UN Assistant Secretary-General advocates digital leap, unity for Pakistan’s future

Kanni Wignaraja expresses hope for a united approach to implementing Pakistan’s development policies across all sectors

ISLAMABAD  -  Kanni Wignaraja, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, is currently visiting Pakistan. She spoke with The Nation on Tuesday, about the development challenges and opportunities in Pakistan amid recent political transitions and ongoing global crises.Ms. Wignaraja talked about the recent changes in Pakistan following the elections, the evolving national agenda under new leadership, and how the UNDP is adapting its strategies to support reforms in areas such as economic policy, public administration, and climate resilience.

Wignaraja expressed optimism about the national development agenda and the opportunity to align UNDP’s support with Pakistan’s needs, especially concerning economic, social and environmental reforms. She highlighted the critical role of digital technologies in driving transformation and addressing the challenges posed by economic constraints and climate change.

“The country has just welcomed new leadership that is very keen to advance a refreshed national agenda,” Wignaraja noted. “At UNDP, we are looking at how best to align our support with these priorities, particularly in the significant areas of economic reforms.”

Wignaraja stressed on the transformative potential of digital technology in leapfrogging development challenges. As UNDP launched its National Human Development Report for Pakistan on Digital Transformation, she elaborated on how digitalization could bolster public services and integrate remote and vulnerable communities into the economic mainstream, enhancing overall human development.

“The power of digital technology is a critical driver of transformation, which can propel Pakistan forward, especially given the current economic challenges and the urgent need to address climate change impacts,” she explained.

Highlighting the importance of rigorous, impartial data, Wignaraja recounted UNDP’s role in introducing multidimensional poverty indices (MPI) that help reveal deeper socio-economic vulnerabilities beyond income-based measures. This approach has enabled more targeted and effective policy interventions.

“We’ve introduced tools like the MPI to help unpack real vulnerabilities that pure income measures alone cannot reveal,” she said. “This type of rigorous data remains impartial and vital, regardless of political changes.”

Wignaraja spoke of UNDP’s long-standing presence in Pakistan since 1962, which has fostered a trusted relationship allowing policy experimentation within UNDP’s project spaces. These initiatives serve as preliminary testing grounds before broader implementation, ensuring that policies are practical and effective.

“UNDP spaces are often used to test new policies safely before they are scaled up nationally. This approach has built a trusted relationship over the decades,” Wignaraja highlighted.

Acknowledging the global challenge of political polarization, Wignaraja noted that such an environment is not unique to Pakistan. She stressed the importance of finding common ground and ensuring open dialogues that can unify diverse groups.

“Political polarization is a global phenomenon, and it’s crucial to find common spaces to begin dialogues, even among differing political ideologies,” she stated.

Discussing climate adaptation, Wignaraja detailed initiatives aimed at enhancing agricultural resilience, early warning systems and improving water management to cope with Pakistan’s specific environmental challenges, such as floods and droughts.

Our major focus is on local adaptation work, especially since Pakistan is not a big emitter but is still highly vulnerable to climate shocks, she said. “We’re looking at strengthening agricultural bases, enhancing irrigation and water management systems to withstand extreme weather events like floods and droughts. We work with small farmers and are involved in large-scale projects to manage glacier melt and improve infrastructure for early warning systems.”

Ms. Wignaraja added that Pakistan needs to consider the transition towards renewable energy and sustainable agricultural practices more urgently. “The country should not wait too long to shift from fossil fuel dependency to renewables. Moreover, the digital leap is crucial. With a young population, there is a goldmine of opportunities to harness this demographic towards entrepreneurship and innovative productivity, particularly in green and digital technologies.”

In her concluding remarks, Wignaraja expressed hope for a united approach to implementing Pakistan’s development policies across all sectors, emphasizing the importance of maintaining policy consistency and reform momentum and a focus on human development outcomes to achieve meaningful progress.

“This is a critical moment for Pakistan, where a unified approach to policy design and implementation could significantly move the nation forward,” she said.

“Pakistan is often talked about vis-à-vis another. The narrative must be about Pakistan.

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