Pakistan’s path towards Sustainable Development amid Economic Challenges and Political Realities

by Qurat-ul-Ain and Hira Bashir
Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations on the 25th of September 2015 during the UN summit in New York and came into force on the 1st January, 2016. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals with 169 targets that all 191 UN Member States have agreed to try to achieve by the year 2030. SDGs are not legally binding but countries have the responsibility for follow-up and review, at the national, regional, and global levels about the progress made in implementing the Goals and targets over the next 15 years. Every four years, the High-Level Political Forum meets under the umbrella of the UN General Assembly, known as the SDG Summit. A recent summit took place in September 2023 in which countries focused on the impacts of climate change for the coming years. Pakistan has remained commendably committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as it was one of the first countries to endorse it globally in 2015 and on 16th February 2016, the Parliament unanimously approved the SDGs as the national development agenda. Pakistan has adopted many rules and laws to tackle significant sustainable development challenges. The legislative efforts of both the national and provincial parliaments in Pakistan demonstrate a strong alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, SDG 8 (‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’) is exemplified by Balochistan’s Comprehensive Development & Growth Strategy (BCDGS) 2018-24, which capitalizes on opportunities arising from the 2030 Agenda and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative. Provinces are actively embracing global labor standards, emphasizing aspects such as safety, working hours, wages, and social protection, with ongoing child labor surveys aimed at eradicating such practices. Initiatives like ‘Mazdoor ka Ehsaas’ under the ‘Ehsaas’ program further seek to formalize Pakistan’s informal workforce. Similarly, SDG 4 (‘Quality Education’) finds endorsement through the KPK assembly’s approval of the KPK Free Compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act 2017, emphasizing the importance of accessible and high-quality education for all.
Looking ahead, there is a heightened focus on SDG 6 (‘Clean Water and Sanitation’) and SDG 7 (‘Affordable and Clean Energy’). Notably, the national parliament took significant strides towards adopting clean energy in 2016. Furthermore, SDG 12 (‘Responsible Consumption and Production’) and SDG 13 (‘Climate Action’) gained approval from the National-Gilgit-Baltistan assembly in 2017 under The Pakistan Climate Change Action 2017 and The GB Environmental Protection Act 2017. Additionally, SDG 14 (‘Life below Water’) and SDG 15 (‘Life on Land’) were endorsed by the National Assembly in 2018 and 2016, respectively, through acts such as the Marine Insurance Act 2018 and the Plants Breeders Rights Act 2016. It is anticipated that in the forthcoming years, more initiatives will emerge to reinforce the alignment with these SDGs, reflecting Pakistan’s commitment to sustainable development on the legislative level. Pakistan is grappling with a severe economic crisis, marked by record-high inflation and a depreciating currency. These economic challenges hinder the country’s ability to achieve SDGs. Factors like floods, foreign debt, and high costs of imported fuel have significantly affected the economy, particularly impacting the poor who struggle to afford basic meals. Mariyam Suleman Anees discussed in her article “Pakistan’s Economic Crisis: What Went Wrong?” that the Human Development Index, which measures a country’s achievements through three basic dimensions – health, knowledge, and standards of living – placed Pakistan in the 161 position out of 185 countries in 2022. In other words, Pakistan is among the 25 countries with the lowest human development in the world. The recent elections in Pakistan have stirred considerable attention and controversy. With no single party securing a decisive mandate to form a government, the task of governance falls to a coalition of parties. However, the sustainability of such a coalition is dubious, given the diverse interests and potential for internal discord among its members. In this intricate political landscape, there arises a pertinent question: can a new government effectively pursue sustainable developmental goals? The answer hinges on the means available and the political will to invest in this domain. Focusing on human development presents a compelling strategy for demonstrating effective governance, particularly for a coalition government grappling with Pakistan’s pressing economic challenges. By prioritizing initiatives that enhance education, healthcare, social welfare, and skill development, the coalition can not only address the immediate needs of its citizens but also establish a strong foundation for sustainable growth and prosperity. Furthermore, prioritizing human development can yield significant political leverage for the coalition government. Tangible improvements in key indicators such as the education sector, healthcare access, and poverty alleviation can bolster its public image and legitimacy. By visibly delivering on its promises to enhance the well-being and prospects of citizens, the coalition can garner broader support and navigate political challenges more effectively. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amidst the record Rs8.2 trillion deficit presents an additional challenge for Pakistan, as this fiscal burden far exceeds official targets and perpetuates the government’s reliance on external lenders to sustain its operations. In this context, the imperative to prioritize sustainable development initiatives may be further compromised by the pressing need to manage the fiscal shortfall. This underscores the urgency for governments to adopt integrated governance approaches that reconcile immediate fiscal concerns with long-term sustainable development objectives, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently and effectively towards SDG-aligned policies despite fiscal constraints. Additionally, engaging a diverse range of stakeholders, including both public and private actors, becomes even more crucial to mobilizing resources and expertise towards achieving the SDGs in a financially sustainable manner. Despite current political and economic challenges, there remains a possibility for progress. Coalition governments can leverage their diversity to foster policy innovation and creative solutions for sustainability challenges. Additionally, international support and engagement with civil society organizations can provide crucial resources and advocacy for sustainable development initiatives. Ultimately, the success of a coalition government in achieving sustainable developmental goals depends on its ability to navigate the complexities of coalition politics while demonstrating a genuine commitment to long-term sustainability.
About authors:
Qurat-UL-Ain: Qurat-Ul-Ain Shabbir is a research officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK. Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. degree in DSS from Quaid-i-Azam University. Her areas of interest include comprehensive security and conflict analysis. 
Email: Contact number: 03060883838
Hira Bashir: Associate Research Officer at Center for International strategic Studies, AJK working on peaceful use of nuclear technology

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir