An interesting history of foreign funding demands continuous vigilance and probably stringent regulations in certain areas. The current wave of discussions on foreign funding to a political party attracted the attention of the masses. A penny of foreign funding, whether it is political, developmental or academic is unconceivable without an agenda. On the political front, we witnessed both obvious and tacit foreign-funded campaigns and programmes for several political parties. An analysis of international dynamics and our history of relations with other countries clearly indicates that every nation acted in its own interest and played its part in exploiting the sentiments of the masses through carefully designed funded programmes. Almost every political party from right, left and centre looks to be a beneficiary of direct or indirect foreign funding and influence, including those who snatched power without being in any political party.
We need to expand our horizons to accommodate every thought which emerges in our society; we should give due attention, listen to them carefully, try to resolve their concerns to the utmost possibility and publicise all such endeavours for the masses to determine appropriate dimensions. It is all about acceptance at the grassroots level which provides breeding opportunities to ideas and thoughts. Genuine engagements melted several movements in recent history; let people know about every thought which any faction of the society pursues but this awareness has to be through authentic and mainstream sources, not from purposely-built infrastructures for subjective communications or some kind of sponsored programmes and personalities which pollute even straight realities. We witnessed several events in the recent past, from the Iraq war to the campaign in Afghanistan; initiated with the help of popular consensus and also terminated due to growing public opinion against these instances. Now is the time where we cannot survive with narrow views about circumstances; we cannot hide realities from the public, we cannot mould opinions according to our desires—we can only engage with every thought, every viewpoint and every individual to find common grounds and to provide appropriate solutions for all stakeholders.
Academic funding in terms of scholarships and projects are never introduced without plans. Although these programmes are of great value for countries like Pakistan—beneficiaries get access to the latest knowledge, technology trends, evolving thoughts and groomed infrastructures—we still need to understand the deep-rooted agendas in these programmes. On the homepage of the Fulbright programme, it is clearly mentioned that one of the objectives of the programme is mutual understanding between the United States and partner nations; these understandings are tacitly about creating advocates for the US. We are quite familiar with the role of certain graduates of the Russian scholarship. I am personally an advocate of sending our students and academicians to developed nations including China through available scholarship programmes to attain the latest knowledge, because historically such programmes resulted in the transfer of knowledge from developed to less-developed nations. But it doesn’t mean that we remain inattentive on this front. Our relevant bodies, including the HEC 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 through strategic interventions.
The influence of the development sector in developing countries through NGOs, big international charities, social movements and other international organisations is not a hidden fact for many of us. But still we cannot undermine the importance of advocacy, lobbying, rehabilitation and development projects for less privileged segments of the society. Environmental protection, education and awareness of rights, rule of law, freedom and inclusion are indeed important aspects for the development of the society. However, incidences such as DNA sampling through an NGO do shake the trust on projects funded by the NGOs.
There is a huge responsibility on political parties to remain transparent in terms of the funding they receive, especially from overseas. It is probably true that all parties collect funds from expatriates on a regular basis, which I think is not unlawful at all. But political parties should remain vigilant to avoid any trap under this cover. It is the responsibility of the state to channelise all funding extended to any party even being aligned with national policies, as happened frequently in the past, to avoid complications in the future. Once international donors have direct access to any party in the country, then it becomes difficult even for the state to stop the flow of funds. Hidden funding or open acceptance of foreign support certainly needs the attention of law enforcement agencies to stop external interventions. We must promote the rule of law, equal opportunity, equitable progress and the nationhood, to include every stakeholder of society to reap the benefits of a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.