The Inequality of Rapid Urbanization

Urbanization exists almost wholly as a response to the massive influx of people in urban cities like Lahore and Islamabad. Some of the reasons for this influx are provincial disparities, disproportionate impacts of climate change on farmers and fishermen, lack of rural development and employment opportunities, and a general belief that urban areas promise a better standard of living. This rapid rural-urban migration highlights a core dysfunctionality in Pakistan’s domestic policy i.e., the lack of implementation of positive policies to bridge the disparities between rural and urban areas (Urbanization in Pakistan,  2018). It is predicted that Punjab’s urban population is likely to increase to 52 million by 2025 and 59 million by 2030; meaning the addition of  1 million new residents every year (Government of Punjab, 2015). This rapid migration coupled with increasing population growth simmers down to a critical  demand i.e., more housing for urban populations. 

This blog focuses on the inequalities associated with the provision of housing – which indicates a broader trend of income inequality in the economy – and discusses how land is seen to be a site of private investment and competition. It then explores the long term implications of the current urbanization paradigm which include deepening gentrification and socio-economic stratification. 

Breaking down Urbanization

The act of providing housing to the general public in Pakistan somewhat follows the capitalist model of urbanization. This framework is characterized by capital accumulation and land possession for industrial development and megaprojects (Saleem, 2021). Administering this system in the state of Pakistan failed to consider one major loophole: the exclusion of the urban poor from development. The forcible accumulation and land possession more often than not disadvantages the poor who cannot evade this complex system. Mirroring David Harvey’s concept of Accumulation by Dispossession, the current model of urban development seeks to benefit a certain class of capitalists by dispossessing minorities of their rights, land, and livelihoods. Similarly, considering Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ Sociology of Absences, the urban poor, integral to the city’s economic and cultural webs, remain absent from the development-oriented thinking of policy-makers (Saleem, 2021). As a result, the system mimics the foundations of colonialism – an economic ploy that in the name of “modernization” and “development” ends in exploitation and displacement. By introducing higher cost housing and commercializing poor urban areas, it insists on disciplining and pushing out the poor (Malik, 2021). Official records suggest that 400,000 people in Karachi have been displaced from residential properties over the past two decades, due to infrastructure and development projects. The case is further complicated as said people are rendered into a permanent state of ‘limbo’ or ‘waiting’ for compensation. People are forced to indefinitely rely on the government resulting in an asymmetrical relationship of dependence (Anjum et al., 2022).

With the exclusion of the poor, new and improved housing can find its ideal residents with ease. This act of exclusion can be labeled as “durable inequality,” where it is argued that inequalities are not the natural outcomes of differences in abilities, talent, and motivation, but are the results of institutional and social relations that have been deliberately crafted by individuals and groups for their advantage (Ahmad., et al 2021).

Inequality of Urbanization & Formation of Slums

This inequality gives rise to a paradox in the urban space: hyper-modern elite housing communities on one side, and slums on the other. Roughly 30% of the settlements in Lahore are slums and two-thirds of the labor force (most of the informal economy) are estimated to live in these “kachi abadis”(Abubakar, 2016). This way of living is plagued with complications including lack of adequate living space, insufficient public goods provision, and poor quality basic amenities, all of which lead to poor health and low levels of human capital (Marx., et al 2013). Slums can be found across the city in areas like Shahdara, along Ferozepur Road as well as in newer developed areas like Johar Town. These settlements are generally located near open sewage channels or along the hazardous banks of River Ravi. (Ali & Khan, 2017) The issue is exacerbated by government inaction since the state takes limited responsibility for the residents of slums due to budget constraints, lack of clear policies and prioritization. Additionally, obtaining legalized status is nearly impossible due to which the inhabitants of slums do not invest in their homes in fear that they might be demolished anytime (Pervez, 2018). Slums encapsulate the incompetence of the state to provide basic services to its residents. Often left to their own devices, unregulated slums become inter-generational poverty traps. 

To deal with the challenge of inequality in housing and slums, rural-urban migration needs to be addressed in a way that reduces the annual influx of residents into urban cities. This can include providing reliable healthcare, housing, jobs and education in rural areas. Once this issue is tackled, the government should prioritize providing basic services to residents of slums and build up to its legalization so residents can live without the constant threat of demolition or displacement. Money could be invested to help build cemented houses as well as proper roads with drainage systems. (Pervez, 2018). The road to being a more prosperous nation is not linear nor does it depend on a fixed rubric of urbanization. The people are integral to Lahore’s prosperity and should be factored into the development agenda.

