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Ghazi

Salahuddin

STIFLING VOICES THROUGH FEAR

There is evidence, as we move into another year of our discontent, that attacks on ‘media freedom and progressive expression’ are becoming more severe. In the first week of December, cases of sedition were registered against organisers and participants of the Student Solidarity March held in Lahore. Since this rights-based protest by students was impressive in its performance, the response had to be sufficiently despotic to deliver a message. Another form of intimidation was demonstrated in the evidently orchestrated demonstrations outside the offices of the Dawn group.

This, then, is the drift. So much damage has already been done that even some relaxation of curbs on the mainstream media will not make much difference. Media groups are financially disabled and the scourge of self-censorship, born of fear and insecurity, has undermined the professional and ethical standards of the media.

 

Not much may change during the next 12 months but the prospect of a shift in political power has the potential for making the media environment a little less suffocating. In recent months, media has been dictated more by the establishment than the blundering spokespersons of the prime minister. A new arrangement should allow more space to the civilian authority. Ultimately, though, the powers that be must prevail.

 

A struggle for free media and a meaningful dispensation of the democratic system faces multiple challenges in Pakistan. In the first place, ours is an exceptionally intolerant society marked by religious extremism. We have a set of ruling ideas that are not to be questioned or even objectively examined by the media. Areas are demarcated in the name of national security, out of bounds for discussion and debate.

One problem in dealing with these challenges is the woefully depressed state of Pakistan’s intelligentsia. We do not have a large enough population among the literate segment to support a viable print media. Our reading habits are dismal and there is a general sense of intellectual impoverishment. So much so that there is little scope for a serious discourse on our campuses, universally acknowledged as the breeding ground for new ideas and progressive social action. That there is a ban on taking up issues like the Baloch insurgency is another matter. Academic freedom, in a sense, has an umbilical connection with media freedom.

Against this backdrop, news channels operate almost as the sole arbiters of what we may describe as public opinion. In a de-intellectualized and partly illiterate society, these channels are inherently not meant to promote progressive ideas. All they do is to chew the political cud in their talk shows.

 

What we see as media freedom is actually the freedom of the people at large. This means that the struggle for a free media must be joined by civil society organizations and political activists.

The author is a journalist, writer and literary figure.

 

DEMOCRACY OUT IN THE COLD

Pakistan’s democracy is at its lowest point since the transition to democratic rule began in 2008. The challenges to democracy are both procedural and substantive. Procedurally, the 2018 elections failed to inspire confidence in large parts of the population regarding the fairness and transparency of the process. Substantively, there is a deliberate and flagrant disregard for fundamental values of democracy such as parliamentary supremacy, freedom of expression, rule of law and due process. The degeneration in the quality of democracy is likely to accelerate in the coming year. The federal government coalition has preferred populism over institutional reform and often views the democratic process as an obstacle: one example is the use of ordinances for law making rather than debates and votes in the parliament.

The government is not only failing to address societal fault lines and polarization but contributing to them becoming acute. There is a conscious abandonment of the ambition of creating an egalitarian, pluralistic and inclusive society.  Democratic backsliding began in the previous PML-N government with centralized, top down policy making done without meaningful consultation became the norm. The obsession of this government with an uncontested one-person rule is the principal obstacle to democratic progress. All reform agendas and policy measures in our state structure must be grounded in principles of federalism and devolution of powers to provincial and local governments.

The unwillingness and inability to deal with urgent challenges on the economy, foreign policy, environment and justice system reform can plunge the government to ratchet up populist rhetoric as a default response resulting in more stifling of criticism, polarization and isolation. In a multicultural, multiethnic, federal democracy this is fundamentally untenable: that is grounds for optimism. Most Pakistanis are young people and aspire to upward economic mobility and empowerment and will not be placated by the government’s rabble rousing, shadow boxing with political opponents. There is a growing resentment to elite capture of decision making and resources enabled by the dismantling of the democratic architecture. This will mean that the government will have to abandon the politics of confrontation, crackdown, censorship and denial for self-preservation or will have to face the consequences of not doing that. Instead of trying to fight the youth, the government should try and harness the energy and the potential. The hopefulness is also grounded by our history, Pakistan is too diverse and resilient to let authoritarian rule go unchallenged. The Pakistan media has faced previous rounds of censorship and always come out stronger. Pakistani politicians have decades of experience of dealing with repressive tactics. The government is underestimating the commitment of Pakistani society to democratic resistance and is doing so at its own peril.

