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Monday January 30, 2023

Justice for Pakistan?

October 19, 2022

As Pakistan’s coalition government locks horns with former prime minister Imran Khan to force the latter to step back from his coming protest march, real-life issues across the country remain more than half neglected.

The destruction caused by this year's floods continues to unleash widening consequences for people in their daily lives. Across the streets of Pakistan, there is little relief in sight for ordinary households suffering from rampant inflation in daily lives, notably targeting low-income consumers.

For Pakistan’s mainstream households, the battle against fast-shrinking personal budgets remains unending. In brief, the matter of justice for the broad majority of Pakistanis has never been similarly in danger of being lost.

Across the power corridors of Islamabad, the twin primary obsessions remain the immediate response to Imran Khan’s plans while keeping the country solvent. And it is just hard to fault the ruling structure and its leaders for appearing to neglect the fast downward slide in living conditions across the grassroots of Pakistan. With the ruling structure’s survival prospectively at stake, tackling longer-term challenges must take a back seat.

As for Khan, the obsession with tearing down the ruling structure to return to power indeed appears to overlook the enormity of challenges surrounding today’s Pakistan. With the lives of more than 33 million Pakistanis or a seventh of the country’s population clearly disrupted from recent floods, the human catastrophe across the country has few precedents in Pakistan’s 75-year history.

Though the earthquake of 2005 took a larger death toll with more than 70,000 casualties, the country did not face a similar sense of alarm over the future. Tragically today, the floods have come as a powerful reminder of more similar tragedies induced by climate change to follow in the coming years.

Aside from a UN-led global appeal for aid to Pakistan along with the government’s own decisions to help the victims, the one yawning gap is much too big to be ignored – the matter of assuring justice for the most vulnerable Pakistanis. This year's catastrophe has badly exposed gaps in state provided administrative systems in key areas like healthcare or education that have eroded over time. Even before the floods, ordinary Pakistanis drew little comfort from the state coming to their rescue in their darkest hour with ordinary citizens forced to turn towards state provided healthcare or education to serve their needs.

Besides, the assurance of a fair system of law and order vanished long ago from Pakistan. With scores of well-documented accounts of the police only delivering injustice in one case after another over past decades, its clear that Pakistanis became deprived of their fundamental right to security.

The destruction caused by the floods has unleashed a palpable sense of alarm across Pakistan. But fixing the damage will be more about fixing the rot than dealing with just the immediate challenge. Given the enormity of the damage, Pakistan’s political foes must opt to halt their ongoing turf battles and focus on first agreeing to tackle the immediate and long-term challenges faced by the country.

For the sake of argument, even if Imran Khan is successful in forcing a change of regime in Islamabad, he will face daunting challenges that will only undermine a future government.

On the contrary, a new way forward must be built upon Pakistan’s political rivals agreeing on three equally vital reforms for the future.

First, Pakistan’s bleeding economy must be rescued from its growing indebtedness caused by a largely loss-making public sector. Entities such as Pakistan International Airlines or Pakistan Railways or Pakistan Steel Mills, to name some of the most prominent proverbial white elephants, together gobble up billions of Rupees in annual losses. Consequently, Pakistan has been saddled with recurring debt year after year from loss making companies. Given the resistance from powerful factions to sweeping reforms, notably privatization of such entities, it is vital that Pakistan’s leadership stakeholders together agree on tackling this curse.

Second, with the law and order maintenance clearly left in tatters, a series of bold reforms are necessary with the full backing of all political parties and institutions across the board. Without guaranteed maintenance of law and order to protect Pakistan’s citizens, the country’s political, economic and societal future will remain in jeopardy. Unless sweeping reforms are undertaken with the backing of all stakeholders, it is hard to imagine Pakistan’s return to stability in the foreseeable future.

Finally, contenders for Pakistan’s leadership must agree to reform the structure of political representation. Tragically, today’s structure – from the grassroots to parliament – has outlived its utility while positions of leadership are left only for those with deep pockets. Unless the mantle of leadership becomes accessible to individuals across the board, it is hard to imagine future elected representatives becoming more attuned to issues along the grassroots of Pakistan. And that, sadly, will keep elected representatives detached from the lives of their constituents.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at: farhanbokhari@gmail.com

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