Recent elections in Pakistan could reshape governance in its largest provinces

Recent elections in Pakistan could reshape governance in its largest provinces

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Familiar faces return to power in Sindh and Punjab, the two largest and most populous provinces in Pakistan. While the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Sindh and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab are no strangers to the challenges of provincial governance, the landscape is undergoing a shift. The magnitude of the issues facing these provinces demands a departure from the past if genuine progress is to be achieved.
Sindh and Punjab are faced with challenges, from low literacy rates and high infant mortality to persistent poverty and unemployment. South Punjab, within the larger province of Punjab, presents an even graver picture, facing alarming rates of poverty and malnutrition. These disparities create fertile ground for discontent and extremism, threatening not only regional stability but also national unity.
In rural Sindh, poverty looms large, exacerbated by a scarcity of water that has ruined agriculture and driven migration to already overburdened urban centers. Weak law and order have further accelerated this migration, while militant groups continue to pose a threat, often receiving support from similar factions in Balochistan. Similarly, Southern Punjab is wrestling with its own militancy challenges.
Beyond provincial boundaries, economic centers in Sindh and Punjab are usually expected to play a role in ensuring economic and food security. However, past efforts have fallen short, with previously formulated growth strategies (by both provinces) remaining largely unimplemented, failing to stimulate job creation or foster sustainable agriculture or revival of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
To address these challenges, both PPP and PML-N must commit to a new era of transparent and inclusive governance. This requires a new social contract built on trust and mutual respect, empowering marginalized communities, and recognizing women as key contributors to development.

Both parties share blame for neglecting local governments, resulting in poorly maintained cities and villages ill-prepared for the digital age.

Vaqar Ahmed 

As the next generation of PML-N takes charge in Punjab, they must confront the legacy of weak institutional capacity and bureaucratic inertia, which has hindered service delivery and economic growth. Neglecting civil service reforms and public finance management reforms has perpetuated corruption. Fiscal constraints notwithstanding, there is ample room in the budgets of provinces to invest in sustainable human development and strengthen enabling infrastructure.
Both parties share blame for neglecting local governments, resulting in poorly maintained cities and villages ill-prepared for the digital age. Strengthening local government capacity and fostering collaboration between provincial and local authorities, development partners, and civil society are crucial steps toward addressing these challenges.
Implementing these changes requires a genuine commitment from both parties and a willingness to learn from successful initiatives in other provinces. Donor organizations have highlighted the need for stronger execution capacity, emphasizing the importance of timely and effective implementation of public projects. In addition to these reforms, both provinces must prioritize initiatives aimed at youth empowerment and digital readiness. Investing in education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship programs will equip the younger generation with the skills and resources needed to thrive in the digital age. Similarly, supporting SMEs and facilitating land-route trade with neighboring countries, particularly India (neighbors with both provinces), can spur job creation.
Furthermore, improving the business climate to attract and host Chinese investments beyond the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be crucial. Transitioning from government to government and toward business-to-business relations with China is important. By diversifying investment and fostering collaboration in sectors such as technology, manufacturing, and infrastructure, Sindh and Punjab can capitalize on China’s economic abilities and drive sustainable development.
Leveraging coastal geography, Sindh has the potential to enhance their maritime economies. Even when PPP was in the federal government, they missed the opportunity to invest in port infrastructure. Promoting maritime trade and developing marine resources can unlock economic growth and strengthen regional connectivity.
Normalizing trade relations with India holds immense potential for both Sindh and Punjab. Increased trade with India could open new markets for goods produced in both provinces. Additionally, enhanced trade ties can contribute to peace-building efforts, fostering goodwill and cooperation between Pakistan and India, ultimately promoting stability and prosperity in the region.
Despite being a busy container port and Pakistan’s main trade gateway, Karachi’s potential is hampered by infrastructure limitations. Enhanced connectivity with regional ports, particularly those in the Gulf region, could unlock gains through streamlined trade, regional hub status, knowledge transfer, and deeper integration, ultimately improving Pakistan’s regional standing.
The leadership in both Punjab and Sindh will discover allies in civil society and community-based organizations. In the past, the federal government has imposed strict regulations on non-profits and NGOs, limiting their involvement in grassroots development. It is hoped that this stance will be reconsidered, and policies and regulations hindering philanthropic and non-profit endeavors will be reviewed. Similarly, the room for independent think tanks advocating for the implementation of SDGs has been diminishing. One anticipates that the new leadership will view local think tanks as valuable partners.
- Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view