The rise of Gentrification

Running parallel to the inequality of urbanization is the more damaging impact of gentrification; a spatial phenomenon that involves changing economic, demographic, social, physical, and cultural landscapes (Yang, Hui & Lang, Li, 2018). Arguably, this is the most dangerous product of urbanization. The cycle of gentrification in the context of housing can be broken down this way: low-income people are increasingly priced out because of neo-liberal urbanization and can no longer move to gentrifying neighborhoods. The public and private sectors seek higher profits that can only be obtained through a new and more intensified regime of profitable land use and commercial exploitation (Chronopoulos, 2016).Unfortunately, in order to improve the livability of neighborhoods, the government fails to incorporate the ground realities that shape cities as communities, as well as design strategies aimed at encouraging interaction between people of diverse income groups (Saeed et al., 2019). 

An interesting case of gentrification is the case of the Old City in Lahore. The space has undergone a series of socio-spatial transformations under the World Bank funded operation to repair and preserve its historically significant architecture. Tawaifs (courtesans ), mirasis (hereditary musicians), and the Khwaja Sira, residents of the Shahi Mohalla (Royal Neighborhood) are among the individuals increasingly displaced by the “museumification” of the Old Neighborhood. The neighborhood which used to be considered a lifeline of the radio, television and film industry of Pakistan, is now a newly made food street enjoyed by the middle class (Hussein, n.d).  Although the case of the Old City is intrinsically different from the case of modern urbanization, it prompts the same realization: the consequences of modernization need to be considered in line with the preservation of Lahore and its people’s distinct identity. By pushing out rightful residents of areas and imposing housing to facilitate only the elite, it could be argued that Lahore might lose the history that makes it so charming and unique. To combat this complex condition, urbanization must be contextualized by the cultural history of Pakistan. 


Conceivably, Pakistan could achieve significant prosperity by reforming the urbanization framework to be more equal and representative of the population of cities like Lahore. By remaining true to the rich history of the state and taking into account marginalized communities that are otherwise disregarded in the process of modernization and development, more just and ethical development could possibly be achieved. This reform should include regulation of rural-urban migration, policies to develop rural areas and legalization of slums. By dealing with these core issues, the larger problems of slums, gentrification and rapid migrations could be relieved.

Natalia Bokhari is an intern at the Consortium for Development Policy Research. 


Ahmad, S., Ullah, S., & Wang, Y. P. (2021, November 5). Understanding Housing Inequalities in Urban Pakistan: An intersectionality perspective of ethnicity, income and education. Taylor and Francis Online.

Ali, S., & Khan, A. (2017, October 27). Lahore – a city of slums and shanties. Daily Times.

Anjum, G., Toheed, M., & Anwar, N. H. (2021, December). Policy Brief #1_ land, governance, & the gendered politics of … ResearchGate.

Chronopoulos, T. (2016, September 28). African Americans, gentrification, and neoliberal urbanization: The case of fort greene, Brooklyn . SpringerLink.

Government of Punjab. (2015). Urban development sector plan – Punjab, Pakistan.

Javed, U. (2014, January 20). Lahore’s prosperity. DAWN.COM.

Malik, R. (2021, August 10). Lahore’s Post-colonial Food Culture. The Students’ Herald.

Marx, B., Stoker, T., & Suri, T. (2013). The Economics of Slums in the Developing World. JSTOR.

Pervez, S. (2018). Conditions of slums in Pakistan are getting increasingly worse: Policy Analysis. LUMS .

Profiles of underserved areas of 08 largest cities of Pakistan – UNICEF. (2020).

Saeed, A. (2023, April 20). Home. The Students’ Herald.

Saeed, R., Khan, D., Naeem, A., Rafae, M., Yazdani, R., Sultana, W., Naeem, M., Manzar, Z., Insha, M., Fatima, T. e, & Shahid, M. (2019, December 29). Lahore: Of Diversity and inclusivity: Shehr. thenews.

Saleem, S. (2021, July 26). Inclusive gentrification: Presenting the “absent” in the urban development of Karachi. South Asia@LSE.

Sociospatial perspective. Securipedia. (2013).

UKEssays, Uke. (2023, March 21). Urbanization in Pakistan. UKEssays. 

Yang, J., Hui, E. C. M., Lang, W., & Li, X. (2018, June 13). Land ownership, rent-seeking, and rural gentrification: Reconstructing villages for sustainable urbanization in China. MDPI. 

Political Economy of the Durand Line: Ramifications for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Regional Security


There are two dominant schools of thought on the Taliban attempts at de-fencing the Durand line; the first regards the attempts as being state sponsored and taking place under the patronage of the Taliban government, the second suggests that the Taliban government is not fully representative of all Taliban factions some of whom have become recluse and their border activity stems from the opposition of the advances that the Taliban in Kabul are making towards Pakistan. There is a third school of thought too, slightly more nuanced but maybe less mainstreamed. Those belonging to this school think that since militancy has become the natural order in Afghanistan, forces de-fencing the border are neither backed by the government nor do they belong to a group with any political interest linked to the government in Kabul and Pakistan. They are hostile groups who will fight against forces on both sides of the border and need to be combated jointly by responsible governments in the two countries.

