For years, words like “equality” and “fairness” has been the talk of Pakistan’s politics, as well as many parts of the world and these noble terms, often spoken in high pitches, have been rallied around by the people of different walks of life. However, as we begin peeling back the layers in this complicated South Asian country, the road to genuine accountability, far from clear-cut. In truth, in Pakistan’s configuration where social and economic disparities stand out starkly, blind pursuit of equality could not only be grossly unfair, but also extremely dangerous
In popular discourse, the call for equality may sound righteous and just. Yet, the ground reality paints a different picture entirely. Pakistan is a nation where the chasm between the privileged and the marginalized is glaringly wide. Economic privileges are tightly concentrated among a select few, while access to basic necessities remains a privilege rather than a fundamental right. In such a landscape, overlooking these disparities and advocating for a one-size-fits-all approach is not just overly simplistic; it’s actively harmful.
Consider, for example, the recent hike in petrol prices. On the surface it’s a flat increase that affects all walks of life however the extent to which it affects is directly correlated with an individuals economic capability.To some, a 30 rupee rise per liter is an inconsequential blip on their financial radar, hardly causing a ripple in their daily expenses. For others, it represents a seismic shift that threatens to redefine their daily lives.
This stark contrast serves as an epitome of Pakistan’s socio-economic reality. It’s a nation marked by profound inequality, where the burden of living costs weighs far heavier on the shoulders of the less fortunate. In such a context, championing equality without considering the distinct challenges faced by different segments of society is not just misinformed; it’s fundamentally unjust.
As Pakistan stands at a crossroads, the need of the hour is not the enforcement of equality but the pursuit of equity. This shift in perspective, as articulated by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, calls for a “level playing field,” not only in politics but also in all other aspects of life. But how does a nation, entrenched in the trenches of inequality, transform itself into a bastion of equity?
One glaring issue, for example,that underscores the problem of ‘inequitable equality’ is the divisive classification of citizens into two distinct groups within the tax system - ‘filers’ and ‘non-filers.’ Ironically, despite their vocal presence on the political stage, a significant portion of the population finds themselves relegated to the ‘non-filer’ category, even though they possess the means to contribute significantly to the nation’s financial well-being. This distinction not only highlights the unequal distribution of the nation’s tax burden but also exposes a disconcerting trend of tax evasion and non-compliance among those with the resources to contribute meaningfully.
One might assume that non-filers should face penalties and consequences for their non-compliance. However, the reality in Pakistan paints a different picture. Surprisingly, both filers and non-filers often receive similar treatment from the government, despite the significant disparity in their financial contributions to the nation’s coffers. This puzzling equality stems from a reluctance to differentiate between citizens, inadvertently perpetuating existing socio-economic disparities.
What is equally perplexing is the government’s reliance on taxing filers at higher rates to meet budgetary objectives, furthering this inequality. This approach, rooted in a one-size-fits-all concept of equality, fails to uncover the untapped potential of the individuals who should rightfully be integrated into the tax system.
While the uneven tax system is undoubtedly a significant issue, it represents just one facet of a much larger problem. Even if future governments succeed in addressing the specific issue of Filers and Non-Filers, it would be but a small step in confronting the broader and more pervasive challenges at hand So, what steps can Pakistan take to pave the way for equity? The answer lies in acknowledging the unique needs and challenges faced by different segments of society and crafting policies and interventions accordingly. It means prioritizing access to quality education, healthcare, and basic services for all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
Furthermore, it necessitates a concerted effort to tackle the systemic issues that perpetuate inequity, even within policies of equality. The ‘one size fits all’ model simply doesn’t suffice anymore. Equity demands the active involvement of civil society, non-governmental organizations, and citizens themselves. It calls for a collective commitment to holding those in power accountable and advocating for policies that champion justice and fairness.
In a country as diverse as Pakistan, where inequality runs deep, embracing equity is not just a moral imperative; it’s a pragmatic necessity. Only through genuine and sustained efforts to level the playing field can Pakistan hope to build a society where true fairness and justice prevail.