pleased with the behaviour of Karachiites too and said that they would be holding a grand peace rally on the 26th of March, the independence day of Bangladesh where they hope the Pakistani government would allow them a visit to the Air Base in Karachi, in order to pay tribute to a Bangladeshi martyr who is buried there. They said that the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh was not at all cooperative as regards their visas and only 120 delegates were able to make it. "Even we had to go through several security checks and were interrogated by almost every official at the airport which was very humiliating. A hundred-and-fifty of our activists are still in Bangladesh and are being denied visas," said Mazhar-ul-Islam from Nagowk uddyog Citizens Initiative. Armando, a delegate from Singapore said that he did not believe in projecting a country without visiting it. "I did not have any preconceived notion about the country; I am just amazed to see how warmly Pakistanis are welcoming foreigners. It feels really nice because I don’t feel like a stranger anymore. I really want to go back and tell people to come here and see what I saw," he smiled. With these optimistic views about the country, the forthcoming events are expected to be a success