However, if one looks at how the economics in the region is shaping up, groups that are dismantling Afghanistan’s developing ties with Pakistan must be tackled by the government in Kabul even before they are dealt with by Pakistan. The simple reason for Kabul to do so is the great amount of economic dependence that a food-starved and macroeconomically unstable Afghanistan has on Pakistan. With India now gradually detaching itself from the security and economic affairs of Afghanistan, the latter has come to depend ever so greatly on Pakistan and its all-weather ally; China. Events like the breaches of the Durand line will only serve to frustrate a currently benevolent Pakistan that is committing to play its role in rebuilding the war-torn Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore assess the situation in Afghanistan more carefully and understand the transition that is taking place to know exactly which stakeholders it wants to engage with and how does it strike the right balance between ensuring border controls while rebuilding its fractured relations with Afghanistan in the aftermath of the American exit.

Pakistan During the Afghan War

Barring a few decades between 1920 and 1970, the Durand line has continued to be a porous border. Pakistan’s idea of keeping the border porous in the past is largely rooted in the history of the Afghan war and Pakistan’s strategic decision to support the Afghan forces in their attempts to thwart Soviet invasion of their territory, part of which was rehabilitating the afghan refugees entering Pakistan. Fearing a potential spillover of the afghan war to its sovereign territory, Pakistan became a natural ally of the US and the mujahideen in thwarting the rapid onslaught of the Soviet forces. The military school of thought in Pakistan believed that the Soviets are entering the region with an intent to militarily dominate Pakistan while the ‘mullahs’ saw it as a communist attempt to silence a resurging Islam. In either case, the mainstreaming of the pre-emption of a Soviet insurgency in Pakistan created political legitimacy for the armed forces to enter the war and draw upon massive levels of public support. The war meant that not only was Pakistan fighting alongside the mujahideen, but it also permitted the use of its northern frontier as a strategic territorial buffer for the mujahideen. This meant maintaining the historic porosity of the Durand line, and its violations continued through the decade of the 1980s. The historic progression of events surrounding the Durand line and the trajectory of the highs and lows of its international recognition and legitimacy between the fall of the USSR and the withdrawal of the American forces in 2021 is by all means indicative of the fact that Pakistan has a heightened border conflict on its hands and reasserting the sanctity of the Durand line will be more troublesome than it was during the last two decades of American presence in the region when  a large burden of keep a check on illegal immigration  and ensuring security on both sides of the Durand line was shared by the US / NATO forces. The more troublesome this conflict will be for Pakistan; the greater will be the economic costs that Afghanistan will bear as a result of severing ties with Pakistan.

During the war on terror, arguments were advanced by the Afghanistan, Pakistan intelligentsia in favor of the porosity of the Durand line. In fact, with the rise of the TTP, border controls had become impossible to enforce and maintain during the war. Experts in the region suggest that porosity was not a necessity for Pakistan, but a compulsion tightly enforced by the Taliban and in some cases by the American and NATO forces. Regardless, with the end of the war in 2021, Pakistan has every reason to bring in more rigid border control measures to protects its territory against an expected refugee explosion. There is no common enemy or a preemptive threat of use of force by a global superpower like the USSR, neither is there any financial or economic incentive to rehabilitate afghans displaced by the war. The counter-factual in this case thus is much stronger that the rational response for Pakistan is to restore the sanctity of the Durand line which was duly legitimized as an international border by the Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1919.

Current Situation along the Durand Line:

During the last year, border forces in Pakistan blocked several Afghan attempts to tear through the ‘fencing of the Durand line’ which Pakistan completed over the last few years. While Pakistan’s outgoing National Security Adviser, Moeed Yusuf who made a diplomatic visit to Afghanistan in January 2022, reassured that the afghans are receptive to the idea of resuming dialogue with Pakistan including on the issue of the Durand line and forthcoming in their approach towards sustainable peace in the region. The continuing Afghan attempts to violate the sanctity of the border are irritants that will only push Pakistan away from the government in Kabul and enhance security along border which will have serious economic repercussions for Afghanistan. In particular, the defencing attempts will:

  1. intensify matters within the Taliban factions some of whom are keener to take a more congenial approach to Pakistan and see Pakistan as more of a benefactor than a cause of their failures of the past;
  2. push Pakistan’s strategic move of mobilizing its diplomatic and political resources within Afghanistan and make a selective strengthening of its ties with forces that can advance and protect its interests within Afghanistan; and
  3. have severe economic-cost implications for Afghanistan especially vis-à-vis the food security crisis, the mitigation of which depends enormously on the transit food imports from Pakistan many of whom are registered under the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade Agreement (APTTA). According to 2014 data by the Asia Foundation, Pakistan is the largest destination for afghan exports (33% of all exports) and the second largest for afghan imports (17% of all imports). On the other hand, Afghanistan is a much less significant trading partner for Pakistan; source of no imports of any note and less than 7% of exports. Trading-off food and larger economic security for a border conflict that hasn’t borne any substantial political or social outcomes for more than a century seems like a bad choice for Afghanistan, but whether this realization prevails within the governing Taliban ranks is both critical and interesting.

