Philanthropic giving in Pakistan doubled between 2000 and 2010, from Rs70 billion to Rs140 billion, according to the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. Although it seems like an exciting statistic, it does not seem so thrilling when someone figures out that it conveys only about 7% annualised growth over a decade. The potential for charitable giving and philanthropic contributions is even more, if it is organised systematically and formally. A lot of philanthropic activity goes unaccounted as it is channelled informally.
According to Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi, Head of Department of Management Sciences at Comsats Lahore, who has published extensive research on the topic, the civil society of Pakistan depicts even more exceptional philanthropic depth.
Some political parties, like Jamaat-e- Islami Pakistan (JIP), Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have charitable organisations running parallel to their political efforts. These initiatives help in gathering political support for their respective parties. This is a curious phenomenon, as apparently philanthropy and charity are used to influence politics.
The causality of the relationship between non-governmental organisations, multilateral organisations and governments is well-established — the latter two provide financial and non-financial support to the first. The underlying assumption is that the donors do not have a political agenda behind their support.
Motive and use of donations
There have been accusations by some circles that donations originating from some countries had in the past been politically motivated. Direct involvement of governments of such countries in such politically-motivated donations has never been confirmed.
Keeping aside the political agenda of international donations to the charitable sector in Pakistan, it is interesting to look into the objectives of charitable activities of the political parties in Pakistan. Al-Khidmat Foundation, associated with JIP, claims to offer social services on purely humanitarian basis, without any reference to religious, political and social status of the targeted communities. However, it is not a secret that Al-Khidmat Foundation is, in essence, a soft and subtle campaign for JIP.
Similarly, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital (SKMCH) has assumed a kind of central position in the political legitimacy and credentials of the founder of PTI, Imran Khan. Minhajul Quran International collects millions of dollars on an annual basis from philanthropists and others, which are used for a socio-economic infrastructure that the charity has developed over the last two decades. This infrastructure has proven to be a significant support factor in the political rise of PAT.
While SKMCH is highlighted as a huge philanthropic contribution of Khan, Sharif Medical City, founded and run by the ruling Sharif family has been of marginal interest to the political analysts and enthusiastic youth of Pakistan. This is primarily because of the deliberate approach by the Sharif family not to bring their philanthropic initiatives into the political domain. This is probably due to the fact that most of the “private” academic and professional educational institutions are run under not-for-profit trusts, of which one runs Sharif Medical City.
The likes of SKMCH, Al-Khidmat Foundation and Minhajul Quran International have given birth to what may be termed as philanthrocracy. This philanthrocratic structure allows the influential families and large businesses to pour large sums of money indirectly into politics in a tax efficient manner. Although there is no credible evidence to support this but there is a need to investigate if such philanthropic contributions are used for whitening black money of these families and businesses. In USA, there is an increasing awareness about what is now being called philanthrocapitalism – a phenomenon through which billionaires and other rich families channel their philanthropic funds to pursue their business interests by way of lobbying through charitable organisations.
Philanthrocracy in Pakistan, on the other hand, is being used by influential families to use their charitable contributions to pursue their political interest. It is not just the educational institutions, hospitals and other welfare organisations run by Minhajul Quran International, Al-Khidmat Foundation or charitable trusts of Khan, which make up of the philanthrocacy in Pakistan. Other academic institutions – likes of Beaconhouse schools and the university run by the group, Punjab Group of Colleges and the universities run by the group, Muhammad Ali Jinnah University and many more – are all part of this new philanthrocratic structure. Consequently, the families behind such trusts and other not-for-profit organisations are playing an increasingly influential role in politics.
While many analysts tend to criticise mixing of business and politics, it is equally important to investigate the link. One may find a definite one between charity, philanthropic giving and the rise of politics of protest in the country.