Under one flag – Fahd Husain

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HAVING celebrated Independence Day yesterday, what should be our aim for the next Independence Day? Here are 10 targets:

Covid-19 introduced many Pakistanis to the comfort of travelling from Karachi to Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar by motorways. Once the Sukkur-Hyderabad section of the motorway is complete, ease and efficiency of travel for private and commercial purpose will increase significantly. Building roads and highways has been good policy that has started paying dividends. Target: Invest more in road infrastructure and have clear achievable targets for Aug 14, 2021.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday he was wrong about BRT Metro and Pervaiz Khattak — who pushed for the project — was right. This admission means that Shahbaz Sharif was also right to build metro buses in various cities of the Punjab. In fact, all of them are right. Urban transport networks are as important as motorways. Greater ease of travel for citizens will have direct economic benefits. PTI was wrong to make it a political issue. Imran Khan is right to accept he was wrong. Target: Invest more in urban transport and identify next cities to have metros and other transport schemes by Aug 14, 2021.

From better education and healthcare facilities to improved governance at the local level, a number of objectives must be met in the next one year.

Covid-19 has led to significant upgrading of our health infrastructure. But the overall state of the health sector is so bad that even these initiatives may be a drop in the ocean. The last few months have proved that if we make it a national priority, we can actually make a difference in this neglected but absolutely critical area. Target: Keep the momentum going by planning massive improvements in the health sector. A federal task force on the lines of NCOC can act as a central coordinator with each province identifying public-sector hospitals etc that will be reformed to an international level by Aug 14, 2021.

The six-month closure of schools during the pandemic has exposed many aspects of our educational failures. Two are noteworthy. First, when we as policymakers, teachers and parents are worried sick about the harm done to students who have been out of school for six months, we might want to recall that nearly 23 million Pakistani children are out of school permanently. Second, we may have realised the heavy dependence of our basic education on private schools (that have faced the brunt of Covid-19 damage from closures). If we do not focus on uplifting public-sector education now, we would be giving up on our future. Target: Prime Minister Imran Khan should declare an education emergency (as promised) with provinces drawing up clear quantifiable targets to be achieved under this emergency by Aug 14, 2021.

Heavy rains in the last few weeks have once again exposed the pathetic conditions of urban planning and essential services in most cities and towns of the country. NDMA and FWO may be called to clear clogged drains once or twice but this is not the solution to these woes. The answer lies in empowered local governments. All agree but none wants to implement. Insecure politicians fear losing power to fully empowered municipalities. In this, all three main parties — PTI, PML-N and PPP — are at fault. Pakistan cannot govern itself like this anymore. Target: Provinces must target to have local bodies legislated, elected and in place by Aug 14, 2021. If need be, other state institutions should pressure them to do so.

On Tuesday this week, the Punjab police once again proved itself to be a thuggish and ill-trained force. In the clash with PML-N supporters accompanying Maryam Nawaz Sharif for the NAB hearing, Punjab police was seen hurling rocks and smashing vehicles. Never more did a police need reforming. Prime Minister Imran Khan is speaking about everything under the sun but he has conveniently forgotten this central promise. Target: PM should lay out Punjab police reform plan and declare key targets to be achieved by Aug 14, 2021. (Sadly there are zero expectations from the Sindh government for police reform.)

In the wake of Tuesday’s fiasco in Lahore, there has never been a greater need to inject credibility in the accountability process. Among the many unfulfilled promises of PTI (like police reform) one key failing has been the inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to delink accountability from political agendas. If Pakistan’s governance has to match basic constitutional requirements, NAB laws must be reformed. PTI will have control of the Senate in March 2021 and can legislate its priorities. Target: NAB Ordinance must be reformed by Aug 14, 2021.

This week government and opposition achieved a rare consensus in passing FATF legislation. This may be one of the few times that parliament actually worked like it is supposed to, instead of being a forum for screaming matches. The government must now grow out of its container mode and build consensus in order to push forward a progressive legislative agenda, especially since it will control the Senate too. Target: The government should map out a legislative to-do list that should be passed into law by Aug 14, 2021.

Earlier this week, a large number of prominent women journalists issued a statement saying government officials were ‘instigating’ online attacks against them. This is only the latest example of vulnerabilities faced by women and minorities in Pakistan (a number of minorities have been gunned down in the last few weeks). Nothing could be more urgent for a government inspired by Madina ki riyasat to afford protection to the vulnerable segments of society. Target: PTI government should have a list of policies and legislation for women and minorities ready and enforced by Aug 14, 2021.

One year after India scrapped Article 370 and reoccupied occupied Kashmir, Pakistan is searching for actionable clarity in its Kashmir policy. Symbolic gestures are insufficient. This must change. Target: We should have a proactive policy spelt out and in full operational mode by Aug 14, 2021. No more shallow rhetoric please.

Let’s get to work.