The solution to the many serious problems faced by Pakistani democracy and society is not easy but it is simple: returning to the constitutional rule and parliamentary supremacy. Economic prosperity, effective foreign policy and civil service reform require a consultative, listening government benefiting from the views of not only allies but also critics.

The author is a lawyer and the country representative for the Human Rights Watch.

Saroop

Ijaz

 

Sakib

Sherani

PAKISTAN'S IMF PREDICAMENT

Following an acute balance of payments crisis in 2018, Pakistan has landed into its 23rd IMF program. With the country’s foreign exchange reserves falling sharply from July 2018 onwards, the Rupee came under pressure and eventually lost around 26 per cent of its value by June 2019.

The adjustment of the exchange rate, in conjunction with tight fiscal and monetary policy, has led to a sharp curtailment of the current account imbalance. While export receipts have experienced a moderate increase of 4 per cent, the supply response to the Rupee devaluation has been more pronounced with a strong increase in export volumes of major items. 

However, the steep depreciation of the currency has unleashed strong inflationary pressures in the economy, which in conjunction with contractionary budgetary measures and high domestic interest rates, have negatively impacted domestic demand, purchasing power, sales of businesses, jobs as well as incomes of a wide swath of the population. Under the aegis of the IMF program, Pakistan is required to achieve fiscal consolidation (spending cuts combined with tax increases) amounting to 4.5 per cent of GDP over the next three years – the highest by far under any of its programs with the Fund. The magnitude of the IMF-mandated fiscal adjustment will mean that the economy is likely to post tepid rates of growth at best for the next two years at least, possibly longer.

The economy is currently in the early stages of the post-crisis phase, with external account stabilisation taking hold. The effects of the stabilisation have transmitted to the asset markets, with the stock market posting a smart recovery of over 41 per cent since its near-term low in mid-August. The construction sector also appears to be somewhat of a bright spot along with the export sector. Beyond these few sectors, the real sector is experiencing near-recessionary conditions as evidenced by large scale manufacturing output, private sector credit demand, and sales of petroleum products. 

The sluggish conditions in the real sector are likely to persist, and may even intensify if the economic slowdown and the high interest rate policy of the central bank sharply increase the non-performing loans portfolio of the banks. Overall, in my estimation, it will take at least three years before the economy begins to add jobs once again in a significant manner. Clearly, the crisis as well as the short term policy measures will be welfare reducing in a very significant manner.

Beyond the short term pain, the longer term policy response in terms of initiation of economic reforms, especially the adjustment of the exchange rate, is likely to create huge opportunities both in the export sector as well as in import-substituting sectors. 

The author is a public policy expert and ex-Advisor to the Prime Minister on economic affairs.

 

REVIEWING SOCIAL PROTECTION MEASURES

Pakistan first implemented a social protection program with grassroots outreach in 1980, with the enactment of the Zakat Ordinance and the formation of tiered Zakat Committees, all the way down to the neighbourhood level.  Using a system of community targeting (where beneficiaries were identified by the community), and funds generated from deductions from bank deposits, the system was supposed to service the poorest of the poor across the country.   The Zakat program was always controversial though, with the community targeting approach being criticized, and a widespread tendency by depositors to evade the annual deduction.  Nevertheless, it spawned other social protection programs, notably, grants to the “deserving poor” by Pakistan Baitul Maal or PBM (which was established in 1991).  While Zakat and PBM grants were meant for the general public, the government had already introduced pension and social welfare schemes for those working in the formal private sector (registered businesses and factories) through institutions such as the provincial Employees Social Security Institutions (ESSIs), the Worker’s Welfare Fund (WWF) and the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI).

While the above efforts continued apace, the government’s flagship social protection program, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was launched in 2009.  BISP was initially based on a system of community identification, but was quickly converted to a targeting system based on a house to house asset recording census (or a social registry as such initiatives are called in the development literature). BISP gives unconditional cash transfers to households falling below a certain score.  The score is not a poverty line per se, but is based on an assessment of how many households can be reasonably supported given available budgetary allocations.  BISP has also supported “graduation” programs or conditional cash transfers premised on enrolling children in school.

With BISP’s social registry as the basis, the government is now expanding its social protection initiative through the Ehsaas program, which encompasses BISP as well as a series of other initiatives including scholarships for higher studies, health insurance, vocational training, a citizen’s pension (covering informal sector workers) and loans for small businesses amongst others.   Many of these are in the design stage, and will be unveiled and launched over the next few months.

