Improving access to justice

The Lahore High Court’s recent decision to move more cases to its Rawalpindi and Multan benches is a welcome effort to increase the ease of access to justice for millions of residents of Punjab who earlier had to travel for as much as six or seven hours from Mianwali and Bhakkar, respectively, to get to the court’s principal seat in Lahore. The burden was even greater on poor litigants, whose choice was to either travel for essentially a whole day to get to and from the principal seat and their hometowns, or arrange to spend the night in Lahore. Reducing travel time allows most litigants to make round trips from most areas in less than half a day, meaning they could probably travel in both directions on the same day without significant hardship.

High courts should actively examine ways to make it easier for litigants to approach the court by assigning districts to the nearest registries to districts based on ease of travel. In many cases, including those of Mianwali and Bhakkar, improvements in road infrastructure have made the old jurisdiction maps outdated. Khushab, for example, is also slightly closer to Rawalpindi than Lahore, and some such cases also occur in other provinces. The court administrations should also examine previous proposals to open a few new benches. A previous rejected proposal from lawyers called for four new LHC benches. Not only was this a bit much, but three of the districts would probably not significantly improve ease of access for citizens outside of the districts themselves. But the province could certainly do with at least one new bench in the fourth suggestion, Faisalabad, which is a large city in its own right and is ideally located to improve access from central Punjab districts that are relatively far from both Rawalpindi and Lahore.

While it is also important to avoid unnecessarily burdening the exchequer with new benches if they cannot absorb a justifiable caseload, all of the provincial high courts, but especially Balochistan, would benefit from adding one new bench each.

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Born in Pakistan

AS part of a global research project on forced migration, I was able to listen closely to the stories of children who had perhaps one, perhaps two parents of Afghan origin, and whose only memories were of life in Pakistan. The most powerful, common motif reverberating through their experiences was: `I was born here`.

In September 2023, an announcement was made giving undocumented families and individuals of Afghan origin a deadline of Nov 1 to exit the country. This impacts an estimated 1.7 million people, and includes communities that have experienced protracted displacement since the 1980s. For many, a second and often a third generation of children has grown up in Pakistan.

However, without pathways to citizenship, their position has remained insecure even for registered refugees, Proof of Registration (PoR) or Afghan Citizen cards have been subject to renewal after a certain time period.

What, then, is identity? If identity is a document, then it could be a valuable key opening doors to education, livelihoods, the dream of a future different from that of an uprooted generation. The POR or Afghan Citizen card fit into some doors, enabling bright-eyed young people to enter formal schools and build, brick by brick, those imagined futures. But identity as a document can be a vanishing key, as many now fear deportation in the second phase of the plan as currently shared.

The fear of repatriation was one reason why some of the most vulnerable communities often in informal, urban contexts chose to remain invisible, even if that meant giving up even the most basic rights. There was nothing promised to them, yet they fought to stay moving multiple times, even from the rubble of bulldozed settlements. Perhaps, then, identity is more than a piece of paper, and has something to do with homes built and rebuilt, relationships forged, childrenborn and raised.

They were born here. When embracing friends, saying goodbye, tearing up at the border while facing uncertainty ahead, a voice somewhere whispers: they belong here.In a parallel reality, children born in Pakistan would have had access to the same kind of birthright citizenship, according to the 1951 Citizenship Act, as those who came as refugees to the country in 1947. They would be able to open bank accounts, own property, enrol in schools with the confidence that comes from a secure national identity. In this alternative vision, they would have the responsibilities that come with citizenship rights, part of a social contract and contributing to a shared and harmonious future.

But our reality is less than utopian, with a crippling economic crisis and worsening security conditions driving both public and policy reac-tions. One question is whether the sudden exodus of Afghan communities will truly impact, for the better, the fuel prices having a paralytic effect on families in Pakistan or the rising threat of violence from angered Taliban neighbours.

For the children and families now being sent toholding centres or across the border,the signs are pointing to a humanitarian and `human rights catastrophe`, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. It will be the latest wave of disruption and displacement, this time to a barely post-war pariah country with little international support, and few or no remaining personal networks to moor them. The likely scenario will be the setting up of yet more camps during a harsh winter, with little time to prepare for their arrival and basic survival in terms of food and shelter, let alone livelihoods and education. The journey itself is fraught with physical protection risks for women and children, who are ever the most vulnerable in a crisis. Once there, unlessthere are provisions for protection, sanitation and hygiene in camp conditions, there will once more not only be risks in terms of disease but also physical and sexual violence.