The table below shows how trade between the two countries has continued to fall in the years directly preceding the American exit from Afghanistan (2021). It is interesting to note that the balance of trade was shifting in favor of Afghanistan since 2016. Pakistan’s imports had been rising since 2015 after which they experienced a slight fall in 2016. Pakistan’s exports from Afghanistan had remained largely stagnant between 2016 and 2018 but began to fall in 2019 experiencing a significant year over year decline in 2020.

Table.1: Pak-Afghan Trade Balance (2016-2020)


The trade balance shift towards Afghanistan in the run-up to the American exit reinforces why the economic cost of broaching the Durand line subject will be costly for Afghanistan which was seeing Pakistan develop as a profitable trading partner. Pakistan has a more diversified trading ecosystem, both in terms of product diversification and number of trading partners and thus the closure of trade ties which could result from an intensified conflict over the Durand line will make Afghanistan vulnerable from a food security perspective and create external account imbalances that will jeopardize the country’s macroeconomic stability, especially in the backdrop of $7bn of frozen foreign exchange accounts by the US.

Why Pakistan Must Improve Border Security?

There are three reasons why Pakistan needs to, and will secure the fencing of the Durand line: every new government in Pakistan has more pressure from the public to block the inflow of afghan refugees from the north, two, opposition parties have been using the Durand line as an excuse to blame successive governments for not being able to protect Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and, three, the porosity of the Durand line is now seen as the cause of the rise of TTP in Pakistan and suicide bombings most of which have been attributed to the afghan refugees that entered Pakistan because of the porosity of the Durand line.

The breaches of the Durand line also threaten to undermine Pakistan’s present policy towards the Taliban government in Kabul. Pakistan must preserve the sanctity of the Durand line in order to maintain national security and manage refugee flow. It wants to see a stable and prosperous Afghanistan but clearly not one that becomes strong enough to bully Pakistan but likely to be one whose crises don’t seem to create a regional problem that transcends borders. But what Pakistan doesn’t want is to host more afghan refugees, many of whom have been vulnerable to recruitment by banned terrorist outfits. UNHCR reports that Pakistan currently hosts 1.4 million refugees down from a peak of around 3 million refugees that crossed the border during the afghan war in the 1980s. FATA, the region that hosts the north and south Waziristan agencies, the home of Pakistan military’s operations to oust the TTP, were merged within the province of KP in 2019.

While governance problems regarding the sharing of resources between the former KP and FATA continue, FATA has become a more protected and barricaded territory after the merger. And in all certainty, efforts to breach its borders to enter Pakistan would see a stronger retaliation from Pakistan than at any time between 2001 until the merger in 2019. Clearly, the region is on the brink and any disruptions in the current state of affairs, even if for an age-old conflict like the Durand line could mean a potential tip-over in the wrong direction and that the food security and refugee crises in Afghanistan are not met with a supportive and friendly Pakistan and become a permanent malady for Afghanistan and the region. 

Policy Implications and Conclusion

 As the security situation continues to devolve in Afghanistan and while it will risk the lives and livelihoods of the 40 million Afghanis, the crisis could re-enter Pakistan and maybe with a much stronger force than it was during the American presence in the region. Therefore, Pakistan must be cautious in making its diplomatic moves around the Durand line conflict. It cannot allow Durand line to be de-fenced while at the same time it cannot use force in dealing with groups attempting to make breaches to cross the border. Both approaches are likely to intensify matters on the border and take the situation out of the hands of the two governments. As I have stated before, Pakistan must identify stakeholders it wants to engage with in Afghanistan and make them understand that the costs of defencing the Durand line will be much greater for Afghanistan than they will be for Pakistan.

Afghan forces must continue to develop stronger ties with Pakistan and China and ensure that they are sensitive to India-Pakistan dynamic in the region. It is not a region where any state can claim friendly relations with all regional countries. With the rising polarization in South Asia, it will be better for Afghanistan to pick sides which will be vital for its economic sustainability. Durand line is an age-old conflict and the minor breaches that the groups are making to the Pakistan’s fencing attempts might be costly for Afghanistan. If the de-fencing activity is sponsored by the state, it must rethink its strategy of doing so since a potentially unyielding strategic move would cost Afghanistan the trade routes that are critical for its food security needs.

Afghan forces should investigate their ranks to identify and crackdown on forces that are attempting to disrupt peace in the region and dismantling their developing ties with Pakistan. Both sides need to send the right signals and compound confidence building activities to ensure that they can bury the hatchet and move forward. If these moves are not state sponsored, the government in Kabul must come out openly against groups attempting to de-fence as to give an open message to the government in Islamabad of its opposition of the breaches of the Durand line.