The government’s commitment to social protection is commendable.  But financing programs in an environment where the federal and provincial development budgets are being squeezed, and there is pressure to control the fiscal deficit is challenging.  Rather than putting out a highly ambitious program covering more than 120 potential programs, it may have been wiser to focus on a few key areas (perhaps universal health service provision) and devote limited resources to that.  Also, it is worthwhile to weigh the benefits of adopting a universal approach to social protection vs. targeting based on a very expensive social registry which has to be updated every few years.  The limitations of targeting were recently exposed when a forensic audit of BISP beneficiaries found that almost a fifth of households receiving the cash transfer did not fulfill the stated criteria.  It could also be that their circumstances had changed in the 8 years since the last survey.  But constructing a new social registry takes time and is expensive.  These are policy debates that need to be initiated.  

The author is a writer and expert on socio-economics.

Safiya

Aftab

Hassan

Akbar

CPEC STEWARDSHIP

Despite a turbulent year that saw growing concern about the future of Pakistan’s largest bilateral investment project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor had a strong finish towards the close of 2019. With early harvest projects in energy and infrastructure valued at $42 billion reaching maturity under Phase I, Chinese and Pakistani officials are now poised to shift gears. Under Phase II, the focus of new investments will be towards enhancing industrialization, agricultural development, socioeconomic development and encouraging foreign firms to participate in a project that has so far been restricted to Chinese companies.

As the decade comes to a close, several questions about the financial viability of CPEC remain unanswered. Much of the criticism for CPEC specifically, and the BRI at large, has focused on debt sustainability for countries such as Pakistan that continue to face a debilitating current account deficit. These concerns have been echoed both at home and abroad. In a rare official criticism of China’s most prominent BRI project, a senior US official questioned the viability of the project for Pakistan earlier this year. This has helped lift the veil of secrecy. We now know that CPEC projects are broadly comprised of three financial structures. Chinese government loans at concessionary rates comprise the majority of financing. Some projects, specifically those in Gwadar fall under grants or interest free loans. Commercial loans too, largely through China’s EXIM bank are on relatively low commercial rates. With a 20-30 year period for repayment, the debt burden on Pakistan under CPEC is unlikely to rise above 15-18 percent of Pakistan’s total foreign debt in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the establishment of a CPEC Authority has helped address concerns about stymied implementation after a year of controversial remarks on CPEC by some ministers of the present government. A retired three star general has now been brought in to lead the new federal authority. This speaks to the privilege of strategic concerns over economic ones in years to come. While the CPECA is expected to oversee implementation and act as the focal point for inter-ministerial and inter-provincial coordination, the government’s decision to set up the authority through an ordinance rather than an act of parliament will affect both the coordination between provinces and with the opposition.

In the coming year, four benchmarks for CPEC will remain: passing the CPECA ordinance through both houses of parliament; implementation of the much delayed ML-1 railway project valued at over $8 billion; improving existing frameworks around SEZs to ensure investments remain financially viable and economically competitive; and encouraging third countries to participate in Phase-II of the project. Equally important will be a growing focus on the economic, social and environmental sustainability of new projects under Phase-II. As several new PC-1 come on board next year, there will be close scrutiny at home of projects focused on agricultural and socioeconomic development. As Pakistan marches into a new decade and a new phase of CPEC, the opportunity to iron out the governance clogs witnessed in Phase-I is unique. How well the government ensures both oversight and transparency will ensure, in large part, the continued ownership of CPEC across the political divide in Pakistan.

The author is Director Strategic Security Initiative at Jinnah Institute.

 
 

BRINKMANSHIP ON THE LOC

Relations between Pakistan and India are likely to remain tense and hostile in 2020 with serious risks of escalation. The dangerous brinkmanship displayed by the Indian political leadership in the run-up to the 2019 general elections was an acute warning of the rising ultra-nationalism in India fostered by PM Modi’s strongman style politics. The BJP’s subsequent landslide reelection victory emboldened it to fast-track implementation of its election manifesto including ending the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, legislating on a Citizenship Amendment Bill and pursuing the expeditious construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. All these actions have galvanized the BJP’s hard-core Hindu nationalist voter base with PM Modi still enjoying widespread support despite surfacing tensions across the country.