They were refugees here. And if they go `back` to Afghanistan in this way, they will be refugees there. In the medium term, there are big question marks surrounding livelihoods and education, and whether Afghanistan has the capacity to absorb such a large number of people. For children, sudden and involuntary migration can have a deeply traumatic impact for which there are unlikely to be psychosocial support mechanisms, or the provision of safe and child-friendly spaces that can provide stability. In fact, there is a high likelihood of families relying on negative coping strategies such as early marriage and child labour to survive. Girls are expressing terror at the prospect oflosingtheir chance to go to school, in the only country where female education is banned.

As of Nov 5, an estimated 128,000 people have left via Torkham. While this is a fraction of the intended numbers, there are reports of minors being separated from caregivers, and of Pakistani Pakhtun minors being mistakenly sent across the border. If anything, all this indicates that an undertaking of this magnitude needs more time, careful planning and communication across stakeholders including governments, UN agencies, civil society and individuals at risk to ensure that any return is truly what we as a country have for decades promised it will be: voluntary, safe and dignified.

Identity is a tangled mesh of past and present.

For third-generation children, growing up in a `host` country means their identities are informed by transmitted memories and culture but also very much by their lives and experiences in the only home they have known. We owe it to them to consider them, their protection and rights in any next steps, so they can say with pride that they were born in Pakistan. • The writer is the founder of a children`s non-profit.

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Environmental laws

Environmental laws codify our right to kill. They sanctify our mechanical and chemical warfare against systems that sustain life. They enable the undoing of the formation of a unique and irreplaceable living world. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution can be spoiled in the time it takes to print a pile of paper.

Enabled by laws, businesses impose cattle ranching on public lands. They stamp out savannahs and woodlands for feed crops. They’re still drilling sensitive ecosystems for oil and gas; they’re still exploding mountains for coal. They’re wrecking sacred places, even mining the ocean floor, seeking metals and minerals for electric vehicle components. Roads proliferate. Drivers come and go, spreading fumes, rubber, microplastics, and oil as they move.

The Endangered Species Act nods begrudgingly to nonprofits that scrimp and save up for their last-minute flurries of activity, usually to save a single species, and sometimes after the fact. Intermittent pauses in the human plundering project take years to apply, case by case. In contrast, billions of dollars for murderous, ecocidal wars and occupations are fast-tracked and shepherded behind the political scenes.

And we compound our going-forth and our multiplication through the purpose-breeding of other animals. And in our sprawling cities, towns, and animal husbandry operations, we create a standard of living that’s well beyond our due. Some scientists call this overshoot. Some politicians have noticed it, too, but they are considered outliers by the self-styled masters of the political world.

As for humanity as a whole, our exploitive treatment of nonhuman life is suffocating oceans, damaging atmospheric systems, and driving an extinction crisis. Two of every five known amphibian communities are at risk of disappearing forever. We’re trafficking bees at staggering rates in international commerce, yet neglecting indigenous bees at the brink of collapse. There’s an urgent need for political work that moves our energies and our subsidies from animal agribusiness to animal-respecting agriculture. In other words, to support systems based on growing food – not grazing, not feed. Can nonhuman rights make environmental law more powerful? Could nonhuman rights – not based on iconic species but rather for interconnected, untamed communities – bring about a humanity that could ever hope to honestly call itself sustainable? That is the question.

To be meaningful, nonhuman rights must be culture-shifting. But legal rights operate within human-created systems – infusing nonhuman rights with an inherent contradiction. The idea of animal liberation has deeper, broader potential, as animal liberation is a challenge to human supremacy. Liberation suggests we stop confining, tormenting, and purpose-breeding others.

Excerpted: ‘Environmental Law Is Losing the Plot. What Now?’ Courtesy:

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COP28: Pakistan’s narrative ( Part – I)

The boilerplate is reductive but straightforward. One, Pakistan is one of the most affected countries by climate change. Two, climate change is not a problem created by (or contributed to) Pakistan. Three, Pakistan is a developing country with limited resources and funding. Four, the international community needs to help Pakistan overcome the gargantuan challenge of climate finance.

Pakistan has maintained this narrative at every international forum. Statistics like “Pakistan contributes to less than one percent of global emissions”, and “floods in 2022 cause 30 billion dollars of damage” are often leveraged to make this case, and the principal negotiators, despite having substantially differing positions in their personal capacities, reinforce the state’s narrative.

