Looking beyond Economics: Why Pakistan needs to focus on Social Issues more

UntitledSo the ‘we are all economists’ season begins with the presentation of the annual budget. The budget is a decent policy document clearly in line with the World Bank and IMF regulations. Senator Dar has done a great job of packaging it in to something that could be sold politically. But as a I mentioned in my last post, focus on economics is great but there is a lot more that we need to be focusing on too i.e. the social issues.

To start with, just like we have a budget that presents the government’s plan for economic growth and improvement why can’t we have a policy speech from the government that outlines, with clarity, their social issue agenda? Realistically the problems a country faces can be broken down in to Economic and Social categories. We have a solid policy document when it comes to economics in shape of the budget backed by the economic survey and finance bill. But what about the social issues? Do they not deserve the same attention? I mean at the end of the day most of the discussion that happens on the 24 hour news channels and even on the entertainment networks revolves around social issues that the country faces. So why not a clear integrated policy outline on social issues?

As I pointed out in my last post, one of core issues we are dealing with is that we are using the wrong indictors to measure our progress as a nation. We are using only economic indicators to measure our social problems. We are trying to compare apples and oranges yet we manage to pretend that comparison works. Intolerance in the society cannot be measured with an economic measure but growing intolerance is of deep concern for any future growth.

Pakistani Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar holds up a copy of the Economic Survey of Pakistan for the financial year 2012-13 at a press conference in Islamabad on June 11, 2013. The newly elected democratic government is all set to present its very first Federal Budget of about Pakistan rupees 3.4 trillion for the fiscal year 2013-14.   AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM
Pakistani Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar holds up a copy of the Economic Survey of Pakistan . AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM

So what do we need? What do we do? The answer to that is ideologically simple but complex in practice. What we need is for the government to address issues that they normally shy away from. To start with a policy speech on what are the major social issues facing our society. It sounds simple but just getting this done helps the whole country realize where we stand and how our government is looking at its citizens. In essence the government is a service provider of governance and if they are not on the same page regarding the social issues as their end consumers than we have a major problem. That disconnect already hurts us without the majority even realizing it.

The policy speech on social issues needs would be an acknowledgment of issues faced not just by a few but by the majority of Pakistanis. Starting with terrorism and targeted killing of Shias as well as ethnic minorities, the government needs to first acknowledge that we have these problems. Secondly the fact that the income gap between the rich and poor is increasing annually while social justice becomes nothing more than a slogan needs to be accepted as a crisis in waiting. Thirdly the way uneven development is taking place across the nation and how it is impacting communities, needs to be acknowledged and the impacts of that be mitigated. The point of this is acceptance of what we are facing. Only when we accept it and put it on record can we start moving in the direction of addressing it.

Just like there is the economic survey of Pakistan, a carefully crafted report that gives the post mortem report on the last fiscal year, why not have a social survey of Pakistan against a list of series of indicators that measure basic social issues that the government and the citizens want progress on. Why not have specific figures on an annual basis for the number of killings and target killings? Why not have surveys to measure level of intolerance in the nation on a yearly basis? The data is key here. Right now the discourse in Pakistan is dominated by rhetoric and what this would do is take that rhetoric and turn it in to actionable items by going beyond bitching each other out on nightly news.

Just like the budget is critical to know where we stand economically, social issue agenda is fundamental for us to grow and prosper as a society. Unfortunately we have been ignoring that for a while and letting our governments cruise without holding them to accountable for proactively laying out policy addressing immediate concerns. Social justice is something everyone wants to talk about but no one wished to outline clearly how we should go about it. Making the judicial system more accessible is just one element but there is a lot more that goes in to it. That ‘lot more’ is what this nation needs clarity on.

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