 

The Indian government’s brazen recent tactics, especially on Kashmir, has raised the temperature in Pakistan, making any reconciliation in the short-term very unlikely. Political considerations on both sides will therefore continue to plague the dialogue process. The leadership in Pakistan has accepted this reality, after reaching out to India for dialogue for many years in vain. The coming months will likely see Pakistan highlighting the Hindutva-based ‘fascist’ ideology of the BJP and riding the wave of growing international and domestic criticism of Indian government’s policies in Kashmir and against minorities. India’s attempt to change the status quo on Kashmir has also allowed Pakistan the opportunity to consider a tit-for-tat Constitutional counter on GB & AJK. However, a bitterly divided domestic political environment along with Pakistan’s principled position on the right of self-determination for Kashmir before the UN makes it unlikely for it to consider such a bold step for the moment.

 

For India, the key indicators will be how its Government manages to handle its slowing economy, the growing communal unrest and the lockdown in Kashmir. If the BJP decides on double-down on its existing policies – especially as a distraction for its slowing economy, it runs the huge risk of indigenous violence erupting across the country, especially in Kashmir and destabilizing the entire region. Any terror attack will almost certainly be blamed on Pakistan with India keen on setting a new strategic precedent by reacting with bolder military action. 27 February 2019 made it clear that this is not a viable current option for India but a new escalatory pattern is clearly in play and will be reinforced by the Indian military’s ongoing military modernization and procurement programs. Pakistan on its part seems to have realized the damage non-state actors attributed to it have caused to its international standing and the Kashmir cause. The looming threat posed by FATF provides the Government with the political space to carry out tough action against these elements in 2020 and demonstrate compliance to the international community.

 

These multifaceted challenges point towards a tumultuous 2020 for Indo-Pak relations. Urgent intervention is required to stop the situation from spiraling out of control, especially since existential issues such as water scarcity and climate change will demand real cooperation between the two countries very soon.

The author is Executive Director at Research Society of International Law (RSIL).

Jamal

Aziz

 

Arif

Rafiq

NAVIGATING TURBULENCE IN AFGHANISTAN

The year 2019 has demonstrated the limits of Pakistan’s ability to shape a decisive outcome in Afghanistan. Islamabad facilitated U.S.-Taliban talks, but Trump pulled the plug on the process just before a preliminary deal was to be signed. The Western powers greenlighted Afghanistan’s presidential elections, rather than facilitate a more sensible option: a broad-based caretaker government. 

 

Predictably, the impasse over the elections continues into its third month. The Afghan election commission recently announced preliminary results, with Ashraf Ghani attaining a narrow majority. The opposition disputes around 300,000 votes. A loss of 30,000 or so votes for Ghani would trigger a runoff. But Ghani has prematurely claimed “victory.”

 

Meanwhile, U.S.-Taliban talks have resumed. There are conflicting reports that the two parties could sign their deal and agree to a reduction in violence or even a ceasefire, allowing for the start of intra-Afghan talks.

 

The Trump administration is betting that it can deconflict the election crisis and intra-Afghan talks. But Ghani is on a mission to stay in power by any means—including by sabotaging both processes.

 

How the Taliban talks and Afghan elections play out are extremely consequential for Pakistan. Yet, when it comes to determining political outcomes in Afghanistan, in the near-term, Pakistan will remain a member of the supporting cast, forced to deal with the choices made by Western powers.

 

Whether Ghani stays or goes may ultimately be America’s call. And whether America stays or goes this year will be Trump’s call.

 

Pakistan is wisely preparing for multiple contingencies. Much like other regional powers, Islamabad has patiently given Washington time to come to its better senses and resume talks. At the same time, it has publicly embraced the Taliban’s diplomatic leadership. And it has pursued cooperation with the Kabul over connectivity projects in Gwadar and Torkham. Finally, the Pakistan Army continues to fence the border with Afghanistan. 

 

Pakistan is presently ably managing the problems in Afghanistan—both as a source of friction with the United States and as a safe haven for anti-Pakistan terrorist groups. 

 

Another breakdown of talks with the Taliban and violence between forces backed by Ghani and his political opponents raise the risk of a unilateral U.S. withdrawal. With that in mind, Pakistan should broaden its engagement with political forces based in Afghanistan’s north and west and sustain coordination with regional powers. And it should be prepared to take proactive measures to secure its borders—even through extraterritorial action. 

 

Finally, Islamabad’s good faith effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiation has allowed for a reset of relations with Washington. Those gains should be preserved.