Objectively, there is nothing fundamentally incorrect about the state narrative on climate change. In its distilled, rehearsed form, it is factual and compelling. However, it is also deeply problematic, and it creates more problems than it solves, and arguably, it solves almost nothing.

Let us break it down point-by-point.

First, Pakistan is indeed one of the most affected countries. It is often stated that Pakistan ranks eight globally, but after the floods that wreaked havoc across the country in 2022, the World Food Program (WFP) ranked Pakistan as the third most affected country. The floods destroyed 1.2 million acres of arable land at a time when Pakistan was already importing nearly $8 billion worth of food to meet its citizens’ needs. These floods would inevitably affect food security in the country and put pressure on an already stressed system.

There is quite a bit of nuance here; for example, the fact that the floods are also resulting in a dramatic increase in bonded labour across Pakistan, and the fact that if we were to make efficiency-focused adjustments along the agricultural value chain, Pakistan would no longer need to import any food, thus mitigating food insecurity as a consideration when it comes to climate risk calculations.

Second, climate change is certainly not a problem created by Pakistan. GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions are a result of the rapid industrialization over the last century by developed nations (sometimes reductively clubbed together as the ‘Global North’), and Pakistan has only recently started contributing significantly to this number, and that contribution still remains below the one per cent threshold. It is also true that if Pakistan were to stop all emissions today, and magically achieve Net Zero, it would make no change to the 1.5-degree world.

However, there are at least two problems with this narrative. Mathematically, 1% of a really large number is also a really large number, and since Pakistan has committed to a 50% reduction (conditionally) in emissions, there is a clear and present need to work towards zero emissions. Additionally, three of the ten smoggiest cities in the world are in Pakistan, with Lahore topping the list. This cancerous air quality has a direct bearing on citizen’s health, the additional stress on the healthcare system due to a sharp spike in pulmonary diseases, and life expectancy.

Third, Pakistan certainly has limited resources, and very few means (at present) to generate additional income. Pakistan has gone through one of the worst economic downturns in the history of the country. The combined external and domestic debt is soaring at $215 billion, which accounts for 73 per cent of the GDP. The reason for this is Pakistan’s perennial inability to (internally) rationalize its income (tax and non-tax) with its expenses, and (externally) its net flow of dollars, resulting in a perpetual current account deficit (CAD). However, missing from the narrative is the fact that Pakistan can dramatically improve its revenue collection by taxing two major sectors that not only have a heavy carbon footprint but have historically been given leeway by the elites to park their money: agriculture and real estate.

The key insight here is that Pakistan will have to solve a large portion of its short to medium-term climate financing needs through internal adjustments, a key component of which is upscaled revenue generation and the dismantling of elite capture.

Fourth, the international community should absolutely help Pakistan meet its climate financing needs both through grants and green debt swaps (among other instruments). However, these are long-term gains and are unlikely to have any significant bearing on Pakistan’s climate change crisis. International climate financing instruments in the past, like the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have not resulted in significant investments in Pakistan (admittedly a major reason being internal and institutional capacity).

The Loss and Damage Fund (L&D) established at COP27 is unlikely to bring any meaningful climate financing to Pakistan in the short to medium term, and there are indicators that it may be torpedoed at COP28, with the US insisting that no commitments to the L&D be binding. This underlines the key takeaway from the third point above, that Pakistan needs to look elsewhere, most importantly internally to solve many of its climate change issues.

Part II of this series will look at what Pakistan can do to revamp its narrative and portray itself as a responsible member of the international community.

To be continued

The writer is director for growth and strategy at Tabadlab Pakistan. He tweets @zeesalahuddin, and can be reached at:

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If Balochistan prospers, so will Pakistan

Since the very beginning, the Baloch have been suffering at the hands of political elites.

Balochistan province is far from development in terms of social, political, cultural and economic aspects. Since the creation of Pakistan, the province has been lagging behind in mentioned areas. Public sector departments like education and health continue to bear the brunt of the negligence of authorities. People in much of the province also suffer from lack of basic amenities like potable water, proper sanitation, adequate electricity and gas supply, uninterrupted internet connection, proper road infrastructure, efficient transport system, etc. People have thus become hostile to the political elites of Balochistan and other developed provinces such as Punjab. This dislike, if not hatred, of other provinces has created ethnic apartheid in the country.

