Pakistan is facing multiple challenges in its economy, society and polity which undermine the well being of the people and threaten the stability of the state structure. In the economic dimension, slow GDP growth, rising poverty and unemployment and persisting double digit inflation are placing a stress on society. At the same time huge losses of key public sector organizations such as railways, PIA, steel mills, and electricity and gas companies are hemorrhaging the public exchequer and constraining the fiscal space of the government.
In the social dimension, the misery of the citizens is intensified by severe electricity and gas shortages. Government at both the national and provincial levels appears financially and administratively incapable of ensuring protection of life and property of ordinary citizens much less providing basic services such as drinking water, quality health, education and decent public transport. The breakdown of government controls for the provision of hygienic food and safe medicines is illustrated by repeated cases of people dying due to adulterated food and the recent disaster of over a hundred deaths in Lahore due to contaminated medicines. The rising tide of militant extremism adds to the sense of insecurity, as the ideological influence of the extremists spreads across an impoverished populace, and penetrates elements of the state apparatus as much as some of the mainstream political parties. Suffering and a sense of foreboding, pervades the hapless citizenry.
In the political sphere there is contention for power between key organs of the state such as the executive, the military and judiciary. This is the result of incongruence between the institutional balance stipulated in the formal structure of the Constitution and the actual practice of governance. The key factor underlying the institutional instability is a power structure that has been historically dominated by the military while the judiciary has on a number of occasions facilitated the role of the military in politics. The contention for space within the power structure is creating high drama on the political stage with first the face-off between the elected government and the military during the memo gate affair and now between the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court over the issue of contempt of court. However, the surreal intra elite power play takes focus away from the reality of an economy in crisis and a society in distress.
An agenda for change to build a better future for the people of Pakistan could have the following main features that address the issues raised in the preceding discussion:
(1) To place Pakistan on the path of sustained growth and overcoming poverty a change is required in the institutional structure whereby the middle classes and the poor can have access over productive assets and high wage employment. This would enable broad sections of the people to participate in the process of investment, innovation and productivity increase that would generate a sustained high growth on the basis of equity. Such a change involves opening up the present elite based political and economic structure towards broad sections of the population.
(2) Shift focus of foreign policy and public sector resource allocation away from a national security state paradigm to a democratic state paradigm aimed at the security of citizens, access over justice, gender equality and the participation of the people within a decentralized governance structure whereby the people can have a voice in decisions that affect their economic, social and physical environment.
(3) Improving the coverage and quality of basic services such as education, vocational training, health care, safe drinking water, sanitation, electricity and gas by building institutional mechanisms in both the private and public sectors for efficient service delivery.
(4) Fulfilling the three door step conditions for democracy namely, subordinating the military to elected civil authority in practice as well as in principle; an institutionalized independence of the judiciary that is underpinned by the norms of society; a wide range of active civil society organizations that help to reinforce a broad consensus for democracy and the rule of law and also act to mobilize the will of the people to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.