The author is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

 

A SCRIPT FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE

Pakistan’s vulnerability to the climate crisis is well-documented and acknowledged. It has been experienced by the families displaced by floods, the laborers dehydrated to death and the children born to starving homes. It has also been neatly categorized as the ‘fifth most climate vulnerable country’ by Germanwatch. Alarming figures have been presented before us. 9,989 lives lost, $3.8 billion down the drain.

It is also the devastating result of the choices of wealthier countries like the United States, China, Russia, Germany and Japan in the energy, industry, agriculture and transport sectors. The cost of their enrichment is so heavy, that many countries of the Global South are buckling under the weight.

To redress this injustice, Pakistan must speak up. As the Co-Chair of the Green Climate Fund, it must forcefully dub the failure to reduce emissions the human rights violation that it is. At international forums, Pakistan can lead the calls from the Global South for climate justice – which must be made the cornerstone of its foreign policy. The transfer of climate finance, green technologies and expertise must be made readily available to Pakistan as compensation for rendering the world so unstable, our very survival is threatened by it.

For such a campaign to succeed, Pakistan needs to be able to say that it took every possible step to fulfil its own immediate obligation to reduce emissions to the full extent of its capacity. When it comes to making difficult choices – some that offer immediate gratification (like investing in the Thar coal power plant) and others that promise sustainable change in a few years (switching to renewable energy sources) – Pakistan must always opt for the latter. The moral high ground is ours to claim.

Part of why political will for climate change has been so difficult to mobilize is the lack of a clear narrative, in local vocabularies, as to what the climate emergency is, who is responsible for it and what accountability would look like. The communication surrounding climate change, globally, has been inaccessible, academic and entirely uninteresting. The abbreviations are long, and the concept too diffuse, without saying enough about what we - as individuals, as victims - can do about it. Pakistan is uniquely positioned to set out its own story and it must prioritize its development.

Climate change is not slow, apologetic or susceptible to media pressure. You cannot take it to court and you cannot imprison it. Holding press conferences with clear talking points does not keep it at bay, neither does pretending it is fake news. It is a human rights crisis like no other.

The author is a human rights activist.

Rimmel

Mohydin

 

Rabea

Malik

REFORMS IN EDUCATION GOVERNANCE

Reflecting the direction of international policy discourse, Pakistan is also developing mechanisms to measure learning and track progress on it. There’s been considerable work done on developing and deploying assessments that allow learning levels to be measured. This focus is likely to intensify in the coming year.  In Punjab, a new assessments framework is amending the standardized PEC exam as the only form of assessment in government schools; and brining in a combination of sample based assessments (for system level diagnostics) and formative school-based assessments for tracking student progress.

Ensuring learning is linked naturally in the reform discourse with improvements in quality of teaching. All provinces have tried this year to increase the number of teachers in classrooms, and reduce incidence of multi-grade teaching. School-based professional development programs for teachers (or in-service training mechanisms) are being redesigned. In Punjab, the role of the school monitors has been reimagined as coaches to redress the imbalance between monitoring and support. This reform will see more coaching and pedagogical support being provided to teachers in classrooms. Sindh is redesigning their in-service teacher training programs as well.

All provinces are likely to continue governance reform in parallel to service delivery reforms. The trend from the previous years of using data for policy design is likely to continue. More data are being collected than ever before. KP has established a data generation and management unit that will serve as a hub for information schools generate and for evidence-based policy design.

Debates on curricula, text books and language policies are likely to continue. The core of the debate is about uniformity vs diversity. It is a challenge to figure out the right balance between demands of standardized and transferrable skills for a global economy, and ensuring that learning can happen in contextualized settings. Early childhood education is likely to be another policy area that sees considerable action. Early childhood policies are in place and the outgoing year saw resource allocations being made specifically for expansion of infrastructure and human resources for teaching in the early grades.

Coherent and careful implementation of reforms has always remained a challenge in Pakistan, and is going to continue to be. There is a need for all provincial governments to think about a process of policy design and implementation which is evidence based, i.e. grounded in empirical evidence, has iterations to design through monitoring and evaluations and considerations of moving up to scale carefully built in.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives.

CHILDREN ARE NOT STATISTICS

It is said that the future of a nation can be predicted by the investment it makes in its children. Constitutionally, the rights of Pakistan’s children are firmly placed. In addition to this, at the federal level there is legislation on child protection and welfare and commission on the rights of the child act, forced marriage a penal offence and a Ministry of Human Rights four-year national action plan to end child abuse that articulates prevention, protection and rehabilitation. Provincially, child welfare and protection directorates exist and child courts have been established in some districts in the country. Regionally, the SAARC group of countries have a policy on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (CSAE) and online safety; and internationally, Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990.

