The news making headlines in Pakistani media these days are mostly about war on terror, anti corruption drive and civil-military relations. These are important areas for news coverage and analysis as much of the future of Pakistan as a state and society depends on the outcome of policies tackling the problems confronted by the country in the aforementioned areas. So far so good. But there is a slight problem. Race for ratings in the ever proliferating electronic media of the country gives rise to sensationalism which seriously undermines the quality of both the reporting and analysis of the news. Consequently more often than not the audience ends up with information about the symptoms without getting any clue about the root causes of the problem. Most of the evening television talk shows that are repeated at least twice more in the following 24 hours reflect such limitations. The print media is comparatively doing better, although the ever expanding space occupied by commercial ads presents its own challenge for providing space to serious news, analysis, and discussion. But it would be unfair to confine criticism on the quality of debate in media only. The depth and quality of debate on national issues in the parliament, government and even civil society institutions also leaves much to be desired. The weakest link in this chain is the take of political parties on prioritizing and understanding the issues along with coming out with solutions.

Be that as it may the retarded development in the social life of the country has not received the level of attention that it deserves. For example the dismal performance of the country in achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in areas of education, health, gender equality, child’s rights and some other areas attracted limited attention and debate. This apathy is dangerous because it may negativity impact the country’s performance in MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF). For example in order to make up for the past deficiencies in education Pakistan has selected for acceleration MDG 2 (Net Enrollment Ratio). The thrust of this goal is to maximize the number of admission for out of school children at primary level, ensure completion of primary level and improve the quality of education. National Plan of Action prepared in this regards has been aiming at enrolling 5.1 million out-of -school children between 2013 and 2016, which is the 76 percent of the total number of out-of-school children. Similarly Pakistan has undertaken to achieve some important Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) by 2030. They include goals such as overcoming poverty, hunger, illiteracy, gender inequalities and a host of other things. All these are laudable and noble goals but achieving them is the real issue.

In this connection civil society’s mid-term assessment report on Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) published by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is quite illustrative. UPR was created by UN General Assembly in 2006 as a state driven process to review the human rights record of the member states. In Pakistan second UPR was conducted in October 2012. According to the review Pakistan had out of 34 UN recommendations accepted 26. But they were only partially implemented. Important legislation was enacted to criminalize violence against women but according to HRCP report the problem has persisted due to lack of implementation of laws and lack of sensitivity and awareness of standard operating procedures. The situation regarding the so called honor killing, early marriage and harassment remain unchanged. The picture presented in the review is not substantially different in areas like child rights, education, enforced disappearance, media freedom and security of human rights defenders.

There are a number of factors responsible for social underdevelopment in Pakistan. There is of course the baggage of history. Pakistan was carved out as an independent state in 1947 in a part of South Asia that was dominated by feudalism and tribalism. But so were many other countries that achieved statehood under similar circumstances. They subsequently succeeded in transforming their societies on modern lines. But Pakistan couldn’t achieve this aim mainly because it became a security state with authoritarian limitations instead of the progressive democratic state that the founding fathers had envisaged. It was after numerous ruptures of the democratic process by usurpers who imposed socio-political distortions and deformations on the state’s policies. For example, the draconian rule of General Zia’s martial law not only barbarically blunted the progressive dimensions of the country’s constitution and legal system but also played havoc with the country’s education system. His Machiavellian “Islamization” led to extreme retardation of the country’s culture. The cumulative effect of General Zia’s extremist policies coupled with an adventurous foreign policy led to the rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.

This toxic legacy of General Zia could not be completely jettisoned because the policy had custodians in the country’s security establishment and extremist religious organizations. The 18th Constitutional amendment was the first major effort to cleanse the Constitution of the distortions and deformations to a certain extent that’s why it has been a pain in the neck for certain vested interests.

Apart from reactionary socio-political policies, priorities in resource allocation are another important factor behind social backwardness. For the last many years around 80 percent of the country’s annual budget is allocated to three things: debt servicing, defense and administration. For quite some time it has been a pre-determined budget as the elected civilian governments can change only a small percentage here or there in the 20 percent or less of the annual budget. It’s quite evident that Pakistan has to reprioritize its resource allocation policies to focus on social sector for overcoming the present challenges on the road to social development. But this fundamental issue is not even mentioned among the pious noises about the “change” notwithstanding. The unchecked growth of population and skewed policies of resource allocation is a lethal combination for the future of any country. The country is in dire need for reformation in this area.

A clean break with the past policies is the need of the hour, if we haven’t already decided to commit suicide as a country and as a state.