Since the very beginning, the Baloch have been suffering at the hands of political elites, besides being mired in ethnic problems. This has resulted in high unemployment, poor health facilities and low-quality education in the country. Currently, Balochistan has the highest unemployment rate in the country at over 4%. The lack of job opportunities in Balochistan makes the youth of the province more vulnerable compared to those in other provinces.

Health infrastructure paints a grim picture. Due to poor budget allocation and biased behaviour of political parties towards the people of the province, the situation in the health sector continues to worsen. According to one estimate, there is only 1 doctor for every 7,300 people in Balochistan.

The education sector too does not offer anything to write home about. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that only 29% of the female and 40% of the male population go to school and 66% of the children work as child labour.

About 5.94% of Pakistan’s population, or 13 million, reside in Balochistan which is the biggest province of Pakistan in terms of area, as it is spread over 347,190 sq km or 43% of the total area of the country.

The province is rich in natural resources, such as mineral deposits, as well as human resources. If these resources are properly utilised, the socio-economic condition of the province, and the entire of Pakistan, can be improved. Natural resources in the province include gold, copper, oil, precious stones, chromite and natural gas. It also has a 750km long coastline that runs along one of the world’s most important sea lanes, the Strait of Hormuz.

Given these resources, one can safely say that the prosperity of Pakistan is linked with the prosperity of Balochistan. A high employment rate or high per capita income in the province can significantly contribute to the national economy; a high literacy rate can bring out intellectuals with vision for the country; and state-of-the-art medical facilities can provide a healthy mind along with a healthy body. All these factors have the potential to produce vibrant and enthusiastic youths who can serve to propel the GDP growth and improve the standard of living of the people.

Moreover, the launch of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought hope for local and regional uplift. Through CPEC Special Economic Zones, foreign investment will come to the region. Electronic, automotive, pharmaceutical and ceramic industries will flourish in the region and the establishment of power plants will overcome the energy shortage in the province and the country. Likewise, extraction of natural resources will increase the country’s exports, resulting in better lifestyle of the local people. Residents will also get locally produced products at a low price.

There is no denying that Balochistan has been suffering from poor economic conditions since the very beginning. The local leadership has failed to utilise the abundant natural resources to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the province. Feudal landlords have destroyed the political system of the province.

To conclude one must say that the prosperity of Balochistan, which is blessed with vast natural reserves, ensures the prosperity of Pakistan; and CPEC holds the key in this regard.

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Murky air

AQLI report reveals Pakistan world’s fourth most polluted country.

The recent Air Quality Index recordings, reaching a staggering 442 in the morning, signify not only a public health emergency but also a stark reminder of the environmental challenges that Lahore faces. Despite the Punjab government’s declaration of smog as a calamity and its pledge to implement stringent measures, the city’s air quality remains distressingly hazardous. Various areas in Lahore, including Polo Ground Cantt, Lahore American School and DHA, report alarming AQI levels that surpass the safety benchmark by a significant margin. Unfortunately, the smog situation persists despite the government claims of shutting down brick kilns and taking action against vehicular pollution.

The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report further compounds the gravity of the situation, revealing that Pakistan is the world’s fourth most polluted country. Residents in Lahore, Sheikhupura, Kasur and Peshawar face life-shortening conditions with air pollution cutting nearly seven years off their life expectancy in the most affected areas. Environmental experts emphasise the need for sustainable practices and stringent pollution control measures to avert future episodes. In response to the crisis, Lahore Division Commissioner chaired a meeting to formulate anti-smog measures. While efforts such as offering discounts to cyclists and promoting a cycling culture are commendable, a comprehensive strategy is imperative. Cooperation with the private sector, housing societies, educational institutions and civil society is crucial to create a collective front against smog.

Lahore’s smog crisis is no joke, and we need rapid, bold action. Tightening the screws on pollution control, pouring resources into eco-friendly transportation and integrating enhanced monitoring mechanisms collectively constitute a comprehensive strategy to address Lahore’s pressing smog crisis. The well-being of Lahore’s residents and the city’s long-term environmental sustainability hinge on a united front against the invisible but insidious enemy.

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Pakistan’s shame

I refuse to pull on heartstrings. To write about the boy who cried when he said goodbye to his schoolmates. Or the father who wipes away his and children’s tears as they turn away from the only place they’ve ever really called home.

