Saturday, March 25, 2006

# Posted 4:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN PAKISTAN I HAVE SO FAR: acquired a taxi cab driver stalker, and a dog (the last, at least, temporarily), picked up two starchy, chic designer shalwar kameezes which have people now speaking to me in an Urdu I understand curiously little of, been invited to a wedding tonight which in my last impression is not to be mine, and most lately, been cast as a copilot in a Pakistani telly advert for which I am told I shall receive 4,000 rupees, this last sounding a sufficiently princely sum of money I never need work again. As a retired freelancer, then:

Here are my notes on the World Social Forum, Karachi - an event I am sure our readership has been in anguish to follow. I spoke with its organisers and attended its plenary; I will be returning this afternoon by way of interviewing a filmmaker and an artist, both of whom rather more fetching than Osama Bin Laden whom we'll be getting to next week. There is a certain incoherence at times to the event - one banner read 'Stop Violations Against' (full stop). Well, yes, I suppose so. The Karachi municipality, seizing on the moment, with eagerness is publicising itself as a 'Gateway to the Gulf, Central Asia, and Afghanistan' in a set of signage cleverly directed to the attraction of American tourists.

The introductory speech as with most of those which followed was, as an intuitive step really in an event dubbed the World Social Forum, in Urdu. Organisers claimed an attendance of 35,000; my best estimate and those of those around me, including a Deutsche Welle correspondent with great originality named Gunther, was one tenth that number. Even the event's host-country organisers, whom I must note were quite sweet, privately commented that the turnout, compared with Bombay's 2004 WSF of roundabouts 250,000, demonstrated the different traditions of democratic participation in India and here in Pakistan. What it was, in the end, was a massive party for the working classes and the villagers, who in a country without dancing have few opportunities to sing and to feel joy. There were Sufi dervishes, and the KMC Sports Complex stadium echoed smething like a tuned bell with the playing of the popular Pakistani folk song named something remotely like Tamedam Askadan, everyone in attendance on their feet. It was a moment not without its poignance. The dialogue, when the music stopped, was that of dual hegemonies, American and global-financial, spiced in its blandness with occasional disconnected mentions of women (for), and Palestinians (for). To go more detailed than that is to fracture this bizarre coalition which encompasses tribal activists, Kashmiri nationalists, Tibetans, antiglobalizationists, anti-warists, women's rights organisers, and some fairly sensible sounding human rights groups thrown in for good measure. It's like most Internationals, then; to render it actually programmatic is to splinter the fold. And so the thing limbers on, amidst tried-and-true generalities interspersed with cheer lines (women! Palestinians! And this from someone whose positive sentiments toward both have been rather commented upon). It is indicative, perhaps, that human rights lawyer Asma Jahagir's keynote was, basically, Arundathi Roy's from the first of these things. But with all that, these, or some of them, are Pakistan's liberals; so kid gloves, please, in going after them. This is a country that has Taliban.

As eager as I am to get up to the tribal areas, Karachi gets its tentacles into you. With the reported migration of militants to this city and its underbelly of criminality, it's got its own worlds for prodding and probing. I shall be here several days more, I think.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sorry, but do you speak urdu or not?

Also, not to pry but how are you financing all this? Are you writing for a magazine?
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