Day 3: Pakistan to follow Brazil and India with regime change following a home WSF? Print E-mail
 Pakistan -- March 27 2006 -- Monday -- Safar 26, 1427

Impact of the WSF process

THE World Social Forum (WSF) being held in Karachi from 24-29 March could possibly have a significant impact on Pakistan’s political scene, if past WSF meetings are anything to go by. The annual WSF gathering was born in January 2001 in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil as the poor man’s counter to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the annual gathering of the world’s political and economic elites at Davos in Switzerland.

In contrast to the WEF, the WSF is a low budget anti- neoliberalism forum usually attended by tens of thousands of social and peace activists.

Multinational brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are known to be banned from WSF functions, while WSF conference computers are run on Linux, a free-operating system that is an alternative to Microsoft Windows.

The first three WSF gatherings were organized in Porto Alegre but in 2004, it shifted to Asia where it was organized in Mumbai in India, where the Pakistani rock group Junoon performed in an opening concert.

The year 2006 is the first time that the WSF gathering is polycentred in three continents with meetings held in Caracas (Venezuela), Barnako (Mali) and Karachi.

Given our government’s economic policies, which have tended to be neo-liberalist, benefitting the upper and middle classes to the detriment of the poor, it is significant that such an event like the WSF is being held in a city in Pakistan.

The decision to hold the WSF in Karachi, however, seems to have had the blessings if not approval of the government. President Musharraf had visited Brazil in November 2004 and two months later, it was announced that the decision of having a polycentric WSF in 2006, with Karachi being one of the three centres, was made during a meeting of the WSF International Council in Porto Alegre held in 24-25 January 2005.

Activists in Egypt had apparently also tried to vie for the WSF 2006 to he held in Cairo but could not succeed. WSF 2007 is due to be held in Kenya.

Apart from anti-neoliberalism, the other prominent characteristic of the WSF process is its anti-imperialist and specifically anti-American nature. The success of the global anti-war mobilizations in February 2003 just before the occupation of Iraq, as well as the anti-war demonstrations in major cities of the world in March every year marking the anniversary of the occupation of Iraq, have been attributed in large part to the Social Forum process.

More than just an open platform for activists and intellectuals to discuss peace and strategies of resistance to globalization and imperialism, WSF meetings have proved to be precursors to significant domestic political changes in the countries where WSF gatherings have taken place.

The first two WSF meetings took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001 and January 2002 respectively, at a time when Brazil was undergoing a political transformation, moving towards the left.

Eventually in October 2002, socialist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party won the presidential elections in a wide ranging political alliance with other left-leaning political parties under a social platform.

Similarly in India, the WSF meeting was held in January 2004 in Mumbai. Five months later in May 2004, the centre-right BJP government headed by Prime Minister Vajpayee was surprisingly defeated in general elections which brought into power a new left-leaning coalition led by the Congress Party called the United Progressive Alliance.

The WSF process in Brazil and India seemed to have helped stimulate the development of a national left-leaning front against the ruling right-leaning governments. The results of the elections in Brazil in 2002 and in India in 2004 had voiced a rejection of the previous governments’ neo-liberal economic reforms that were seen to benefit the countries’ upper and middle classes only.

But it remains to be seen however whether this socialist front is just only an electoral bloc or whether it will be a long-term collective alliance of left-leaning parties, social movements and progressive non-governmental organizations. And it also remains to be seen how far the economic policies of the new left-leaning governments are different from the policies of the governments they replaced, and how far the former economic policies are actually benefiting the poor.

With soaring elite consumption and widening inequality in Pakistan, can WSF Karachi 2006 help to bring the same kind of socialist forces together to make an impact on the general elections in 2007?