How UN influences progress and development of Pakistan: A case of SDGs

Posted: 00:43 am, Wednesday, 17 July 2023

The intergovernmental organization founded in October 1945, UN has ever since played a crucially important and central role in global affairs. Be it developmental, political or even economical UN has been a center of all affairs. Ever Since its formation, the UN has been staying committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights (History of the UN | United Nations Seventieth Anniversary).With this commitment UN holds a great influence on developing as well as developed nations of the world. SDGs by the UN are an important instrument through which the UN holds a great influence. However, this influence has a lot of great areas and both good and dark sides. Good side of this influence particularly through SDGs is reflected through the progress of nations. And the dark side is reflected through maintenance of western dominance through the UN. This article serves to present both sides by presenting the case study of Pakistan.

SDGs happen to be a very important yet a great effort by the UN for global sustainability. SDGs were adopted by UN member states in 2015 providing a blueprint for peace, prosperity of people as well as for the planet (THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development). According to the UN, many people are living healthier lives now compared to the start of the millennium, representing one area of progress made by the MDGs and SDGs. For example, the UN reported that between 2012 and 2017, 80 percent of live births worldwide had assistance from a skilled health professional—an improvement from 62 percent between 2000 and 2005 (Sustainable Development Goals, 2022). Aiming at ensuring the quality of life to the present and future generations, UN through SDGs are driven towards putting efforts in sustainability for a long term period.

In the case of Pakistan UN has always played a prominent role for its endeavors (Sustainable Development Goals). The UN played this crucial role particularly through the instrument of SDGs. In 2018, the Government of Pakistan and UN signed the UN Sustainable Development Framework(UNSDF) also known as Pakistan one UN Programme III, a framework for a medium term strategic planning document with planned results focusing on key outcomes identified through extensive consultation (Sustainable Development Goals). Moreover, the Ministry of Planning, Development & Special Initiatives (MoP&SI) with the support of UNDP launched a five years joint project of "National Initiative for Sustainable Development Goals to institutionalize 2030 Agenda.

The initiative brings together the planning, financing and statistical institutions to work collectively to lay the foundation of SDGs implementation in the country (Federal SDGs Support Unit). Particularly talking about SDG1, programs like Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), and Pakistan Baitul Mal (PBM) are designed in such a way to provide social protection to deserving people with a purpose to make progress in eradicating poverty. Moreover, when we talk about progress, the launching of a “National SDGs Framework” in 2018 and establishing seven SDGs Support Units at the level of the federal and the provincial governments to facilitate coordination among the stakeholders reflects the progress of Pakistan (Ahmed & Aziz). Moreover, According to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Index ranking 2021, Pakistan was ranked 129th out of 165 countries, due to making good progress on climate action, the 17th goal (Hussain, 2022).

The progress shows that the UN's SDGs serve an important factor in reducing the climate change issue. Furthermore, when we talk about urban sustainability, as Christopher Williams says  “Urbanization is both an opportunity and a challenge”. It is an opportunity when a tremendous amount of innovation is going to take place. However, urbanization can be the greatest of all challenges when many cities are ill-equipped to handle a large influx of population (Imran, 2022). The 11th goal of SDG serves to be a guide to turn urbanization into opportunity. According to this goal, making cities inclusive, safe and resilient is a way forward for sustainable urbanization. In the case of Pakistan,we see that urbanization is a big challenge. This challenge is evident when one witnesses cities of Pakistan suffering from a scarcity of space for residents (Imran, 2022). In such a state SDG 11’s ought to be a guiding principle for Pakistan to turn urbanization into an opportunity.

CPEC is a prominent example to be cited here. CPEC, a collaboration between Pakistan and China, plays a key role in the attainment of SDG 4. Aligning with SDG 4, the $65 billion mega project helps to enhance the quality of education across Pakistan (Sulaiman, 2022). The federal government of Pakistan has played an important role to improve the recruitment of teachers and student enrolment ratios, especially with regard to girls, for improving the overall literacy rate of the country. On the other hand, CPEC has also worked in the same direction, where the need for better technical education facilities was released in remote areas like Gwadar and FATA. As of now, 25 solar schools have been set up to help facilitate the local communities (Sulaiman, 2022).

