What matters most
With the nation currently embroiled in the Afghan-USA imbroglio, domestic issues in Pakistan have been on a backburner. In the unprecedented scenario ensued by Covid-19, a plethora of socio-economic issues have further defaced the internal setup of the country.
One such example is the sorry state-of-affairs of the energy sector. This has manifested in frequent power outbreaks, soaring inflation, food insecurity and the accompanying humanitarian issues like unemployment, intolerance, frustration, gender violence and even murder.
Due to circular debt, currency devaluation and large inefficiency, load-shedding has increased manifold. As a resident of Islamabad, I have witnessed a surge of panic due to the unscheduled outages in high-end sectors, among the foreigners and the diplomats, who had been unaccustomed to pre-electric era until now. Recently, downpours intensified the predicament as the twin cities remain engulfed in prolonged power blackout. Islamabad Electricity Board (IESCO) has demonstrated incompetency in eradicating extended periods of unannounced loadshedding, tripping and low voltage.
Covid-19 has taken a toll on Pakistan economy as industrial and agricultural productivity have diminished and inflation has increased. Further investigations reveal that unprecedented population growth and urbanization and are long-term culprits behind all sorts of socio-economic debacles. They are culminating into an alarming situation whereby we are headed towards a ‘Malthusian trap’ as manifested by shortage of food. There is a taboo against contraceptives, family planning and sex education which has withstood the test of time.
Consequently, as per 2021 reports of World Bank, unemployment rate has spiraled to 5% and poverty rate to around 40%. The prevailing results have not only manifested in poor living conditions but aggravating mental and physical well-being. A major dark side has been a rampant increase in crime rate ranging from theft to murder due to intolerance and frustration. For instance, the begging mafia trend in the capital city has unleashed theft, drug smuggling, and kidnapping etc. Despite ranked as the safest city of Pakistan, this year Islamabad fell victim to the largest recorded crime rate in its history.
School-closures due to lockdown and indigence have intensified the plight of education sector. Out-of-school children, inequity and juvenile delinquency are on the rise. Children have become involved in drug abuse, underage drinking and street crimes due to declining mental health, anti-social tendencies and apathy regarding social evils e.g., sex, drugs and violence. The Single National Curriculum has come under scrutiny as it seems irrational. Instead of upgrading public schools, the private schools are being forced to lower down their standards. Sindh simply refused to implement it saying that it disregarded cultural diversity, after Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board became the sole judge of syllabus.
In retrospect, the enduring socio-economic issues have become a political albatross in Pakistan. It is crucial for all stakeholders to settle political differences and unite to unravel these herculean tasks. The need of the hour is for Pakistan to take a paradigm shift in policy-making. A transformation reform must be prioritized in key matters of unemployment, poverty, corruption, inflation, climate change, decentralization of resources, overpopulation, education, energy crisis and circular debt. The regulatory framework must be adaptable, nuanced, resilient and sustainable. For successful outcome, it demands strict compliance by all ministries and regulatory agencies, via suitable government policies and civic participation.