Asad Ejaz Butt is a public policy professional trained in Economics and International Development Studies with over 10 years’ experience in areas of public financial management reforms and macro-fiscal policies and regulations. He has written quite extensively on the political economy of trade and institutions in South Asia, focusing specifically on documenting the Afghan economy.

Pursuing Justice in Pakistan

For too long, Pakistan’s justice system has been daunted by an endemic lack of capacity to administer justice, especially to poor citizens unversed in the law. It is difficult to pursue fairness and justice in the country, as citizens often find themselves hedged in by a number of institutional and social obstacles in trying to access the police and courts. This leads to mounting dissatisfaction with legal institutions and causes citizens to disengage with the state—to the point of not seeking them out in case of disputes.

This blog draws attention to the main barriers to accessing justice with a focus on social barriers—principally clientelism—to explain their role in conditioning the relationship between citizens and legal institutions.

There are several institutional barriers that block access to justice. These barriers are baked into the legal system itself. They raise the costs of accessing justice, which is a legitimate concern. Most poor people hold back from seeking out formal legal institutions simply because they cannot afford them (Sandefur, 2010). There are three types of institutional barriers that are a critical tipping point in raising the costs of accessing justice — physical, financial and legitimacy barriers (Shami, 2021).


Distance matters

Physical barriers are related to physical distance. In most developing societies, judicial buildings are located within cities, becoming largely inaccessible to people living in rural areas (Vapnek et al., 2016). Traveling long distances is expensive and takes up too much time. In Afghanistan, for example, Afghans living in the countryside are largely cut off from courthouses and other judicial bodies because they are located in the main cities, far out of reach of the rural populace (Jensen, 2011). In Pakistan, due to long distances to courts, the poor—especially women—face high costs of accessing formal justice institutions (Chaudhary, 1999). As a result, varying local folk systems of law like Panchayats step in to take their place in the village and tribal areas (Acemoglu et al., 2019). The authority and trust in the state are dangerously undermined in the process.


High costs

The financial costs of judicial services are also prohibitively high sometimes, making them inaccessible to the rural poor. Due to slow procedures and high caseload, court cases become prolonged for long periods significantly increasing costs (Maru, 2009). For example, the resolution of an inheritance case can take around two years on average with anywhere between 5,000 PKR and 200,000 PKR in costs. Business-related cases are resolved faster, but sometimes even they can take around six months with high costs for the people involved (Siddique, 2013). Apart from formal costs associated with judicial services, people also bear the brunt of informal costs arising from corruption and bribery. A survey done in Southern Punjab in Pakistan showed that many respondents had to pay bribes to judges and court administrators to use their services (Galway Development Services International, 2015).


Legitimacy concerns

Confidence in legal institutions in Pakistan is considerably low. A deep-rooted mistrust of legal institutions leads to reduced demand for legal solutions for resolving disputes (Shami, 2021) and exacerbates disillusionment with dispute resolution bodies (Jackson et al., 2014). This could be due to pervasive corruption, harassment, unfair treatment, and/or ineffectiveness (Tankebe, 2010). A distrust of the police and courts erodes the legitimacy of formal institutions and ultimately obstructs access to justice, especially in developing countries.

This has enabled powerful non-state actors to step in and replace state actors by providing competing services such as dispute resolution, protection and public goods. Commonly, low levels of access to and trust in the state fuel closer associations with Panchayats—the primary alternative to state courts in rural Pakistan. Panchayats consist of village elders and notable locals, whose rulings typically depend on cultural norms and go against the laws promulgated by the Pakistani state (Acemoglu et al., 2019). Hence, a lack of legitimacy of the state actors leads to the spread of non-state dispute resolution forums and spawns widespread discontent.


Clientelism and the case of rural Hafizabad

 It goes without saying that removing institutional barriers is important for the health of the judicial system and institutional reforms are effective in making justice more accessible. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge social barriers to justice such as race, ethnicity, and gender. While a great deal of scholarship has focused on institutional barriers, it still needs to pick up the social facets of these barriers, particularly barriers arising from asymmetric power relations or clientelism.

Clientelism is a face-to-face exchange relationship between unequal groups — patrons/landlords and clients (Mason, 1986). On the one hand, there are clients who have little to no assets. On the other, there are patrons who are figures of authority with command over resources and who are responsible for ensuring that their client’s basic needs are met (Powell, 1970). Patrons deliver goods and services such as employment, housing, protection, and dispute resolution. In return, clients offer cheap labor and electoral support to shore up the patron’s popularity (Scott and Kerkvliet, 2017).

The exchange in clientelism depends on the relative bargaining power of the two sides. Unsurprisingly, patrons have greater bargaining power and hence stronger control over their clients. This in turn allows patrons to regulate their clients’ third-party interactions (Basu, 1986) including the way that they access the police or courts (Shami, 2021). Clients normally comply with their patrons’ demands so that they don’t lose all access to the patrons’ resources.