I refuse to provide evidence of their economic contributions. Of the labourers who built roads, schools, and buildings across Pakistan. Shopkeepers. Traders. Artists. Of the farmers who planted new crops that flourish in the country’s agricultural breadbaskets.

My purpose is not to soften hearts or instil paternalist sentiments toward a perfect victim.Well-meaning people have written these stories before. Today it feels as if we’ve made no difference.

Seeing the humanity of another person should not be a question of whether they are relatable, or not. Deserving or not. Useful or not.Human and political rights are rights universal. Intrinsic. They are inherent to all human beings. No ifs, no buts. And all states have responsibilities to all of the populations within their territories, which includes citizens and non-citizens.

As I write, the government of Pakistan‘s decision to expel Afghan refugees means tens of thousands of Afghans are being thrown out of their homes and communities to cross borders into a homeland they already left or have never been to. Lawyers, civil society organizations, and activists are documenting human rights abuses and the creation of detention centres to round up, hold, and deport Afghans. Inevitably and woefully Pakistani Pashtuns are being dragged into the mix.

These scenes are shameful. Their depravity, however, cannot be understood through morality and human stories alone, devastating as these are. Rather they must be understood as markers of multiple political failures of Pakistan and other actors.

The current caretaker government is, of course, to blame. Their only job is to usher in elections. Instead, they’re implementing an ill-conceived, inhumane, monumental population transfer, without any kind of popular mandate. Visionless, they act as lackeys of powerful forces, without a thought to the lives they’re upending and the long-term implications for peace in the region.

Pakistanis also seem to have forgotten that Afghans are in Pakistan in the first place because of Pakistan’s well-documented interference in Afghanistan. For over 40 years, Afghanistan has faced wars and military occupation. As stated in a global petition against the deportation of Afghans by Pakistan by the Afghan Reparations Collective – a group of experts, scholars and concerned observers – to blame are the repeated failings of Afghan elites, but also, more crucially, the disastrous meddling of global superpowers – the Soviet Union, the US and its Nato allies – and regional neighbours, Pakistan and Iran. These wars “have denied the Afghan people their right to live and thrive in their own country with dignity and as self-determined people.”

Deporting Afghans: Pakistanis themselves are racialised and deported in their thousands from ‘Fortress Europe’ and elsewhere. There, Afghans, Pakistanis, and others are often together in death, regularly drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

However, deportation is a ‘way of life’ for Afghans across both the Global North and the Global South.

In the 2010s, EU states made aid to Afghanistan conditional on accepting Afghan deportees. A slight pause happened when the Taliban captured Kabul in 2021, but this seems to be over. Germany sent 650 Afghans back in the first half 2023. The UK has told over 1,000 Afghans who fled the Taliban in 2021 with British support that they will be made homeless – this hostile environment is meant to ‘encourage’ (read: coerce) Afghans into ‘self-repatriating’ to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US never really bothered to fully evacuate thousands of ‘in transit’ Afghans in Pakistan in the first place.

Turkey is also deporting thousands of Afghans. Iran too, whilst also allege ly killing and torturing some along the way.

The treatment of Afghans in Pakistan today, then, is not isolated.

However, Pakistan’s mistreatment of Afghans, which has been an important dimension of their experience of exile, is rarely discussed as a form of historical structural discrimination. Afghans are subject to severe forms of racial profiling in Pakistan, which is also in keeping with the Pakistan elite and state’s discrimination against many of its own citizens residing in, or originating from regions bordering Afghanistan, most notably Pashtuns.

DISCRIMINATION: Even at the height of the Afghan-Soviet War, when the Pakistani military state constructed the presence of millions of Afghans in near hagiographic terms, Pakistan’s ‘hospitality’ had its limits: Afghans were never allowed long-term rights in the country.

In the 2000s and 2010s, however, the mistreatment of Afghans has taken on more violent forms. Across Pakistan there have been repeated cases of Afghans facing mass arrests, arbitrary detention, harassment by law-enforcement agencies, and expulsion–in 2017 Human Rights Watch said Pakistan was conducting the “world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times.”

Before this current attempt at a forced population transfer, it was estimated Pakistan was home to over four million Afghans. But at its peak in the mid-2000s, Pakistan was home to nearly eight million Afghans. Meaning millions already left Pakistan for Afghanistan – or often a third country.

Some of these moves were voluntary. Many, however, were not. In my own work I document how the harassment of Afghans in the 2010s was fundamental in shaping people’s decisions to leave Pakistan.

The international humanitarian and migration regime, represented by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have also enabled years of coercive repatriation that has set the scene for today. Since the mid-2000s, the cornerstone of their Afghan ‘solutions strategy’ has been ‘voluntary repatriation’. This had nothing to do with the actual needs of Afghans, which desperately needed advocacy for legal inclusion, and instead was more about aligning with the politics of Western states keen to globally deport Afghans and construct Afghanistan as a ‘safe country’.

Afghans in Pakistan are legally categorized as either ‘registered refugees’, who are issued a Proof of Registration (POR) ID card, overseen by the government and UNHCR, ‘migrants’ who have an Afghan Citizen card (ACC), overseen by the IOM, visa holders, Afghans ‘in transit’, and tens and thousands of Afghans for whom the government refuses to give any legal status. But these divisions are less about who is actually a refugee or not, and more purposeful attempts by Pakistan to refuse to give Afghans long term legal status and even uphold basic principles of refuge.

Today’s cruelty, then, builds on years of violence that Pakistan has gotten away with, all the while being emboldened by international humanitarian institutions and other states.

The expulsions are also possible because there have never been any legal pathways to integrate a large long-term refugee population within Pakistan – for example, by offering routes to legal residency and/or citizenship.

Whilst many commentators rightly note that Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN refugee conventions and the country doesn’t have a refugee and asylum framework, this is only part of the problem. Pakistan’s citizenship laws do allow anyone born in Pakistan after 1951 is eligible for citizenship, which suggests thousands, if not millions, of Afghans should already be citizens. But, for varying reasons, there is limited political will for equal treatment.

When the government made its deportation announcements, it claimed it only wanted to deport ‘undocumented’ Afghans. But since then, the interim interior minister said there would be several stages of expulsions, first targeting ‘illegal immigrants’, followed by POR and ACC Afghans. Reports are showing that Afghans across all legal statuses and ethnicities – as well as some Pakistani Pashtuns – are being expelled.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is still time for the government to change track. There is still time for us, in and outside of Pakistan, to stand in solidarity with Afghans, as a matter of their rights and our obligation, not as charity or humanitarianism.

From the genocide in Gaza to the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, international law and humanitarianism principles are being flouted. Pakistani citizens are rightly up in arms about the former. Our responses to the latter situation, however, are muted. Yet we must remember that the freedoms and dignity of all oppressed peoples are interconnected.

The writer is the author of ‘Refugee Cities: How Afghans Changed Pakistan’.

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Exit stage left

WITH an election date now on the calendar, the clock has started ticking. The individuals setting the agenda for national decision-making these days must realise that they cannot continue to ignore the deep political discontent bubbling just below the surface. Any attempt to forcefully dictate Pakistan’s political future to its people is unlikely to succeed given the pervasive distrust between the state and the people. Behind the veneer of control and order, the deep structural faults in our politics, society and economy that have brought us to this point remain untouched. The country needs a credible leadership that can address this trifecta of challenges with public buy-in and support. Our present decision-makers, on the other hand, seem to be in danger of being lulled into a sense of adequacy on the back of their modest success in stabilising the economy.

It cannot be denied that a degree of economic stability has been achieved in recent months through targeted interventions in sensitive markets. It would also appear that the country is well-positioned to clear the ongoing IMF review and secure the next tranche under its Stand-By Arrangement with the lending agency. However, none of this should allow us to lose sight of the bigger picture. Given current economic conditions, Pakistan will need to enter a longer-term financing arrangement with the IMF within months. According to reports, any new deal with the agency will be subject to there being a legitimately elected government in place in Islamabad, with a strong public mandate to implement the deep reforms any future loan agreement will entail. Given recent political developments, it is speculated that we may see a coalition government similar to the PDM-led set-up that resigned in August. However, such an arrangement is unlikely to remain stable and will face stumbling blocks. The only viable path forward seems to be to hold a free and fair election to the satisfaction of the public. Doing so will place the onus firmly on the political parties to devise a turnaround plan for the country and deliver. It is time for the state to remove itself completely from the picture and let the politicians do their job. Its political experiment in 2018 created a mess; creating an even bigger mess in 2024 is not how it will be resolved.

