August 14, 2023
Politics in Development
On 14 August 2023, Pakistan commemorates 76 years of independence, coming at an important crossroads in the history of the country. Still impacted, one year on, by the 2022 floods, an economic shock and a heavy debt burden, the country will now choose its representatives in a general election – representatives whose task will be to return Pakistan to a resilient, sustainable, and prosperous development pathway.
Over the last fifteen years of continued parliamentary democracy, Pakistan has experienced rigorous elections campaigning by political parties comprising public rallying, animated public discourse and intense stakeholder engagement on key policy issues. This election year is already witnessing increased political activity and debate, especially on the subjects of accountability, transparency, economic stability and poverty alleviation.
These subjects were particularly vivid in the 2023 Pakistan Governance Forum recently convened in Islamabad by the Ministry of Planning, Development & Special Initiatives, where senior policymakers, civil society, youth representatives, academics and more explored how stable, transparent, agile, and responsible governance strengthens state-society relations and protects the social contract. So, alongside governance issues, and as political parties seek re-election in 2023, they will be expected to meaningfully address in their election platforms the most pressing public concerns in contemporary Pakistan.
How can election platforms speak to Pakistan’s most pressing sustainable development needs, and what’s at stake?
Historically, election years have served as an important milestone in shaping the country’s multi-year governance agendas and policies. The 2023 election offers another opportunity to the country’s political, parliamentary, and governance stakeholders to present viable policy visions to the people. Pakistan needs sustained policy commitments and clear pathways for macroeconomic stabilization and inclusive growth; equitable resource allocation down to the local government tiers; improved governance; and access to justice. Political and policy commitments made in the coming elections will need to put a premium on informed and inclusive engagement with constituencies and stakeholders to generate a broad-based consensus on development priorities.
At the top of the priority list is the country’s development trajectory, which has been incremental. Alongside impressive policy gains undertaken to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pakistan has shown modest progress of an overall SDGs index score improvement by 19.5 percent from the baseline of 2015. With a recent disruption in its growth trajectory and increased debt burden, the fiscal space for adequate development expenditure in Pakistan has decreased even further.
The UNDP global Human Development Report 2022 shows Pakistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) rank experiencing no positive change, and remaining fixed at the 161st place globally in 2021, 2020 and 2019. The UNDP Pakistan National Human Development Report on Inequality 2020 detailed how the country’s allocation on education, health services, and social protection programmes is lower than its neighbouring countries, which spend a higher share of their GDP on human development and consequently have higher HDI rankings. One-third of human development achievements in Pakistan are lost due to inequality.
And, although the economy is projected by the World Bank to grow modestly at 0.4 percent in 2023, it is difficult to have any impactful growth when faced with the multidimensional challenges and crises like the 2022 floods and global inflation that have impacted every individual, especially the most vulnerable. Despite the addition to the already-heavy debt burden, the IMF package agreed in June 2023 provided timely relief to the economy. The country needs to annually spend 16 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) until 2030 to achieve the SDGs, with an annual financing gap for the SDGs at US$3.72 billion for 2020-2030.
How, where and with whom this expenditure takes place will be critical for policy- and decision-makers following the election. More than a decade after the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment (2010), the provincial governments are picking up pace for devolved development. However, governance systems in Pakistan still face structural challenges, including procedural, legal, capacity and resource constraints.
Addressing issues of human capital and technology gaps will also be critical for recalibrating development prospects in the country. Women constitute 48.5 percent of the population of Pakistan (per the last census of 2017), but the country is ranked in the bottom five countries of the world (142 out of 146) on the Global Gender Gap Index 2023. Pakistan has experienced significant growth in information and communications technology, but only 45 percent of the population own mobile phones, and only 17 percent have access to the internet. In its latest report on Human Capital Index (HCI), the World Bank has recorded Pakistan’s HCI value at 0.41 -- lower than the South Asia average of 0.48 and more comparable to those in Sub-Saharan Africa at an average HCI value of 0.40.
By prioritising sustainable economic growth, livelihood creation and resilience, investments in health, education and digitization, and social safety nets, political parties can ensure that the dividends of development reach Pakistan’s most vulnerable population segments. Political parties and institutions also need to challenge the country’s biased gender norms and support comprehensive gender mainstreaming strategies to ensure no women are left behind. Finally, they need to commit to sustainable environmental policies, including promoting renewable energy sources, conservation of forests and water resources, and measures to mitigate climate change.
A tall order? Yes, it is, but not out of reach if principles of equality, inclusion, transparency, risk management and mitigation are the bedrock for development policy and programming.
January 2023 marked the start of a new 5-year Country Programme signed between UNDP and the Government of Pakistan, aligned with the UN system’s Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework. Over the next five years, we will work on governance, sustainable/green/inclusive economic transformation, climate resilience, and gender equality. Elected leaders and representatives will be our partners for this programming period -- a partnership, alongside many development actors in the UN system and beyond, that will frame our development action for the people of Pakistan ahead of the 2030 milestone.
So, on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day and the forthcoming election, this 10th anniversary edition of DAP intends to enrich the national policy discussion by focusing on the theme of ‘Politics in Development’. It offers a space that represents a broad spectrum of ideas and perspectives, although not exhaustive. Political parties and their elected representatives committing to sustainable and inclusive development targets in election platforms as well as their progress tracking can significantly bridge the public trust deficit, aid in public-private and citizens’ solutions, and help Pakistan navigate its path towards a resilient and equitable future.