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- Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - From Print Edition

When people discuss development, they often discuss economic indicators, social services like health and education, but they seldom discuss the justice system, the process in criminal courts, the condition of prisons, or the nature of law enforcement.

The criminal justice processes and development are intimately connected, and equitable and predictable forms of justice are an absolutely fundamental basis to building a society with a rule of law foundation upon which development and growth can rest.

Why is that the case? And, how do simple processes of justice work to promote economic development and human well-being more broadly? In most countries that experienced colonialism, as Pakistan did, justice systems were established as a form of control. This is a difficult foundation on which to build a more equitable framework for social and criminal justice. But it is a critical requirement for achieving long-term stability, progress and development success.

This year, the Human Development Report (HDR) 2013, published annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasised the extraordinary potential of the Global South, which is positioned like never before to see true economic and social development gains.

Having just consolidated the first successful democratic transition and as one of the foremost multinational urban hubs in Asia, conducting international trade with more than 80 economies, all the indicators look positive for a stable and sustained upward trajectory for Pakistan’s development. However, human well-being and freedom, and their connection with fairness and justice in the world, cannot be reduced simply to the measurement of GDP and its growth rate.

The 2013 HDR identifies four specific areas of focus for ensuring sustained development momentum: enhancing equity, including on the gender dimension; enabling greater voice and participation of citizens, including youth; confronting environmental pressures; and managing demographic change.

Regrettably, Pakistan continues to face challenges on a majority of these. Lack of awareness and ignorance of basic human rights; lack of acceptance of equality; ineffective or corrupt governing institutions; weak systems and procedures within the justice sector; lack of capacity of public delivery mechanisms and lack of political will all hamper Pakistan’s ability to achieve a true, functioning democratic system predicated upon the rule of law, which is available equally to all its citizens.

One challenge that perennially presents itself, and not just in the case of Pakistan but globally amongst the development community, is the tendency to work in uncoordinated silos.

While the equitable and effective application of justice is a fundamental precursor for a modern, democratic society and rule of law, and is the basis on which sustainable economic development should rest, it is often the case that those concerned with governance, justice and social development work in isolation from one another, caught in institutional silos which echo national governance structures.

At a time when security, terrorism and law and order are universally ranked in the top three concerns of citizens across Pakistan, an increasing focus is required on issues of equality, justice, legal empowerment and rule of law. As it stands today, systems of criminal justice in Pakistan are diverse, ranging from informal dispute resolution to formal adjudication based on common law principles. Access to justice is fundamental to the stability of Pakistan by improving trust between citizens and state, yet for many it remains noticeably absent.

The entire justice system continuum, including policing, prosecutions and prisons, needs to operate in coordination, well-capacitated under a clear ethical and just framework. Constant violence and terrorism strains the capacity of weak law-enforcement and criminal justice institutions. Similarly, chronic corruption and marginalised local grievances are having a detrimental impact on Pakistan, with the country lagging behind many other middle-income countries, hampering its economic growth and development progress.

The basic point is that investment in the justice system – not only financially, but also through political will and leadership – is a crucial pre-requisite to long-term economic growth. A working justice system is a precondition for resolving disputes, guaranteeing the security of contracts and ensuring that people look to the state, not to outside interest groups for social, economic and political protection.

National and international experts, policymakers and practitioners need to engage in a dialogue to identify the development and rule of law nexus in order to build a more integrated response. This will require leadership by the government to align priorities between the justice and development actors as well as the international stakeholders.

It is time for Pakistan to establish peace and rule of law in order to achieve progress and prosperity.

The writers are rule of law and criminal justice advisors to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.