The phrase ‘from Karachi to Khyber’ appears to have taken a different connotation. While the phrase was earlier used to describe the richness of the land of sacred souls, it now reflects the breadth of bloodbath across the country. Are we really heading backwards to an age of barbarianism? There could be several explanations to the question of why the country seems to be in a perennial state of conflicts. However, the answers to the question may not be that difficult after all.
A study conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) sought to answer this question, focusing specifically on the role of the private sector in mitigating conflicts in the country. With a rich household-level survey across Pakistan, the study sheds light on community perceptions about the role of businesses with regards to mitigating peace.
Significantly, large percentages of respondents think that lack of social services and lack of employment opportunities are issues contributing to conflicts in the country. A large percentage of respondents (48 per cent) think that lack of basic necessities such as water and other utilities are also contributing to conflicts. The study shows that lack of social services, unemployment, and high cost of living are some of the most cited issues confronting the Pakistani society (note that two these issues are also the most cited ones as contributing to conflicts in the country, as mentioned before).
Even though most respondents (over 93 per cent) think that business expansion is beneficial for communities, a high percentage agrees to the idea of businesses’ involvement in local area development. Again, lack of employment, lack of energy and other utilities, and lack of social services are considered by most respondents as issues where private sector can help.
An interesting finding from the study is the response to ‘factors preventing business engagement in peace-building’. Responses widely varied, covering issues such as lack of legislation, corruption, political resistance and risks to business, among others. It is important to note, however, that even though these issues may prevent proactive peace measures on part of businesses, partnerships with influential rent-seeking groups are also incompatible with a peaceful environment in the longer run.
So what are the lessons to be learnt, and demands made, before we caste our votes later this year. And what should be the lessons for those now shouting slogans to come into power? Regardless of the structure of power, strategic peace in the country demands participation from all stakeholders in the conflict milieu. The study by SDPI identifies three broad sets of stakeholders, and proposes recommendations along the following lines.
Public Sector: Strong business does not always entail a strong private sector. There could be a leader in a certain market with flourishing business (since it enjoys a large market share), while market barriers prevent entry of other businesses. This implies a weak private sector despite strong businesses. On the other hand, the influence of regulatory bodies to enforce compliance even of existing laws appears to be very weak.
A weak private sector in the country coupled with a weak regulatory structure provides perfect opportunity for a middle ground between two contesting schools of thought that advocate for strengthening one against the other. While the private sector needs to be strengthened by opening up markets and allowing a fair and competitive business environment, it is equally important to strengthen the regulatory structure that also ensures inclusive business practices. These include ensuring local employment and strict compliance to regulations, such as the Environmental Protection Act.
Opening up markets may incentivise formalisation of informal businesses and would also create opportunities for small and medium enterprises to become active players in the economy. Parallel development of markets and regulatory structure may ultimately lead to peaceful as well as sustainable economies.
Businesses: A more strategic approach towards inclusive communities on part of large businesses could be to include local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their supply-chains. Doing so can also help formalize many operating informally at the local level and fits well with the argument on strengthening the private sector as mentioned above.
Businesses also need to take note of the failure of social service delivery wherever they operate. A useful approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in that context could be to institutionalize development programs within the business model. For example, the Hashoo Group of Companies has established and funds the Hashoo Foundation, an NGO actively working on various development themes. The Hashoo Foundation is to a large extent self-sustainable and not vulnerable to availability of funds from international donors.
Communities and the Civil Society: The civil society networks provide an excellent platform for organizing communities. Civil society organizations (CSO) not only work on different thematic areas of development but also provide a channel for community interface across a wide range of actors including government and businesses. Communities at the local level may have to be more acceptable of CSOs in so far as their inclusion in societal issues is concerned.
Community-led organizations and associations, in turn, should work to make themselves sustainable. For example, ExtraCorp, a project of the School of Leadership Foundation (SOLF) in Karachi, provides vocational and managerial training to people with disability. Their trainees work as a small enterprise producing handicrafts. ExtraCorp now generates enough business on its own, creating livelihoods for those with disabilities.
Our private sector also needs to innovate its role towards promotion of peace in the country. We have examples from other conflict prone countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Philippines where private sector played a crucial role for a sustained time period in bringing down the intensity of conflict through promotion of CSR, employment and livelihood opportunities at the local level. It is also time now that our Chambers of Commerce and Pakistan Business Council look into such initiatives.
The authors are Economists at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.