The historic Forman Christian College (FCC) in Lahore is striving hard to set exemplary standards of modern education and research since its denationalisation in 2003. It may be an attempt to prove that the nationalisation of this institute in 1972 was a wrong decision which compromised the quality of education to a certain degree.
The FCC acquired the charter of a university in 2004 and set up a Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) in July 2007. The Centre is the first of its kind in Lahore and is headed by renowned public policy expert Dr Saeed Shafqat who is a Ph.D in Political Science from University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Since its inception in July 2007, CPPG has organised over 65 seminars, 20 policy dialogues, 10 trainings and collaborated with Population Association of Pakistan (PAP) in hosting an international conference.
This month, it organised an International Conference on “Social Change and Security Imperatives: Challenges for Leadership and Democratic Governance in Pakistan” in collaboration with the Embassy of France.
The event aimed to explore key drivers and issues of social change in Pakistan. It brought together a variety of academics and researchers from France, US, Afghanistan and all over Pakistan who presented research papers on this theme. Paula Newberg, Professor & Wilson Chair Fellow, University of Texas-Austin, USA made a special appearance at the event.
In words of Dr Saeed: “This is our response to the growing concern among civil society activists, parents and citizens that public policy and governance issues have not received the attention they deserve from the politicians, elites and policy makers in Pakistan.”
He believes the theme of the conference is timely, relevant and meaningful as “it offers us an opportunity to ask why violence, civil strife and varying varieties of insurgencies are on the rise in Pakistan and Greater South Asia and peace and social justice remains a distant goal.”
During the conference, Dr Saeed pointed out that “the diversity of language, religion and ethnicity makes Pakistan one of the most dynamic societies and yet increasingly the fabric of this society is being torn apart by escalation in violence, religious militancy, street protests and loss of faith in government, rise in the number of ungovernable spaces, thus causing erosion of glue that holds the communities and makes societies resilient and sustainable.” Pursuing democratic governance in Pakistan, he believes, demands imagining a culture of peace and that implies dismantling, disrupting and destroying the nexus of poverty, social injustice and economic inequities.”
The issue of regional security was at the center of discussion. Ehsan Zia, CEO Tadbeer Consulting Inc from Afghanistan, emphasised the need for continuing regional and international support for Afghanistan, if the country is to make this transition successfully.
Dr Ijaz Khan from Peshawar University discussed security imperatives with respect to regional environment as a subject of study. He expressed his opinion that Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Iran appear good example of a region where security policies of different countries are entwined to a level that they cannot be studied in isolation from each other. Besides, he said, the US, Europe, USSR and China are very significant actors in this region and have vital security interests and roles. The way the US policy is implemented in the area, now and post-2014, suggest the internal and regional tensions will continue to lead economic interests.
The issue of the Pakistan’s India-centrism was also raised at the event, with the question of what can be done to reduce it in the long term.
Another highlight of the event was the presentation by Dr Mariam Abu Zahab, Lecturer, Institute of Oriental Languages, Paris, France. She analysed the anti-Shia sentiments in the country. She said, “Shias are more and more designated by the media and the people as the ‘Shia minority’ and in the Pakistani context to designate Shias as a minority is a way of marginalising them and excluding them from the Muslim community.” Besides, she said, “the perception of Shias as a minority is a victory of sectarian discourse in the country.”
She also observed that the (Pakistani) government had been very slow in recognising sectarianism as the core of security challenges faced by the country and no counter narrative has been elaborated by the main political parties”.
There was a dedicated session on governance and terrorism as well. Muhammad Amir Rana, Director Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Islamabad, counted reasons for failure in curbing terrorism. He said coordination and trust was absent among different intelligence and law enforcement departments, and the need for processing of data and analysis of information remained largely ignored. On the other hand, unity among terrorist groups was a source of their strength. They also gained strength from fragmentation and confusion over the war on terror among the security, political and civil society leadership in Pakistan.
“Does bad governance introduce terrorism or does terrorism create bad governance is like putting the horse before the cart” was the premise of Dr Ayesha Siddiqa’s presentation. In her opinion, the terrorism-governance linkage must be examined from the perspective of the nature of a state.
Sino-Pak ties, trust and cooperation, religious militancy & liberal-secular resistance in Pakistan, globalisation, media and religious discourse in Pakistan, Facebook as new public space for youth in Pakistan, leadership, democracy and governance in Pakistan, the Indus Water Treaty and failed economic development were some of other topics discussed at the event.
The conference concluded with a roundtable with the panelists to obtain final comments and thoughts on the conference. Dr Paula Newberg observed that the conference sessions had very rich, robust and respectful discussion and that the tone of narrative was constructive.
Some of the questions brought forth by the panelists for future discussion were: What direction is the strong nationalism in Pakistan going to take? What do we imagine citizenship to look like? How do different factors affect different regions?
Another subject of discussion was that whether the space for dialogue in society is decreasing. There was a consensus on such conferences being a good beginning for creating minimum consensus or reaching commonalities on different issues.