The human development concept was developed by the celebrated economist Dr Mahbubul Haq. At the World Bank in the 1970s, and later as minister of finance in Pakistan, Dr Haq argued that existing measures of human progress failed to account for the true purpose of development: improving people’s lives. Working with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and other gifted economists, in 1990 Dr Haq published the first Human Development Report, which was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme. One would think that Pakistan would strive to deliver on a concept coined and cultivated by one of our own; however, unfortunately this is not the case.
Despite intermittent periods of growth, our country remains low on human development indicators, and the new deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Sartaj Aziz, on Thursday emphasised the need for striking a balance between social and economic development. Perhaps only a glance around the current state of affairs is required for one to admit that Aziz’s comments are not particularly perceptive. If human development is about the real freedom ordinary people have to decide who to be, what to do, and how to live — then sadly, Pakistan fails in these spheres. We have been victim to successive governments oriented towards tangible, quantifiable, and empirical projects for proof with which they may earn credibility to be voted into office again.
Crucial to the human development approach is the notion of capabilities, the equipment one has to pursue a life of value. Rudimentary capabilities cherished by practically everyone comprise: good health, access to knowledge, and a decent material standard of living. Other capabilities central to a fulfilling life could include the ability to participate in the decisions that affect one’s life, to have control over one’s living environment, to enjoy freedom from violence, to have societal respect, and to relax. These goals remain low on not only our current government’s priority list, but also on the agendas of political parties that seek power.