Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) has been working in Pakistan since the early 90s, where the FES country office team, as part of a German political foundation with about 100 offices worldwide, focuses on the issues of political dialogue, social equality, worker’s rights and regional peace.
Pakistan, since its contentious founding in 1947, has gone through three wars, a second partition and many upheavals or conflicts—some of them caused by neighbouring countries and outside powers, some of them self-inflicted.
Over the 70 years of its tumultuous history Pakistan’s citizens have shown a remarkable resilience, defying the multiple challenges of natural disasters, economic disadvantages and contested identities. As the world’s sixth most populous country, and the second-largest Muslim one, Pakistan has become a front-line state in a geographical and ideological sense.
Within this context, the FES Pakistan office has been trying to assist its partners in government, parliament and civil society to encourage dialogue on the issues of devolution, economic justice, social protection, labour market regulation and regional security.
“We have been working with the Senate Functional Committee on the implementation of the devolution process as outlined in the 18th constitutional amendment of 2010,” says Rolf Paasch, who oversees the activities of the nine-member team in the country.
“Here the task is to strengthen provincial governments and administrations to perform their new tasks in respect to 27 newly devolved subjects from labour laws to secondary education, and to remind federal government of their administrative and financial responsibilities in the new bureaucratic configuration.”
As a political foundation committed to the tenets of economic and social justice, FES Pakistan is cooperating with a network of progressive economists to establish a public debate beyond growth rates and the arguments of the International Monetary Fund. From the economic benefits of an improved system of social protection to the future of the export industry in a rapidly digitalized global economy, those economists are raising issues which are not being addressed in a rather conservative and formalized debate about economic policies.
Labour relations are another focus of the FES work in Pakistan. Pakistan is part of the GSP+ Program of the European Union: This commits it to the ratification and implementation of 27 international benchmarks concerning labour and human rights in exchange for trade preferences from the EU. Pakistan’s trade unions play an important part in monitoring the GSP-Plus agreement.
Download for free "Executive summary on GSP+ and labour standards in Pakistan: the chasm between conditions and compliance (2017)", a 2017 assessment report compiled by the Pakistan Workers Confederation
At the same time trade unions need to be strengthened to ensure better representation at the workplaces in a hostile environment of weak regulations, uncooperative employers and often colluding labour officials.
With at least two-thirds of all workers (and an even higher percentage of female workers) in the totally unregulated informal sector, the fight for freedom of association, decent work and living wages is one of the most pressing issues for the Pakistani economy, but also for the political health of a country which has to absorb almost 2 million new entrants into an already difficult labour market every year. FES partners like the Pakistan Workers Confederation and the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) are struggling to improve workers’ rights under very adverse conditions.
And lastly, you cannot work in Pakistan while ignoring questions of regional security and its often conflict-prone relations with its neighbours west and east. Together with its sister offices in Kabul and Delhi, FES Pakistan gathers security experts and representatives from media and civil society to discuss cross-border issues, common legacies and their often contentious interpretations.
Needless to say, it takes the engagement of a committed staff to cooperate with various institutional and individual partners over such a wide range of issues. With its three energetic and long-serving project officers and its very experienced administration team, FES Pakistan has a long tradition of mastering the often sensitive task of working with Pakistani partners and experts in an ever-changing environment.
Driven by the personal and institutional values of social justice and citizens’ rights, the FES team remains enthusiastic about better understanding the intricacies of this complex society. We try to be innovative in our approaches by working with partners who, if needed, are also willing to think outside the box.
There are few countries in the world where domestic and regional questions are so interlinked as in Pakistan. The role of religion, civil-military relations and matters of identity remain contested territory and the implicit or explicit backdrop to every political discussion in the country. As such they need to be, directly or indirectly, addressed by studying narratives and make the public aware of their decisive role in any attempt to improve social equality and the quality of life of Pakistani citizens.
FES Pakistan is trying to play its small part in strengthening this fascinating but very complex dialogue about the future of a such a resilient country, so ill-treated by history.
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