A week ago news headlines were focussing on a report on Pakistan from the House of Commons International Development Committee. From a wide ranging report the issue which received almost all the attention was the weakness of the Pakistani income tax system. As the report’s summary concluded: ‘We cannot expect the people in the UK to pay taxes to improve education and health in Pakistan if the Pakistan elite is not paying income tax’.
The committee also concluded that the UK should continue to give aid to Pakistan, reflecting both its levels of poverty and its importance in relation to international politics and security. Some 60 million people (one in three) in Pakistan live in poverty. Half of all adults, and two out of every three women, are illiterate. One in 11 children die before their fifth birthday, and 12,000 women die in childbirth every year. Nearly half of children under five suffer from stunted growth, which affects brain development and reduces their ability to learn. Pakistan has had repeated crises such as the floods in 2010 and 2011. Entrenched poverty is denying opportunities to millions of people and undermining Pakistan's long term stability and prosperity. Tackling poverty and building a prosperous democratic Pakistan will help not only millions of poor Pakistanis, but will also improve stability in Pakistan, the region, and beyond.
There is also a strong link between the UK and Pakistan based on imperial history but, more important now, the over a million members of the British Pakistani diaspora.
Issues around Pakistan and the diaspora featured in a set of events we held jointly in 2011 with the web-site and network The Samosa and London Metropolitan University. A recurrent theme of conversation has been the need to project more positive images of Pakistan and to seek both to celebrate the role the diaspora plays in supporting community-based charitable efforts in Pakistan and to encourage more and deeper links.
Today on the RSA website we taking the project to the next stage. We are providing a platform for young filmmakers and citizen journalists in Pakistan who have produced short films highlighting the work of community activists, charitable organisations and social innovators. We are partnering universities in Karachi and Lahore and UK universities including London Metropolitan whose film school students are contributing to the project.
Browsing the films, I have been impressed by what I have seen of civil society and welfare organisations in Pakistan and the hard work done by many them in the face of very challenging circumstances. We are well aware of the problems of violence, poverty, extremism and conflict in the country. Yet clearly there are also resilient social and welfare structures that manage to function in the most difficult of circumstances such as the work of the Edhi Foundation and The Citizens Foundation.
For more detail on this whole topic it’s worth a listen to Anwar Akhtar who set up the Samosa speaking as part of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Four Thought’ strand.
Although it has taken a lot of work to get to this stage (we are grateful for support from the Foreign Office), whether the project goes any further now depends on the reaction we receive. If the films generate interest and enthusiasm our hope is that the next stage might have two elements. The first is strengthening links and conversation between charities and social enterprises working in Pakistan and those operating out of the British Pakistani diaspora. These organisations will be working in very different circumstances but the sense is that on both sides there is scope for greater mutual support and sharing of experiences and ideas. Second, we would like potentially to explore the scope for developing some kind of crowd funding mechanism to enable members of the diaspora (and anyone else enthusiastic about progressive change in Pakistan) to invest in the most interesting social enterprises emerging in Pakistan.
This is a small scale and experimental project for the RSA but it speaks to our desire to have a more diverse Fellowship and to be more international in our focus. We will know in a couple of weeks whether there is a basis for taking the project forward so please have a look at the films and pass them onto your networks.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.