While clientelism has its roots running deep across Pakistan, rural Hafizabad in Punjab particularly demonstrates the salience of clientelism in defining access to justice for rural citizens.  Hafizabad is a rice-producing district with entrenched inequality and strong clientelistic nexuses (Shami, 2012). There are two types of villages in the district — “landlord-dominated” villages and “peasant-based” villages (Shami, 2021). After link roads were constructed in 1998, villages that were isolated earlier became connected to main cities. This allows for an additional comparison between isolated and connected villages. Data collected from these villages help in explaining the role of clientelistic power relations in conditioning access to justice.

In peasant-based villages, a disproportionately higher percentage of households are willing to seek judicial services in case of disputes than in landlord-dominated villages. In landlord-based villages, landlords wield their power to accompany their clients to the police or courts, making them less inclined to access the official judicial system. In peasant-based villages however, landlords do not have such power (Shami, 2021). Additionally, it becomes apparent that patrons are able to maintain patronage powers when inequality becomes coupled with isolation. When villages become connected to the city, there is a greater chance that people living in those villages would go to the police independently (Shami, 2021).

The judicial system in Pakistan finds itself starved of resources while facing impossible caseloads. To make things worse, clientelistic challenges are increasingly on the rise. To overcome these challenges, state institutions need to become more accessible. For example, the situation in rural Hafizabad crucially points to the need for increasing villagers’ access to formal policing. A way to do so would be to connect villages to the external market so that villagers can go to the police directly. This will—at least partly—wrest power away from the landlords and make villagers more aware of the value of the relationship with their patrons. Thus, to truly change the way justice is pursued in the country, changes that are feasible and would have substantial, long-lasting effects need to be made all around—at institutional, physical, and social levels.



Acemoglu, D., Cheema, A., Khwaja, A., & Robinson, J. (2018b). Trust in State and Non-State Actors: Evidence from Dispute Resolution in Pakistan. The University of Chicago Journals.

Galway Development Services International. (2015), EU Punjab Access to Juctice Project: Public Knowledge, Attitudes and Perceptions of Justice: Report of a Household Survey in Southern Punjab Districts.

Jensen, K. (2011), ‘Obstacles to Accessing the State Justice System in Rural Afghanistan’, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 18: 929–50.

Maru, V. (2009), ‘Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment: A Review of World Bank Practice’, Justice and Development Working Paper Series 9.

Mason, D. (1986), ‘Land Reform and the Breakdown of Clientelist Politics in El Salvador’, Comparative Political Studies, 18: 487–516.

Powell, J. D. (1970), ‘Peasant Society and Clientelist Politics’, American Political Science Review, 64: 411–25. Sandefur, R. L. (2010), ‘Classical Approaches and New Directions’, in R. L. Sandefur, ed. Access to Justice: Classical Approaches and New Directions. Emerald/JAI Press.

Shami, M. (2021). Access to Justice in Clientelist Networks. The British Journal of Criminology62(2), 337–358.


Izza Malik is a Research Assistant at the Consortium for Development Policy Research.

Women Economic Empowerment is Key to Pakistan’s Development

Increasing women’s participation in Pakistan’s labour force is beneficial to both economic growth and gender equality. Policy interventions must identify and alleviate barriers to women’s participation by improving access to finance, enhancing digital literacy, and addressing mobility challenges.

The lack of women’s participation in Pakistan’s economy is both a gender equity and developmental concern. The economic case for focusing on women’s economic empowerment is clear: if their participation was at par with men, Pakistan’s GDP could increase by 60% by 2025. Another estimate suggests that closing the gender gap in labour force participation could lead to a one-off 30% boost in GDP.

Globally, women form 38.8% of the labour force, but just around 20% in Pakistan, one of the lowest in South Asia. In fact, Pakistan fares poorly on all gender-related indicators. The Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022 ranked Pakistan at 145 out of 156 countries in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity, at 135 for women’s educational attainment, 143 for women’s health and survival, and at 95 for political empowerment. The Global Wage Report 2018-19 by International Labour Organization estimated the gender pay gap variation between men and women at 34%. Pakistan also shows the largest gender gaps amongst electrical democracies in voter turn-out, with men being 20% more likely to vote.

The constraints to women’s participation have been discussed and documented at length. These range from the lack of a conducive policy support (such as lack of workplace regulation, maternity leave laws, access to credit and finance) to patriarchal mindsets and social norms that limit women’s mobility and choice to work, including concerns of mobility and access to transport, and the burden of unpaid care and domestic work.

How are researchers helping to find solutions to enhancing women’s empowerment? The research community is now sharing findings from ongoing and completed work that is providing a substantive policymaking direction. We look at some recent IGC research and draw a list of the most compelling policy messages.