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Fog of election

THE election has been announced, once again. Between the Supreme Court and the general pressure from the press and political parties, the ECP has given a date. Unsurprisingly, the date is not for the last week of January, as the ECP had earlier said, but Feb 8. But then, the ECP had also given a day for elections in Punjab during the summer, without following up. This perhaps is the reason doubts will remain about what February will bring, even though the chief justice has told us not to worry. It is a case of doodh ka jala (once bitten…) and all that.

But then, it would be unfair to only blame the election commissioner.

The point is that the announcement of the election date alone cannot soothefrayednerves, including of those watching from abroad.

Without or within, there are other factors which have a greater chance of impacting the eventual date of elections than the ECP and the dates it gives.

One, of course, is Nawaz Sharif`s return. That the PML-N was able to organise a grand welcome for him, showcasing the popularity of the party quaid in Punjab and beyond, makes elections more of a reality. For, that one event has done more to revive the party`s fortunes than any statement by anyone else.

Second, as people within the party themselves point out, he is the PML-N`s trump card; they can`t afford to waste him, as they would, if elections were delayed. Now that he is back and a certain momentum has built up, it would be best if it ended with an election.

The second, of course, pertains to the economic situation; and some would say is the more important aspect. With the financial crisis and a nine-month Stand-by Arrangement (SBA), to be followed by a longer programme, there is a view that an extended caretaker set-up (without a clear mandated term) may not be all that acceptable to the world and IFIs. After all, there are messages enough from all friendly countries -publicly and otherwise about the need for stability, political and economic. (It sometimes appears as if the rest of the world has an illogical belief in the relationship between politics and economics.) The belief that the election might be necessary for international assistance is growing stronger since the lack of updates on investment coming from the Gulf. At the moment, it seems the IMF funding is all we can count on. Perhaps it is not entirely a coincidence that the election date was announced as negotiations with IMF for the second tranche of the SBA were being focused on.

There are other, smaller, signs of an election around the corner for those of us watching such developments in fine detail. The renewed arrests of PTI and erstwhile PTI people reveal a certain nervousness which would only be there if elections are to be held.

First came the arrest of Kamran Bangash and Asad Qaiser from the PTI in KP, which is still being gently handled compared to Punjab. Then, oddly enough, Fawad Chaudhry who had already renounced the party was arrested. Other than the loving mother of the complainant who may believe her son has been robbed of money by Chaudhry, for the rest his arrest was simply due to his reluctance to associate closely with the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP).

These fresh arrests coupled with reports of journalists being let go of as well as the silence on the part of some very loud people on social media also seems to suggest new efforts are being made to smoothen the rough path that leads to election. Why else would all these energies and resources be wasted on picking up people and invading homes? Or on accusing those in hiding of new `sins`? But, and there is always a `but`, the path hasn`t been smoothened out sufficiently. And not just because even six months of heavy-handedness is feared to not have dismantled the PTI entirely.Or because the people continue to want an election so they can vote against the PDM as much as they want to vote for the PTI.

More than this, there is the lack of clarity on what else is to follow other than ensuring the PTI doesn`t win. Take, for instance, Punjab. If the plan is to ensure the PTPs defeat, and a `decent` victory for PML-N (without giving it the kind of sweep that took place in 2013, say many people), who or which party will be allowed to bag the rest of the seats? If the PML-N is limited to around 70 seats, what happens to the rest of the National Assembly seats from Punjab? Will they go to the IPP or independent candidates or a rump PTI? How easy will it be to manage this? On the other hand, if the PML-N is to be allowed a sweep, then what will prevent a new conflagration? What will happen in KP, where the JUI-F experiment in the shape of the earlier caretaker set-up was a disaster? For none of the other parties appear to be in a position to offer any challenge to the PTI.

It is also worth pointing out that the numbers game is not always easy to manage Musharraf at the height of his power was not able to manage a simple majority. A breakaway faction of PPPPatriots had to be carved out for the government to be established after the 2002 election.

Closer to home, during the 2018 election, the earlier plan, from all accounts, was to encourage the Grand Democratic Alliance at the expense of the PPP in Sindh. But somewhere and at some point, this plan (and GDA) was ditched and the PPP allowed to return with even bigger numbers than before. At the same time, the Pak Sarzameen Party was also dumped, faster than Angelina Jolie dumped Brad Pitt.

This time around, the plans are far less clear and the economy even less so. And I ran out of space before even referring to the people. We are far from the curtain call.• The wnter is a joumalist.

