Why Pakistan is low on human development

Published: July 31, 2014
The writer is a security and political analyst and works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

The writer is a security and political analyst and works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

The annual UNDP human development index is out for the year, and it is not good news for Pakistanis. We stay at the same position as last and many previous years at 146th among 187 countries. Pakistan is 11 points lower than India, which starts at 135. India and Bangladesh have each improved one position. Bangladesh has slightly better ranking than us. The Human Development Index offers the best method of measuring human progress and ranking of countries thus far. The index takes into account multiple factors like gender equality, poverty, education, health, access to primary services, infant mortality and life expectancy. Covering a broad range of dimensions of human progress or lack of it, the index has become an acceptable international standard.

Unfortunately, the announcement of the index for the past several years has passed without serious debate and comment in our political circles, media and the think tank community. Barring few occasional comments and review in a few policy-research institutions, no discussion takes place in a serious fashion. Why? Because those who are responsible for human development planning, and more importantly execution of policy at the provincial and district levels, can get away with their failure.

How we can do better depends a lot on knowing first why we are doing so poorly in human development. Three reasons are important to ponder over. First, the demand pull from the peoples and communities at the local level is neither well organised through community organisation, nor is it strong enough to get the bureaucracy at the district level and the political bosses at provincial and federal levels sensitive to basic human needs. The first step should be sensitising people and communities about their rights and energise them enough to question the quality of services at the local level. In my view, when communities become more and more development conscious, they put more and more pressure on the bureaucracy and the public representatives to provide services.

The second important reason is lack of accountability of the bureaucracy at the district and higher levels in every field that is used for measurement for the human development index, like education, health and other services. In Punjab, and may be in other provinces, we have a district-wise human development index. Rajanpur, for instance, stands at the lowest point on the human development index in the province and there are so many other districts in Balochistan and interior Sindh that haven’t progressed. How many district officials have been fired, demoted or denied promotion? None. They get away with inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement of resources because of the poor system of accountability. They are supposed to serve the political purposes of their provinces’ bosses more than looking after the interests of the citizens of the districts.

Finally, the areas that are the core of human development — education and health — have poor political and administrative leadership both at the higher level as well as at the local institutional level. Our public representatives and governments expend their energies and resources on physical projects for very obvious reasons and very little on human development initiatives. Low allocation of resources is yet another reason, but the problem is that whatever the governments allocated on education, health or gender equality is either wasted or misused. With ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost doctors and poor law and justice regimes, we have continuously failed to improve our human development conditions.

It is a sad reflection on the performance of our political governments that morally and in terms of their legal mandate must be devoted to developing our human potential. Not even the much praised civil society groups seem to be alive to this basic human problem in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Aug 1, 2014 - 1:16AM

    There are three reasons for low human development:
    1. Millitary
    2. Religion Twisting Mullahs
    3. Feudals

    These three will never let people develop skills to find out how they are being looted.


  • Max
    Aug 1, 2014 - 1:26AM

    Enormous growth of population is the root cause. The infrastructure build by the government, non-government agencies, or private corporations cannot catch up with growing population. You build a hospital, school, or a public facility/park and the population over-burdens it. Equally, there is absence of work ethics, social responsibility, and professionalism beside absence of accountability that you have summarized very well.
    Good to see you back, Stay well.


  • Ralf
    Aug 1, 2014 - 2:03AM

    Pakistan is a ‘War Economy’. Its economy thrives through the development of the Armed Forces. Pakistan takes pride in having one of the largest army, skilled fighter pilots etc. But, on the one hand our armed forces rank among the best, on the other it is shameful to see how low we rank on the human development index. It is time Pakistan realizes that domestic ailments such as illiteracy and poor health standards are more damaging to the country, than any abstract like threat from a propagated enemy.


  • Lolzzzz
    Aug 1, 2014 - 5:14AM

    what else? we are badly in need of Kashmir. Evil Indians.


  • truthbetold
    Aug 1, 2014 - 7:15AM

    “Why Pakistan is low on human development”

    Why? Remember the national priority: “we will eat grass to get the Islamic nuclear bomb and to inflict a thousand cuts on India in a 1000 year war”?

    The author forgets some fundamental reasons but blames superficial procedural issues for Pakistan’s bad HDI numbers. His view reflects a refusal on a national scale to do an honest self-evaluation and admit the truth.


  • Aug 1, 2014 - 8:39AM

    Dr. Sahib sahib has illustrated facts. Human development index will further go down unless we look at the population explosion, mismanaged resource allocation, lack of local government, politicians (particularly N and P.) don’t believe devolution. It is kingdom and you have to post princes and wali ehad to provincial chief or higher posts. Health sector ignorced, there is divide in education sector. We have to find a world renowned Economist as Minister of Planning and not the present business man. Let us all ponder over on this article and initiate a debate. This is crucial issue.


  • harkol
    Aug 1, 2014 - 8:53AM

    Human Development??

    To develop as humans, one needs to embrace humanity and its values (i.e. Modernity). Not a religion and its fundamental values.