1. Investing in gender equality can help build resilience to future shocks.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis is affecting women and deepening gender inequalities within Pakistan. Even when the exposure to a hazard is the same for all, levels of vulnerability, access to resources, and coping skills can greatly vary across genders. This highlights the need to reduce gender gaps and protect women from future shocks as women remain more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of health and economic shocks.

A recent IGC project examined evidence from Pakistan to understand the developmental and poverty outcomes of female labour force participation, particularly in low-income and vulnerable households, and especially in the face of shocks. Findings suggested that if the challenges to female workforce participation are addressed, then developmental and productivity benefits could accumulate at a national level. However, the notion of disaster resilience is still considered largely gender-neutral in Pakistan. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that Pakistani women remained less likely to receive vital information on health safety due to lower levels of education and a lower likelihood of owning a mobile phone or having internet access. The pandemic exacerbated these disparities, with a larger proportion of women than men being pushed into extreme poverty.

2. Unlocking women’s productivity requires a policy intervention on multiple fronts.

Constraints to female entrepreneurship are not just financial. Women need soft skills and training to engage in sustainable economic activity. A recent study tested if low-cost and less intensive training to create aspirations and desire to set goals for the future could help women micro-entrepreneurs. The study found that such interventions had an immediate short-term impact on hard work and perseverance.

Women also face constraints in their ability to market their products and identify marketplaces. They require digital skills and access to markets to be better equipped to conduct business-related activities. An ongoing study by researchers based at University of Delaware is looking at the impact of digital skills training on female labour force participation. The intervention is aimed at women enrolled in skills training centres situated across Punjab, Pakistan.

3. Women that are interested in work may face barriers in their job search.

An area that has received lesser policy attention is the job search process. Data from a in Pakistan reveals differences in how men and women search for jobs, and provides insight into the difficulties women face in labour market participation. These findings indicate that a key obstruction faced by women in their job search is due to their lack of access to networks that can provide information about job vacancies. Potential policy solutions to address such barriers can include organising women collectives for networking, and the creation of opportunities for firms to share job postings outside of their networks.

4. Men and women face different mobility challenges.

Women’s mobility is a real concern in a society that discourages close physical contact between opposite genders. This constrains their choices to participate in the labour force, continue their education, or engage in other independent activities. Women’s mobility is not just limited by the lack of infrastructure but also by women’s agency. A recent study looked at how migration, urbanisation, and the perceived threat or the threat of violence and harassment shapes women’s agency and mobility and determines their access to the market, economic opportunities, and the public sphere in an urban South Asian context. It found that in an urban context, women’s mobility is affected by distinct patriarchal norms within communities, geographic and spatial anxieties due to migrant status and histories of conflict. This study suggests a differentiated employment strategy concerning women’s economic participation, underpinned by social policy that is context-specific and sensitive to the needs of local communities.

5. Inclusiveness in growth demands women’s voices are heard.

States’ effectiveness in responding to women’s needs in service delivery is greatly influenced by voter turnout inequality during elections. Ongoing research by academics based at Yale University is helping to uncover the drivers of the gender gap in voter turnout in the Pakistani context. This research looks at the sub-national variation in voting patterns of women and tries to understand what explains the gap. So far, evidence suggests that weak engagement between political parties and women voters may be an important factor explaining low female electoral participation in urban centres. Women’s political participation is also found to be lower in big cities with greater exposure to political violence.

IGC Pakistan is working directly with Pakistani policymakers to equip them with knowledge and evidence to support their decision-making and design reforms. Pakistani policymakers are also showing a growing commitment to the agenda of women’s empowerment. With more evidence on what works, Pakistan can make progress in empowering millions of women, lifting them and their households out of poverty.

Hina Shaikh is a Country Economist for the International Growth Centre (IGC) in Pakistan.

This blog originally appeared on the International Growth Centre’s (IGC) website here.

Electricity reforms when electricity is an entitlement: The case of Lahore, Pakistan

Contrasting electricity outage patterns in low- and high-income neighbourhoods in Lahore and Karachi suggest that political control over electricity distribution utilities makes privatisation and market-oriented reforms challenging.

Countries strive to provide affordable, reliable, and efficient supply of electricity to their citizens. Reforms are integral to reaching better standards of public utilities provision. The countries with the highest standards of electricity delivery are the ones who have successfully implemented market-oriented reforms in their energy sector.

The demand for reforms in the energy sector can come from within the country (middle-income consumers asking for better service delivery; commercial and business elite seeking patronage) or from the outside (international lenders pushing for privatisation). Despite such insistence, reforms can be difficult to administer. The concept of public goods, in this case electricity, as a right/entitlement offers insight into why reforms might be opposed by citizens as well as politicians.

Electricity provision in Lahore: politicians as a service assurance channel

Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, provides an important test case for whether citizens continue to make claims to the state for utility provision and if this model of state-owned service delivery restricts electricity reforms. Lahore is relatively ethnically and religiously homogenous; it is also electorally competitive and receives considerable attention from political parties hoping to control the centre.

