April 20th, 2021
According to the ‘National Human Rights Development’ report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), at least six percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is handed over to the elite class in the form of direct or indirect privileges.
The research discusses inequality as a worldwide phenomenon, and the global response to it in the form of mass protest movements, characterizing it as one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity during this century.
The document highlights the provisions which obligate the state to address key markers of inequality. Article 25 of the Constitution, for instance, is the first such provision that binds the state to ensure an equal standard of living for all its citizens. Similarly, Articles 37 and 38 mandate that all citizens be able to enjoy equitable economic opportunities and standard of living, respectively.
The report also reminds the state of Pakistan of its obligations regarding achieving the United Nation’s sustainable development goals and points out that these goals cannot be achieved without addressing rampant inequality in the country.
According to the report, in the coming years, the income of the bottom 40 percent of the Pakistani population must rise on parity with the entire population of the country if the country is to become capable of meaningfully addressing inequality.
The research identifies three core drivers of inequality in Pakistan i.e. people, power, and policy.
The document defines “power” as the ability of the already privileged to exploit the loopholes in existing laws and frameworks of governance and their wide-ranging networks to their advantage. This phenomenon is termed as “state capture by the elite” which results in the elite accumulating further wealth, power, and privilege at the expense of the disadvantaged. The report identifies three main stakeholders in the country which represent different nodes of power i.e. the corporate sector, the top one percent, and the military.
According to the report, Pakistan’s corporate sector received $4.7 billion in privileges while the military received $1.7 billion. Similarly, the top one percent of the population controls a whopping nine percent of the wealth of the entire country.
It should be noted that these three stakeholders do not exist as distinct groupings – instead there are large overlaps amongst them. For instance, the military is the largest conglomerate of the entire country and the biggest owner of commercial lands as well, so it enjoys the same privileges as the other two groups in addition to its own distinct perks.
“People” is the second biggest driver of inequality in Pakistan according to this report. People contribute to inequality in terms of how they treat a particular community or group of individuals. In simpler terms, it is concerned with social prejudices in the country and how they impact the economic well-being of marginalized communities. For instance, a lack of investment in female education means that women are more likely to miss out on avenues of social mobility. Similarly, religious minorities in the country may not have access to the same opportunities and public services.
Another key identity marker concerned with inequality is the area of residence. The geographical location, language, and ethnicity of citizens can impact the general standard of life.
The report identifies women, ethnic and religious minorities, persons with disabilities, transgender people, and even labor as the key marginalized groups who face the most hindrance to upward social mobility because of social prejudices against them.
“Policy” refers to the state policies which are either ineffective or are opposed to the principle of social justice”. The process of policymaking can be grounded in the first two drivers of inequality, considering that elite groups enjoy overwhelming representation in structures of state power. In short, people who are benefiting from the current system cannot be expected to change it, making tackling inequality in the country almost a cyclical problem: a task that can only be achieved by a social movement of sorts.
The report suggests that Pakistan should focus on three key fronts if it wants to control rampant inequality in the country.
Spending more on social protection and human development
Providing employment and ensuring a safe working environment