Reflecting from the examples of Pakistan’s progress in development stated above shows that how UN played a prominent role in making Pakistan progress through provision of a blueprint of development and sustainability i.e. SDGs. However, despite all the efforts of the UN and progress there is still a huge loophole being identified i.e. despite all these efforts a very little benefit is being produced. The reason behind this lack of progress highlights a dark side of the UN's influence. That dark side is that the UN is a tool for the west to maintain its dominance and hegemony over the rest. According to Puchala, the UN manages international systems with the mission to universalize liberalism as per the goal of western hegemony (Puchala, 2005). He further emphasizes that the UN establishes, monitors, maintains and enforces global regime to further the Western goals (Puchala, 2005). Particularly SDGs, being a western indicator of progress reflects eurocentric ideas. Moreover, the dominance of the US in the UN reflects how the UN is an instrument of US foreign policy (Puchala, 2005). Not only is the US a founding member of the UN, she is also one of the P5 countries on the security council (Jain et al., 2019).

SDGs are designed globally on the concept of one for all i.e. The UN devised a singular blueprint globally for all. Such designing of goals ignores the cultural factor i.e. every county has its own culture and unique problems. Western lenses are used to look at developing countries which overshadow the realities of such nations.Due to this dominance of west the goals oversimplifies the issues they are trying to resolve (Sadiku). Since the goals are based in Western European and US values (Sadiku) it brings unseen yet difficult consequences particularly for developing countries like Pakistan. One of the major consequences is lack of productive output. In the case of Pakistan, we see the heavy reliance on western indicators particularly UN’s SDGs. Point to ponder relying on these indicators is not the issue however, hyper dependency is concerning (Imran, 2022). Pakistan being a country lacking its own model of developmental finds no other way than to rely on UN and SDGs goals. This creates a huge gap between real problems and solutions. Because local realities are ignored due to heavy reliance on SDGs. For example SDG 4 focuses on quality education for all but ignores the reality that the quality of education for Pakistan differs from that of the USA keeping in mind the cultural and ideological differences. Moreover, according to UNICEF, “An estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are out-of-school’ in Pakistan. But why are they out of school? The answer to why and the problem behind this is implicitly ignored. The more countries follow the western models the more  it becomes to achieve global sustainability. Because it leads to widening of the gap between the developed, developing and underdeveloped countries. In the case of SDGs due to western hegemony it further widens the gap between global rich and poor (Ziai & Schöneberg, 2020). Pakistan being a country with a colonial legacy is a living example of such a notion.  Policies in Pakistan are designed in accordance with SDGs and western indicators hence they fail to produce policy outcomes that resolve the local issues as local realities are concerningly ignored.

However, in order to produce fruitful policy outcomes it is important to develop a national model of development and for that localizing the SGs goals is a very important step. This is because in order to produce an impactful outcome it highly depends on policy coherence between SDGs goals and National realities. The National SDG Framework by the Government of Pakistan is a commendable initiative in this regard (National SDGs Framework for Pakistan, 2018). The framework is designed in a way to ensure coherence between goals and local challenges. Because ignoring SDGs is not the right way, instead using SDGs as a blueprint to solve local issues is the right way forward.

To sum the article, the UN has an important role in the world of today. With a central global standing, the UN influences developing as well as developed nations very strongly. However, this influence as presented in this article has its positive as well as negative side. In short the influence that the UN holds has a lot of gray areas. On one hand it plays a prominent role in advancement as well as solving global issues. On the other hand it maintains the western dominance and fulfills the goals of western hegemony i.e. to liberalize and westernize the world overshadowing the perspectives of developing states like Pakistan. However, the negative side of impact of the UN can be toned down if developing countries like Pakistan bring up their own model of development that is incorporated with national realities and uses instruments like SDGs as a guide or blueprint.

THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved November 24, 2022, from https://sdgs.un.org/goalsAhmed, S. I., & Aziz, S. (n.d.). Access to WASH goals.
The News International. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/money-matters/508293-access-to-wash-goalsFederal
SDGs Support Unit. (n.d.). Federal SDGs Support Unit. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.sdgpakistan.pk/web/sdgsHistory of the UN | United Nations Seventieth Anniversary. (n.d.). the United Nations. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.un.org/un70/en/content/history/index.html

By Kashaf Imran

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