Understanding foreign funding

A huge responsibility lies on political parties to maintain transparency with regard to donations they receive

Understanding foreign funding

Our interesting history of foreign funding demands continuous vigilance. Stringent regulations are therefore needed in certain areas. No wonder allegations of foreign funding to a major political party have attracted the attention of the masses.

Not a penny of foreign funding, whether political, developmental or educational is conceivable today without a donor-driven agenda. On the political front, we have seen both obvious and tacit foreign-funded campaigns and programmes for several political parties.

An analysis of international dynamics and the history of our relations with other countries indicate that every nation has always acted in their own interest. Some have exploited the sentiments of the masses through carefully designed funding programmes. Almost every political party from the right, left and centre has been accused at some point of receiving foreign funding directly or indirectly. Those wielding power without going through a democratic political process too have not escaped such allegations.

Our partnership with international campaigns in Afghanistan opened a huge corridor for other countries to fund political parties to toe their line. This might have seemed appropriate to the policy makers but has, in the long run, proved detrimental for the political ecosystem. There is hardly a donor country that has not sought to influence our decision making and undermine our sovereignty.

International recognition, titles, awards and the prize money associated with those are part of a specific design. It is very hard in the globalised community today to resist such activities. However, states can develop programmes to engage with eminent people and organisations to limit the loss of sovereignty.

Historically, the majorities in our politics have been judgmental and suspicious of the marginalised. The society needs a deliberate effort to expand mental horizons and allow all kinds of thoughts to be expressed freely.

We should give due attention, listen to them carefully and try to address their concerns. We should also publicise such endeavours for the masses to determine their appropriate dimensions. It is all about acceptance at the grassroots level.

In recent history, genuine engagement has resulted in peaceful resolution of some apparently intractable conflicts. There should be an awareness in the society about the ways various segments think. The awareness should come from authentic mainstream sources and not nefarious agenda of any kind.

We should let the market forces determine the appropriate course of events. This can only happen when the masses have access to all versions of truth. Half truths breed confusion and create space for malicious characters to push their agendas. The world has seen many instances of this from the Iraq war to the campaign in Afghanistan.

Our experience of relations with other countries indicates that every nation has always acted in their own interest. Some have exploited the sentiments of the masses through carefully designed funding programmes.

In the contemporary world, states and nations cannot hope to survive by blacking out information. They can no longer hide realities from being public. They cannot always mould opinions according to their desires. They can only engage with different perspectives and argument and offer solutions to the stakeholders.

Funds for scholarships and research projects are never without some agenda and definite plans. These programmes are of great value for countries like Pakistan as their beneficiaries get access to the latest knowledge and technology trends. However, there is a need also to keep an eye on the agendas behind these programmes.

The homepage of the Fulbright scholarship programme, for example, clearly mentions that one of the objectives of the programme is promoting mutual understanding between the United States and partner nations. A measure of success of such understanding is creating advocates for the US.

A report about Chinese students studying in the US highlights a grey area about academic funding. The website mentions: “Chevening supports British foreign policy priorities.” Erasmus declares through its website that strengthening European identity is an objective of the programme. I am personally an advocate of sending our students to developed nations, including China, through all available scholarship programmes to gain the latest knowledge. Historically, such programmes have resulted in transfer of knowledge from the developed to the less developed nations.

But we should be attentive on this front as well. The relevant bodies, including the Higher Education Commission, should have a well-designed programme to listen to all beneficiaries of these programmes and help them align their intellectual attainments for the development of Pakistan.

The influence non-government organisation in the development sector exercise in developing countries is quite clear. Advocacy and lobbying for rehabilitation and development projects for the less privileged segments of the society are important.

Environmental protection, education and awareness, rule of law, freedom and inclusion are important for the development of the society. However, incidents like DNA sampling through an NGO do shake popular trust in projects funded by the NGOs.

A huge responsibility lies on political parties to maintain transparency with regard to the donations they receive, especially from overseas. Probably all major parties receive funds from expatriates on a regular basis. This may not be unlawful but the political parties must remain vigilant and avoid any trap.

The state has a responsibility to monitor all funding to political parties. Once international donors have direct access to a party in the country, it becomes difficult to stop the flow of funds or limit their influence.

The state must promote rule of law and ensure equal opportunity, equitable progress for all citizens.

The writer is an associate   professor of management   sciences and heads the Centre of Islamic Finance at   COMSATS University (CUI), Lahore Campus.   He can be reached at   drabdussattar@cuilahore.edu.pk

Understanding foreign funding