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PAKISTAN’S CHALLENGES: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 2015-2030: Translating aspiration into reality

October 06, 2016

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Respecting the right to life, liberty and security, protecting children against abuse and women against violence are some of the prerequisites for good governance.—White Star
Respecting the right to life, liberty and security, protecting children against abuse and women against violence are some of the prerequisites for good governance.—White Star

- Goal 16 focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies

- Pakistan faces formidable difficulties realising the targets set for SDG 16

THE realisation that the exclusion of improved governance from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda for 2015 was a major cause of the failure of many countries (including Pakistan) to achieve the targets has led to the inclusion of this objective in the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, SDG 16 has all signatories to the new development goals to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” The unexceptionable rationale for this goal, according to the World Bank Group (World Development Indicators 2016), is: “Peaceful nations governed with fairness and transparency, provide the optimal platforms for implementing development strategies and programmes. However, many states are in fragile situations, with citizens and their daily lives compromised by fear, conflict, unjust laws, and opaque governance. The success of the SDGs in such areas depends on achieving livable and calm communities supported by reliable and accountable institutions.”

Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDG 16 has 12 targets that include reduction in violence and related death rates; an end to abuse, trafficking, exploitation, violence and torture of children; rule of law and equal access to justice; substantial reduction in corruption and bribery; effective, accountable and transparent institutions; responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making; provision of legal identity for all, including birth registration; public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms; and strengthening of institutions to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime. Pakistan’s policy-makers are not familiar with such rhetoric. They should recall the charter of responsible governance outlined by the Quaid-i-Azam on August 11, 1947. Mr Jinnah had declared the government’s foremost duties as maintaining law and order so that the life, property and religious beliefs of all were fully protected; to stop bribery and corruption with an iron hand; to have zero tolerance for nepotism and jobbery; to treat religion as citizens’ private affair and guarantee all citizens, regardless of their belief or creed, equal membership of the new nation.

Since May 2014, when the National Economic Council adopted the Pakistan Vision 2025, the official discourse has revolved around seven pillars and 25 goals that include: development of human and social capital; sustained inclusive growth; and energy, water and food security. The gains have been precisely spelt out — from reducing poverty by 50pc by 2025, to winning 25 medals in the Asian Games. However, familiarity with the rhetoric of development and proficiency in fixing eye-catching targets do not necessarily imply possession of the capacity to translate wishes into reality. That said, as things stand, Pakistan faces formidable difficulties in realising the targets set for SDG 16.

The 12 targets can be coalesced into fewer categories by separating tasks that can be completed through administrative tightening up from those that require none-too-easy political and social engineering. For instance, respect for citizens’ rights to life, liberty and security, control of crime, and protection of children against abuse, exploitation and violence can be better secured by enforcing a uniform system of modern policing, that is at present absent, reforming the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, withdrawing unjust laws, judicial reforms, and ensuring proper implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — though all these tasks are easier said than done.

Somewhat harder will be the realisation of goals pertaining to transparency and effective accountability. The fact that the government has been deferring the enactment of the Right to Information bill, that has been hailed by international experts as nearly perfect, is not reflective of its desire to free people of ‘opaque governance’. Likewise the muddied debate on accountability, in which accountability of the other seems to be the motto of the main contenders, does not encourage hope of a breakthrough towards genuine and effective accountability.

The moment there is movement towards the objectives of creating inclusive institutions, equality of citizens and an end to all forms of discrimination on the basis of belief, gender, ethnicity or social status, that we run into barriers erected under the myths about ideology. Removal of these bars will demand greater political foresight and strength of commitment than governments in Pakistan and their opponents have ever demonstrated.

The toughest undertaking will be the creation of a system of governance that is both representative and responsible. Over the years, institutions of democratic governance have been destroyed, not only during frequent spells of authoritarian rule but also by the tendency of elected rulers to adopt authoritarian ways. The country must have governments that function within the Constitution, which do not replace cabinet rule with prime ministerial fiat — for which the Supreme Court recently censured the government.

Pakistan needs a political system that can, for instance, stabilise Balochistan through a political solution addressing the alienation of its people, a system that goes beyond the 18th Amendment (instead of craving for its roll-back), and that is ca­­pable of rejecting the thesis of militant extremists instead of competing with them. If Pakistan cannot move towards a complete overhaul of governance, its objectives and implanted policies, it will not be able to achieve even simpler targets, such as the registration of births and the control of crime, and will remain trapped in a ‘fragile situation.’

The writer is a human rights activist and Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. He can be reached at iarehman2007@gmail.com

Coming next: Looking inwards: the new development paradigm

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2016