Sustainable Development Goal 16. Stresses 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”. Target 16.1: Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere. “Target 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children. Target 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all. Target 16.4: By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime. Target 16.5: Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms. Target 16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. Target 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. Target 16.8: Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance. Target 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. Target 16.a: Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime. And Target 16.b: Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development”.
Pakistan is a classic case where most (if not all) of these subgoals of SDG 16 are not met. According to Human Right Watch World Report, 2022 stated that in 2021 in Pakistan, “Women, religious minorities, and transgender people continue to face violence, discrimination, and persecution, with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators to account. The government continues to do little to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for torture and other serious abuses”. Several Journalists were murdered, others suffered violent attacks and many people disappeared in the country. Voices were suppressed when media was curbed through different forms of regulations and restrictions. Religious minorities are intimidated by private actors, religious zealots, as well as government actors in open defiance of the Constitution of Pakistan. “Violence against women and girls—including rape, murder, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—is endemic throughout Pakistan. Human rights defenders estimated that roughly 1,000 women are killed in so-called honour killings every year. ” Child marriages also remain a serious problem in the country. “Pakistan has still not enacted a law criminalizing torture despite Pakistan’s obligation to do so under the UN Convention against Torture”.
Every day illicit videos of politicians and ex-ministers from different political parties (true or fabricated) are uploaded on social media intimidating them one way or the other. This has become an everyday occurrence when the concept of ‘privacy’ has been blatantly set aside in the name of ‘freedom of expression’.
Institutions in Pakistan are inefficient, full of corruption and lack transparency. The rule of Law is missing in Pakistan. Governments of any political party irrespectively fail to complete their respective tenures where not a single prime minister (of PPP, PMLN, PMLQ, PTI) that has completed his or her five-year term in office while the military rulers (Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq and Musharaff) had an average span of 9 years rule each. “Corruption in Pakistan is widespread and extends to every sector from the government to judiciary, police, health services and education. The crisis in governance in the country is multi-fold. The problems are long-standing, and despite ongoing calls for reform, and many attempts to improve the situation, there is little evidence of progress”. “Corruption remains a substantial obstacle for Pakistan where it is still perceived to be widespread and systemic. Petty corruption in the form of bribery is prevalent in law enforcement, procurement and the provision of public services. The judiciary is not seen as independent and considered to be shielding corrupt political practices from prosecution”.
Marco Mezzera in her policy brief writes, “underlying the causes of weak governance and poor interaction between Pakistan’s institutions and its citizens. The Factors are broadly organized in three dimensions: structural, including geopolitical position, historical backdrop and social structures; the distribution and exercise of power; and Pakistan’s current state of affairs”. She writes, “The country’s difficult geography, the strong ethnic identity of its four provinces and its geopolitical relations have posed challenges to the Pakistani state and compelled it to rely on two strategies: guaranteeing national security and promoting Islam as a unifying factor”. And adds, “Consequently, the army comprises a “state within a state” with increasing power over the economy, foreign policy and domestic allocation of resources. Political parties in Pakistan lack internal democracy, relying on patron-client networks to garner votes, and the judiciary plays a subservient role to the military and political class”. She further writes, the social system in Pakistan creates a social divide whereby lower-income groups and classes (are often severely persecuted by the upper-income groups and classes, and women from the lower strata of the society have a particularly disadvantaged position. In other parts of the country (Baluchistan and NWFP), tribal structures with hereditary leaders (eg, maliks and sardars) prevail”.
Sohail Mehmood wrote, “Pakistan faces complex challenges, internal and external with no easy solutions in sight. Pakistan’s challenges include weakened political leadership, the poor overall performance of state institutions, poor public services, massive poverty, burgeoning population, rampant urbanization, continuing military control of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy framework, bad governance, the impact of continuing conflicts with India, Afghanistan’s war situation, increased militancy, and endemic corruption allegations. Pakistan is facing an economic crisis because of massive corruption, bad planning, bad governance, and even political instability”.
The economic crisis and political crisis in Pakistan made worse by COVID-19 and Climate change, aggravate the crisis in governance and pulled the country into a downward spiral that would render the nation of 230 million plus people ungovernable, thereby impacting peace and justice for them when extremism is prevalent and terrorism is reemerging on the fringes of the nation. Pakistan’s fragile peace with its bigger neighbour India also impacts of its economic and political landscape when resources needed for economic uplift are rediverted towards defence. Due to crisis of governance and lack of accountability in the institutions, poverty in the country has taken a multi-dimensional face that includes economic poverty (when minimum consumption needs of a household are more than their sources of income. 80% of Pakistan’s households live below an income of Rs. 1,000 a day or Rs. 30,000 a month), political poverty (when institutions that were made to protect the poor are used to exploit the poor), environmental poverty (when marginalized people live on marginalized land and due to unsustainable living behaviors reduce the productivity of that land resulting in environmental disasters), judicial poverty (when the poor do not and cannot have access to judicial remedies because justice in Pakistan is expensive and time consuming), health poverty when polio, Dharia , TB, Malaria, Dengue and hepatitis, AIDS, etc. are prevalent and the poor do not have access to cheap and proper healthcare even at government paid clinics and hospitals, and when medicines are too expensive), educational poverty (when there is apartheid in education and when almost 24 million children drop out of school due to lack of resources and when those that go to school get unscientific educational responses) and social poverty (when due to lack of resources and due to lack of justice the poor have to resort to socially unacceptable behaviors like criminality, prostitution, violence in home and on the street, armed robberies and even murder), all of them combined becomes human face of poverty (when the people of Pakistan are looked upon only as statistics, rather than humans that need to be treated in accordance to the articles of constitution of Pakistan and when mothers are subjected to the death of their babies due to curable disease or hunger etc.) in Pakistan resulting in lack of empowerment and vulnerability of the poor and the general public.
If Pakistan does not want to become a banana republic and a nation that is not trusted or respected among communities of nations, then the country would have to ensure ‘Rule of Law’, would have to get out of its crisis of governance, economic crisis, would have to stop political bickering and would have to solve the issues pertaining to justice, peace, climate calamities and would have to ensure peace through accountable, transparent and robust institutions in line with the recommendations of the sub-targets and goals of SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institution). The choice remains with the educated, the powerful and the richer strata of society. The time restraint is 2030 when we are entering 2023 in a month’s time.