  • AVMPolpot
    Aug 1, 2014 - 9:46AM

    ” Why Pakistan is low on human development”
    Except Terror, duplicity and denial, which scale is Pakistan not low on?


  • Aug 1, 2014 - 10:16AM

    There is actually one reason in my opinion. We as Pakistanis are not sincere with our country, our people and our selves. We have become selfish and try to cheat on everything. Thats why the infrastructure doesn’t get better even after spending more than 60 years on it.

    We need to think out of the box. We need to think not only of ourselves but as a nation. We need to put aside our own priorities for others and that will help us patch the wounds. This is not a days job but something that requires years of struggle. We do not think of benefiting others. So when the entire nation (or majority) thinks like that, the prosperity goes down the drain right there.

    “My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.”

    Ref: http://wantedquotes.com/muhammad-yunus-quote-2/


  • Hari Om
    Aug 1, 2014 - 10:48AM

    I have on multiple occasion on these comment pages of ET pointed out that Pakistan has an obsession for boxing above her weight class and nurturing an outsize military in order to seek military parity with India resulting in the inevitable consequence of entailing Pakistan figuratively “Eating Grass”.

    Against the above backdrop news that Pakistan stands in the Low Human Development category comes as no surprise. This stark reality is the inevitable outcome of Pakistan’s obsession for boxing above her weight class and nurturing an outsize military in order to seek parity with India leaving little resources for a whole range activities that would contribute to the human development civilian Pakistani’s. Till such time as Pakistan accepts the immutable reality that she is inferior to India, Pakistan’s civilians will continue to suffer.

    The solution is thus rather straight forward. Pakistan needs to accept that she is India’s inferior. The big question that then remains is will Pakistan make the rational choice and junk the braggadocio of attempting to seek equality with India? Or will it accept the inevitable consequence of misallocating resources in favour of the Military entailing Pakistan’s civilians figuratively “Eating Grass”?.


  • Iqbal
    Aug 1, 2014 - 12:58PM

    Why Pakistan is low on human development..
    The answer lies in ex President Musharraf’s famous quote:

    Today we are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race
    When I was at University in London, my professor said to me that any nation which mixes religion and politics will fail. How right he was. In Pakistan all emphasis is on religion and brainwashing children into thinking that minorities are of inferior race.
    My professor also told me that in the very near future there will be no such thing as Pakistan. I now understand why he said so.


  • george
    Aug 1, 2014 - 1:49PM

    Please read Tariq Ali’s CAN PAKISTAN SURVIVE.


  • Iqbal
    Aug 1, 2014 - 2:56PM

    I have read Tariq Ali’s “Can Pakistan Survive?: The Death of a State”. It confirms what historians say and what Ali’s sub title suggests “….The Death of a State”. My research shows Pakistan tried to ban it. I wonder why.
    It is freely available on the internet for those who are interested.


  • Xman
    Aug 1, 2014 - 3:19PM

    Most people see Islamic religiosity as the root cause of low HDI, but it is more of an outcome. Probably the root cause of low HDI is more profound, and is based on the region’s terrain/location, and the ensuing biology and genetics as a function of the environment.


  • Mirza
    Aug 1, 2014 - 6:03PM

    Pakistan is very low in each area except the development and welfare of generals and mullahs.


  • Aug 1, 2014 - 8:26PM

    Pakistan’s human development score rose by 18.9% during Musharraf years and increased just 3.4% under elected leadership since 2008. The news on the human development front got even worse in the last three years, with HDI growth slowing down as low as 0.59% — a paltry average annual increase of under 0.20 per cent.

    Going further back to the decade of 1990s when the civilian leadership of the country alternated between PML (N) and PPP, the increase in Pakistan’s HDI was 9.3% from 1990 to 2000, less than half of the HDI gain of 18.9% on Musharraf’s watch from 2000 to 2007.


  • Strategic Asset
    Aug 1, 2014 - 9:15PM

    @Author: Surprisingly @Dipak who wrote the first comment has hit the nail on its head. Low HDI in Pakistan is primarily a function of the feudal system and lack of land reform. This has ensured that in Pakistan, the poor remain poorer and the rich remain richer. Don’t forget also that it was the erstwhile feudals who were the biggest supporters for the creation of Pakistan.

    The feudal class has ensured that the only way to distract the Average Moe in Pakistan is by raising the bogie of India or by cultivating a religious society where even whatever little they have is not their own.

    The only way out of this morass is if a bold leader emerges in Pakistan who is pragmatic and also willing to initiate tough reform. Unfortunately I see no one from the current crop and it honestly saddens me. A reality check for Pakistan is in order and it might happen sometime soon. Baby steps, as they say; perhaps trade with India may be the tipping point if Pakistan ever decides to do so because we Indians have moved a lot in the past 67 years but we are still not happy with our own HDI ranking.


  • Aug 1, 2014 - 9:52PM

    Sir, Pakistan performs poorly on almost every index. Keeping people of Pakistan illiterate is in the interest of political elites.

    Almost every effort to make Pakistan an educated nation fails.


  • Sep 22, 2014 - 1:42AM

    Wonderful site, thanks a lot !!Recommend

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