 

However, statistics do not reflect these legal guarantees and policy commitments. Official figures state that 4,139 children have been affected by sexual victimisation. There are 22.8 million children out of school and 21% of girls married before their 18th birthday. In addition to this, forced marriage, trafficking, child labour and neglect and child pornography, among other forms of abuse are being reported.

 

The year 2019 has seen the culture of silence on CSAE broken, leaving Pakistan’s policymakers in 2020 no choice but to contend with addressing child protection and welfare, both in terms of effective response and protecting childhood.  There have been sporadic attempts to address incidents being reported in the media but hard questions must be systemically dealt with. What are the underlying reasons behind the incidents, how to create early warning and responsive mechanisms for children to access? How does the criminal justice system fail children? What community level engagement for prevention and best practices can be adopted and whether oversight mechanisms are actually working? Perhaps the crucial question is why there is no proper budgetary allocation to fulfil commitments made in policy and legislation?

 

In addition to creating effective services, 2020 should see decision-makers reviewing incentives from the perspective of rights.  A starting point requires that the marriageable for the girl child be increased from 16 to 18, to rid a fundamental, constitutional discrepancy – that of the right to equality of all citizens regardless of sex. Further, both the formal structures of the State and the informal structure of the family must hold children’s rights as a central consideration, creating innovative and holistic approaches that take into account the importance of non-discrimination, leaving no child behind, childhood and what it entails and concepts such as agency, consent and participation.

 

As I complete this piece it has been found that a 10 year old girl has been stoned to death at the orders of a local Jirga. The State and its government of the day must take this with them as they walk into the year 2020 to help aspire breaking this cycle of violence. For clearer perspective, matters should be looked at in reverse – what will the long-term social and economic landscape in the country look like with a State that does not effectively address its children now? 

The author is a lawyer and human rights activist.

Benazir

Jatoi

Jahanzaib

Haque

PAKISTAN'S DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

2020 is likely to be a mixed bag of progress and regression in terms of the country’s digital landscape.

Internet Penetration: Pakistan has consistently ranked near the bottom of all reports on internet penetration globally. It is however to be noted that the Mobile Trends Report published by GSMA Intelligence states that five countries, including Pakistan, will account for 50% of global growth in new mobile internet users up to 2025. While internet penetration will continue to rise, thanks in large part to 3G/4G connections, many major challenges such as the urban-rural divide are expected to persist.

Online Banking and E-commerce: Increasing penetration ensures greater demand for online services, and consequent profits for those who can navigate the existing quagmire of policies governing online businesses. The issue of ease-of-business aside, 2020 should see new and bigger players exploring opportunities online; expect a mix of fin-tech/online banking ventures, e-commerce expansion, transport solutions and more. The increased competition will hopefully ensure improved products and services from existing players.

Governance: The state is finally cognisant of the fact that a digital transformation is critical to governance. The coming year will see greater strides in e-services on the G2G, G2B and G2C front. A lot of experimentation is to be expected, as are a number of failures as digital efforts will, at some stage, be assessed on delivering measurable results and not just lauded for being launched.

Civil Rights: The abuse of authority to curb freedom of expression, access to information and right to privacy have become a defining feature of the internet in Pakistan. This will not only continue across 2020, but will reach new heights, as all evidence points to growth of this unfortunate trend. With apparent sanction from the state, other actors will also be emboldened to violate citizens’ rights. Targets will include political opponents, social and political activists, journalists, academics, minority groups and other branches of civil society. Attacks will include harassment and threats, blackmail, viral hate campaigns, unlawful surveillance and hacking, blasphemy allegations and more. This may be further exacerbated with the proposed Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) that aims to regulate the internet. Many fear the establishment of this body will result in increased censorship and harassment.

Crime: The coming year will see online crime reach alarming levels, possibly prompting a rethink of the directionless, and in most cases, regressive efforts of the state to curb such activities. Some strides have been made to tackle child pornography, but the scale of this nightmare will slowly emerge. Cybercrimes such as harassment, bullying and blackmail where women and children are largely the targets will ramp up. Small and large scale hacks and data leaks can be expected across multiple sectors, as was seen in the case of BankIslami and Careem. And finally, 2020 is poised to be the defining year of fake news/misinformation online.

The author is Chief Digital Strategist & Editor, dawn.com.