In Lahore, people approach politicians for service-related issues, such as electricity outages or delayed repair/maintenance work. Politicians with contacts in the bureaucracy at Lahore Electricity Supply Corporation (LESCO) – a distribution company that purchases electricity from the national grid – get the issues resolved. Members of National Assembly and Provincial Assembly often hold kutcheris or open forums at their place of residence for precisely this reason – to appear approachable and open to solving voters’ needs.

The ability of politicians to redistribute public goods, by virtue of either their formal power while in office or informal and extra-legal networks, is considered an important dimension of their electoral success. Additionally, they claim credit for electricity supply at subsidised rates.

In Lahore, mid-level bureaucracies have expanded in the last decade, and control over postings has become an important source of power and leverage for parties. Political parties stand to gain electoral benefits by increasing employment for special interest groups, particularly where margins for victory are narrow.

Although, in this system of patronage, there are instances of non-partisan gains where parties stand to benefit by simply ‘being useful’ to the general public, the overall inefficiencies and problems related to public service delivery endemic in the power sector are never addressed. In fact, reforms meant for improvement are resisted.

Electricity as a ‘right’: contrasting policies in Lahore and Karachi

LESCO currently faces challenges with recovering bills from government offices; it also incurs up to 6% in commercial losses from non-payments and theft (LESCO Operational Audit Report, 2011) and has faced the threat of privatisation for decades. It is under considerable pressure to improve bill payments from the national regulator and international lenders. Despite this, the province’s dominant political parties have resisted. Given the patronage and influence of politicians in LESCO, it is not in the interest of either of the two big political parties to privatise the electricity distributor of the region.

Lahore is still sheltered from the worst of electricity outages when compared to other cities of Punjab and Pakistan. Electricity distribution in all areas across Lahore is uniform, despite the 2013 National Power Policy’s recommendation that “load-shedding” [footnote]Load shedding is synonymous with an electricity outage. During load shedding, power distribution companies deliberately reduce electricity consumption by switching off the power supply to a group of customers.[/footnote](should) be focused on areas of high theft and low collections”. This contrasts with the practices of the private distributor (K-Electric) in Karachi, which engages in higher loadshedding in the areas with lower revenue recovery.

Lahore’s indiscriminate power supply, despite revenue losses in the form of theft and non-technical losses, suggests that electricity is perceived as a ‘right’ or ‘an entitlement’. It is to be provided to everyone, regardless of bill recovery and/or paying capacity of the consumers, and not as a commodity (which is how it is treated in Karachi).

K-Electric in Karachi is more likely to aggressively pursue pay-for-use policies, where low-income communities that have more defaulters are likely to get targeted with higher outages.

    • As discovered by previous studies, very low-income neighborhoods (which are high revenue-loss neighborhoods) in Karachi experience over eight hours of outage in the summer. In Lahore, this figure is closer to five hours.

    • On the other hand, an upcoming report by Erum and Javed finds that while higher income (low revenue-loss) neighborhoods in Karachi experience 0-2 hours of outage, even in peak summer months, high income residents in Lahore regularly report 4.5 hours of outage.

    • Preliminary results of the same study suggest that at least as far as outages are concerned, LESCO does not prioritise high-income neighborhoods over low-income ones, and that outages are evenly distributed.

Figure 1: Reported electricity outages for Lahore in past week by income category, September-October 2022.

Note: Irrespective of income level, most households report 1-5 hours of outages in Lahore. Lower-income households (which tend to be in high revenue-loss areas) do not report more hours of electricity outage than more high-income ones.)

Perceptions and patronage as challenges for energy sector reforms

The construction of electricity as entitlement poses problems for reforms in the energy sector. Residents of Lahore enjoy a relatively high degree of service provision, backed by political patronage; in turn, politicians capitalise on the status quo to garner support from their electorate. Resistance to electricity reforms will come, naturally, from both stakeholders. The present subsidies for consumers in the energy sector will be another point of contention when energy sector is reformed. The roll back of subsidies and the subsequent increase in prices are likely to fuel public discontent.

An understanding of perceptions – whether a given public good or service is perceived as a right or as a commodity — is critical to energy reforms in Pakistan. However, these understandings should be coupled with commitments to environmental justice and equitable access. For example, the dual findings of relatively good provision to low-income groups, and a highly mobilised sense of entitlement in Lahore, might pave the way for more diverse forms of energy provisions – decentralised grids and investments in renewable energy to support the demands of the citizens.

Efforts should be made to close the national gap in access to energy across cities, and to continue to shield the most vulnerable citizens from inevitable climate and environmental shocks, that could lead to social unrest and negative impacts on income and livelihoods.

Numair Liaqat is a Country Economist for the International Growth Centre (IGC) in Pakistan.

This blog originally appeared on the International Growth Centre’s (IGC) website here.