KARACHI, Sept 25: Major socio-economic changes are needed in Pakistan in order to convince this country’s citizens not to leave and undertake the often perilous journey to Europe. Among such changes include agrarian reforms, increased social spending and demilitarisation.

This was stated by scholar Dr Azra Talat Sayeed on Wednesday, the second day of a two-day seminar titled ‘Competing approaches to democratisation? Developing world and European Union in comparison’. The seminar, held at a city hotel, was organised by the University of Karachi’s Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad.

Dr Sayeed’s paper focused on the rise of the European far right and the plight of migrants escaping the ‘global South’ and making a beeline for the ‘global North’.

She said there was currently strong anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, particularly against immigrants of colour fuelled by the populist right, coupled with a “strong phobia against Islam”. She added that the European right was working to undermine concepts such as multiculturalism and political correctness. “Their politics is based on colour and religion. They respect other cultures as long as they don’t impinge on Europe.”

Discussing the factors fuelling migration amongst the “professional class” in developing countries, Dr Sayeed said these included positive memories of colonialism as well as a desire for affluence, stability and law and order. On the other hand the working classes, which made up the bulk of migrants, wanted to escape joblessness, ensure survival and improve their quality of life. She added that “oppressive systems, such as feudalism, patriarchy and globalisation were also fuelling migration”.

The scholar pointed out that migrants, specifically those who entered Europe illegally, had to undertake a dangerous journey, while they faced a harsh welcome in European detention camps. She pointed out that sending countries often turned a blind eye to such migration because if the migrants managed to get into Europe, they would at some point start to remit foreign exchange to Pakistan, while the Northern countries also needed migrants to man the low-paid jobs their own citizens were not interested in. “This creates an underclass of migrant workers.”

Earlier, Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said a “heady mix of religion and politics had led to havoc in society”. She observed that elements within the law enforcement agencies had also been radicalised, while the state failed to respond.

According to her, secularism was the only response to Pakistan’s problems. She added that while militants such as the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan were violating the people’s rights, the state’s response was appeasement.

Owais Tohid, senior journalist currently associated with a private news channel, said that because of globalisation the media was not bound by territory anymore. He added that the media faced pressure from both state and non-state actors in Pakistan.

Jami Chandio, who heads a community based organisation, said that despite the bleak scenario, “the democratic urge has not died in Pakistan”, adding that democracy had not been given space to grow in the country.

He said political society could not be strengthened without strengthening political parties, adding that a certain mindset was always critical of political parties, even though it was the parties that struggled for democracy.

Mr Chandio observed that civil society could play a major role in promoting the culture of political audit.

Egyptian crisis

Analyst Zeenia Sadiq Satti said the Egyptian crisis could not be seen in isolation. According to her the Suez Canal was central to the events playing out in Egypt, as the canal offered crucial access to the Indian Ocean basin to the United States and Europe.

She said Egyptian-Chinese relations had started to grow during Hosni Mubarak’s regime and that the “eastward direction of the Egyptian elites was consistent”. This did not sit well with the US, especially when Chinese cash started replacing American aid to the Arab country. “Egypt is an arena of Sino-US rivalry.”

Ms Satti said there were three key factors that made Egypt an important nation in the Middle East; it was the most populous Arab state, it served as a bridge between Asia and Africa while its Sinai peninsula figured in Israel’s security equation, particularly when it came to cutting off Gaza.

The analyst said Egyptian civil society failed to produce a leadership that could rise to the occasion during and after the fall of Mubarak; this paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to step in and fill the void. However, she termed the stand-off between the Brothers and the military an “old conflict being fought in a new strategic environment”, and that this was a confrontation the generals had previously won. She said the current Egyptian crisis would be remembered as “subversion” rather than a revolution.

Dr Samina Khalil, of KU’s Applied Economics Research Centre, spoke on the role of economic stability and level of education in strengthening democratic norms, while Janos Lastofka, deputy head of mission, Embassy of Hungary, Islamabad, spoke on the challenges to democracy in Eastern Europe and the role of the European Union.

Retired Ambassador Shahid Amin presented the concluding remarks of the seminar.

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