The World Social Forum 2006: An Alternative Forum for Dialogue

4 April 2006

Delegates from across the world met in the Pakistani city of Karachi during 24-29 March 2006 under the aegis of the World Social Forum (WSF), a platform which serves as an open meeting space for the free exchange and debate of ideas. The WSF was held at the KMC Sports Complex and more than 15,000 activists gathered on the inaugural day to open the meet at the Kashmir Road Sports Complex in Karachi. Though the six-day WSF meet deliberated on a whole range of issues, India-Pakistan relations and developments relating to the Kashmir issue dominated the proceedings. While Kashmiri separatist leaders like Yasin Malik sought to use the forum to reiterate the need for a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue, eminent journalist and peace activist Balraj Puri highlighted the 5,000 years of Kashmir's syncretic history. Though the WSF was marked by difference of opinions on several issues, the forum served as a medium to bring together thousands of activists from across the world to discuss possible solutions for longstanding global problems.

Bringing Alternative Voices Together
The Sixth WSF 2006 was a polycentric event spread over three phases. The first meet was held on 24-29 January 2006 in Caracas, Venezuela and the second meet was held in Bamako, Mali and the final meet was held in Karachi, Pakistan. The WSF meet in Karachi was earlier scheduled for January 2006 but was postponed after the devastating earthquake that hit Pakistan in October 2005. The WSF meet was held under tight security in view of several terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in the troubled city of Karachi. Since its establishment in 2001 as a counter-forum to Switzerland's World Economic Forum (WEF), WSF meetings and events have taken place every year in various parts of the world. The WSF serves as a meeting space for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas and problems, formulation of proposals and interlinking of effective action for groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and the domination of the world by any form of imperialism.

The opening session of the WSF was chaired by Indian Member of Parliament Kumari Nirmala Deshpande. Over 40,000 activists from 46 countries participated in the WSF in Karachi. Participants at the WSF Karachi included noted author Tariq Ali, Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and several Pakistani politicians including Rasool Bux Palejo, Dr. Qadir Magsi, Nafees Siddiqui, Iqbal Haider. British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn, Palestinian activist Jamal Jumma and Brazilian activist Moema Miranda were among the notable participants. Chairperson of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission Asma Jehangir was among the organisers of the WSF. The opening ceremony began with the WSF theme song written by Pervaiz William and sung by Pakistan's famous singer Nayyra Noor. The song exhorted the oppressed and the exploited to come together and make the new world.

Dialogue Urged for Resolving the Kashmir Issue
Separatist leader Yasin Malik addressed a seminar at the WSF where he said that Muslims were equally responsible for cruelty meted out against them because majority of them do not believe in democracy. Responding to a question, Malik said that the dialogue process was going on between India and Pakistan for resolving the Kashmir dispute and they also believed in the process. He said that Kashmiris believed in dialogue and even if these dialogues failed to resolve the Kashmir issue, it would be their political victory because then no one would blame them for not taking recourse to a peaceful resolution of the issue. He said the close liaison between the people of India and Pakistan was important as they could compel their respective governments to take initiatives and solve the Kashmir issue at the earliest. Malik also urged Kashmir Pundits to return to the Valley. Malik had earlier addressed the WSF meet in India two years back. Malik also suggested holding a referendum in both parts of Kashmir and the party or group which gets a mandate from the people should be given representation in the tripartite dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue. Malik claimed that 85 per cent of the people of the valley wanted total freedom while only 15 per cent of them wanted to be part of Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the WSF meet, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq described 2006 as the 'make-or-break' year for the Kashmir issue and said 'if we fail to come to expectations of people, it will be a big tragedy and the Indian government will be responsible for that.' Responding to a question, he said the APHC's idea of the 'United States of Kashmir' was similar to proposal presented by President Pervez Musharraf. He said President Musharraf's statement that any solution unacceptable to Kashmiris would also be unacceptable to Pakistan had strengthened their struggle and Kashmiris were now in a position to raise the issue at world forums. He said the Hurriyat was in favour of a federation of the five regions of Kashmir under some sort of joint supervision of Pakistan and India, with equal representation from the regions.

Indian delegate Nirmala Deshpande urged peoples in Pakistan and India to stop their respective governments from indulging in and promoting arms race in South Asia. Speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the WSF, Deshpande said she has noticed improvement in Pakistan-India ties and said this had also led to significant progress towards resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue in last two years. Deshpande supported President Pervez Musharraf`s proposals for demilitarisation and self-governance in the Kashmir region as options for settlement of the problem. "Yes, I fully endorse President Musharraf`s proposal," she said and maintained that officials of the two countries are presently discussing this proposal. She, however, said that despite the progress, cross border infiltration into Kashmir was still continuing and urged Pakistan to end infiltration in order to strengthen the peace process.

Several seminars and programmes focusing on Kashmir were held during the WSF meet. These included speeches on Kashmiriyat, 5,000 years of Syncretic History by Balraj Puri, a senior journalist and peace activist; Delhi to Srinagar via Washington DC Kashmir and the Politics of Cold War by Sonia Jabbar, a writer, photographer and peace activist; A dialogue on Transcending Boundaries ' Role of Civil Society in a Changing World; a presentation titled 'Why we took up the gun, why we renounced it' by JKLF chief Yasin Malik; and, a speech on What do the Indo-Pak Peace talks mean for Kashmir by Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Analysing the WSF Meet
Despite facing several problems, the six-day WSF meet was held successfully with over 40,000 activists from all over the world participating in several seminars and workshops on issues ranging from Kashmir to the Middle East. Though the WSF concluded without any resolution, the WSF reinforced the fading belief that the world would be transformed some day into a more equitable, efficient, democratic, peaceful and humane society. Reflecting the true spirit of the WSF, speakers at the closing ceremony were not high-profile celebrities or ministers, but a number of lesser-known delegates, including young people from around the world, whose interest and participation made the WSF Karachi a success. Commenting on the WSF, an editorial (26 March 2006) in the Pakistani daily, The News International, observed that despite poor management and chaos at the venue, the WSF meet was not an exercise in futility. The editorial commented that the true achievement for Pakistan would be only when the thousands of Pakistanis who participated in the events emerge more enlightened and wiser from the interaction that took place at the WSF. An editorial (26 March 2006) in The Nation observed that the quest for hegemony by the US has caused suffering to millions worldwide. In such circumstances, the WSF is a medium to pose challenge to the existing world order by evolving an alternative economic and political world order.

Analysing the impact of the WSF, an editorial (27 March 2006) in The Dawn observed that the real test of the WSF would be whether it will remain only an electoral bloc or emerge as a long-term collective alliance of activists, social movements and non-government organisations. The editorial also observed that given the rising elite consumption and widening inequality in Pakistan, can the WSF Karachi 2006 also facilitate the coming together of socialist forces to make an impact on the general elections in 2007? Analysing the success and failures of the WSF, an editorial (30 March 2006) in The Dawn observed that the WSF has emerged as a significant medium for global mobilisation. The editorial observed that while the sessions on Kashmir and women's issues were well attended, several seminars had to be canceled due to poor organisation of the meet. Reflecting on the message sent out by the WSF, an editorial (30 March 2006) in The News International observed that issues such as peasants' rights, labour problems and tribal troubles continue to be relevant in a society like Pakistan because successive governments have done nothing to resolve these problems. Therefore, rather than overlooking these raging problems, platforms such as the WSF should be utilised to examine such issues seriously.