Vision Pakistan2047

Martin Luther King declared, “I have a dream”, not “I have a plan”. This illustrates the superiority of a vision over policy or plan in bringing about transformative change.

‘I have a dream’ expresses the essence of visionary leadership, which not only serves as a source of inspiration, emotional connection but also provides a sense of destination and meaningful context for the people to undertake sacrifices in realizing the vision.

Vision matters. First, transformation involves losses and uncertainties for interest groups. No matter how adverse your current situation is, it is known and familiar. Transformation requires letting go of your current status, taking a leap of faith into an uncertain future in the hope that your gains are greater than your sacrifices. A vision is a guiding path through the fog of uncertainty, reassuring the people that their sacrifices are worthwhile.

Second, transformation requires a connection with people’s emotions. Emotions fuel people’s commitment to transformation, while intellect or logic follow suit. Convincing, motivating, and emotionally engaging people is the first step in achieving national buy-in for the transformation, and this can be achieved through a vision.

The power of vision of Gen Park Chung-Hee in leading South Korea into an industrialized economy on the model of post ‘Meiji Modernization’ Japan, led to South Korea’s GDP per capita increasing from $146 to over $29,700 in two generations. Whether the Declaration of Independence of the US, Vision2030 of Saudi Arabia or The Crazy Ones campaign by Apple, the central role of a vision in charting the path to a new prosperous future cannot be overstated.

Pakistan is going through a painful economic and socially divisive period due to misguided policies of the last thirty years. We are struggling to generate jobs or wealth, which is leading to the flight of both financial and human capital from the country. This has created a sea of discontent and contributed to our political and social instability. Therefore, our outdated economic model needs a transformation.

Our economic transformation is being implemented through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) under a combined military, political and civil service leadership. The SIFC has a wide policy mandate to mobilize all government departments for economic revival through investments and exports. It has a number of successes, such as attracting investment in the Reko Diq project and changes to foreign currency earning regulations to facilitate tech exports.

However, the SIFC’s actions are misunderstood and often resisted by the public as well as interest groups. These misunderstandings stem from a disconnect between policy actions and the context of the economic transformation in which the SIFC is operating. Take for instance, the decision to deport illegal Afghan immigrants, which is an unpopular and highly criticized move. While painful and considered a violation of human rights, these are essential steps for economic revival by stopping the leakage of an estimated $15 million per day of foreign exchange through smuggling to Afghanistan. The buy-in for such harsh, unpopular but necessary steps is absent because there is no sense of destination or vision associated with the actions of the SIFC.

As Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “he who has a Why to live for, can bear almost any How”. Therefore, the SIFC needs to go beyond policy fixes and instead start with ‘why’ sacrifices are necessary for a prosperous economy and a thriving society – this why is the vision of transformation. Once our citizens embrace the vision, they will be unified in their support of ‘how’ such a vision is realized.

The SIFC must lead on policy action but also in formulating the country’s economic vision. The vision acts as a bridge to walk over from our past to a prosperous future or link our everyday struggles with aspirations for a better future for ourselves and our families. The vision will forge the nation’s commitment to action.

The Saudi Vision2030 is a superb example of a cohesive vision directing the Saudi nation towards an empowered future, starting from a vision statement for a ‘vibrant society’, a ‘thriving economy’, and an ‘ambitious nation’. The implementation of Vision2030 is primarily through the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which brings together all aspects of private and public-sector capabilities to deliver transformation projects.

The SIFC has the potential to be Pakistan’s ‘PIF’ but is missing an equally grand vision of transformation for Pakistan, that can be Pakistan2047.

A powerful and emotive vision will magnify the actions of the SIFC and ensure longevity and sustainability of reforms, as in the case of South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Without a vision or a ‘dream’, the SIFC risks being another plan. Pakistanis are well-aware and sceptical of our history of five-year plans, which fizzled out without sustainable impact or economic transformation. A Pakistan2047 vision plus SIFC will be the bridge between the current reality of economic stagnation and our citizens’ dream of economic prosperity.

A plan without a vision does not have the power to change reality. Visionary leaders have demonstrated that transformation can be achieved. However, it takes a clear, compelling and powerful vision calling for self-sacrifice, collaboration to take risks and change behavior in order to change our future. Our leaders must formulate this vision of Pakistan2047 for steering the country towards a prosperous and self-reliant future.

The writer is a venture builder, a private equity investor and investment banker. He tweets/posts


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