Understanding Foreign Financing | Political economics


OOur interesting history of foreign funding requires constant vigilance. Strict regulations are therefore necessary in certain areas. No wonder the allegations of foreign funding of a major political party have captured the attention of the masses.

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

An analysis of international dynamics and the history of our relations with other countries indicates that each nation has always acted in its own interest. Some have tapped into the feelings of the masses through carefully designed fundraising schemes. Almost every right, left and center political party has at some point been accused of receiving foreign funding directly or indirectly. Those who wield power without going through a democratic political process have also not escaped such allegations.

Our partnership with international campaigns in Afghanistan has opened a huge corridor for other countries to fund political parties to toe their line. This might have seemed appropriate to policy makers but proved, in the long run, to be detrimental to the policy 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 prize money associated with these are part of a specific design. It is very difficult in today’s globalized community to resist such activities. However, states can develop programs to engage with prominent individuals and organizations to limit the loss of sovereignty.

Historically, majorities in our politics have been judgmental and suspicious of the marginalized. Society needs a deliberate effort to expand mental horizons and allow all kinds of thoughts to express themselves freely.

We must give them due attention, listen to them carefully and try to address their concerns. We should also publicize these efforts for the masses to determine their appropriate dimensions. It’s a matter of local acceptance.

In recent history, genuine engagement has resulted in the peaceful resolution of some seemingly intractable conflicts. There should be an awareness in society about how different segments think. Awareness must come from genuine traditional sources and not from a harmful agenda of any kind.

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

Our experience of relations with other countries indicates that each nation has always acted in its own interest. Some have tapped into the feelings of the masses through carefully designed fundraising schemes.

In the contemporary world, States and nations cannot hope to survive by withholding information. They can no longer prevent realities from being public. They cannot always shape their opinions according to their wishes. They can only engage with different perspectives and arguments and offer solutions to stakeholders.

Funds for scholarships and research projects are never without a clear agenda and plans. These programs are of great value to countries like Pakistan as their beneficiaries have access to the latest trends in knowledge and technology. However, it is also necessary to keep an eye on the agendas behind these programs.

The homepage of the Fulbright Fellowship Program, for example, clearly mentions that one of the goals of the program is to promote mutual understanding between the United States and partner countries. A measure of the success of such an understanding is the creation of advocates for the United States.

A report on Chinese students studying in the United States highlights a gray area regarding college funding. The website says: “Chevening supports UK foreign policy priorities.” Erasmus states on its website that strengthening European identity is an objective of the programme. I am personally in favor of sending our students to developed countries, including China, through all available scholarship programs to acquire the latest knowledge. Historically, these programs have resulted in a transfer of knowledge from developed countries to less developed countries.

But we also have to be careful on this front. Relevant bodies including the Higher Education Commission should have a well-designed program to listen to all recipients of these programs and help them align their intellectual attainments for the development of Pakistan.

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

Environmental protection, education and awareness, rule of law, freedom and inclusion are important for the development of society. However, incidents such as DNA collection through an NGO undermine popular confidence in NGO-funded projects.

A huge responsibility rests with political parties to maintain transparency regarding the donations they receive, especially from abroad. Probably all major parties regularly receive funds from expatriates. This may not be illegal, but political parties must remain vigilant and avoid any traps.

The state is responsible for overseeing all political party funding. 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 the rule of law and ensure equal opportunity and fair progress for all citizens.

The writer is an associate management teacher sciences and directs the Center for Islamic Finance in COMSATS University (CUI), Lahore Campus. He can be reached at [email protected]

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