Skip to main content

I see change coming in Pakistan

Sakandar: DFID Pakistan’s Representative for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Picture: DFID Pakistan

For a long time Pakistanis have been talking about change. In governance terms we call it reform. The message, however, is clear – business as usual is not working. Not far from where I work in DFID Pakistan there is a café where a lot of college and university students hang out. While talking with some of them I was struck by the choice of the dishes offered in the menu; spineless opposition spinach, spicy long march potato wedges and it went on... not surprisingly the café is called Civil Junction. Much of the conversation with the students was around the need for Pakistan to do better. Why gather here in a café I asked? Well where else? Student activism was banned on the university campus. This law was enacted during General Zia Ul Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s, draining the leadership potential in Pakistan. But you can’t control people’s opinions. Pakistanis crowded the café’s, teahouses and parks to talk about change.

But it didn’t stop there. Social media and the increasing use of mobile phones meant the message went far and wide. Mobile phone companies got into the act with catchy jingles encouraging people to vote in the elections, while political parties battled it out on social media. That made me think – wow! – how powerful could the use of information technology be in bringing about change in Pakistan. This idea of using information communication technology to change how Pakistan governs stuck in my mind.

With innovation in mind we began to design the DFID Pakistan governance programme to help make government services better for poor people. The privilege I have working for DFID, is that it’s not just a job, it’s also a platform for doing things I’m passionate about. As DFID’s Representative for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province I’m at the heart of helping people have a better education, better healthcare, better governance and access to justice.

Working with DFID teams and the Provincial government gives me an overview to ensure better value for money spent on helping deliver services to poor people. I’m proud to be working with some of the best development experts in DFID as well as within Pakistan government and non-government people who are committed to deliver better for Pakistan with innovative ideas.

The Punjab government established the Urban Unit housed with all kinds of mobile and GPS technology to provide better services to the people. One way the Urban Unit used technology was to track the spread of dengue fever. Using mobile phone images producing real time information through digitised maps enabled health officials to eradicate and stop the spread of dengue around the province.

On election observer duty. Picture: DFID Pakistan

On 11 May Pakistan held its historic elections. There were unprecedented numbers of women who came to vote, partially, this was due to DFID support helping them to register to vote. As part of the UK observer mission I saw people coming out in droves to exercise their right to vote. There were women with young children arriving early to be the first in line eagerly waiting their turn to vote. Some children were carrying the Pakistani flag. I saw a nation demonstrate a real sense of civic responsibility. The unprecedented number of young people reminded me of the young students in the café and at the Lahore University. In one of the polling stations I saw a lady official taking pictures as people cast their vote. She explained with pride the phone application she was using to transmit real-time data to the Election Commission to ensure transparency of the election process. The application in her hand was a simple touchscreen phone – but guess what was written on it – "issued by the Urban Unit".

Phone application used to transmit real-time data to the Election Commission to ensure transparency of the election process. Picture: DFID Pakistan

Seeing Pakistan make history, watching people demonstrate their democratic right, parents instilling a sense of civic responsibility in their children, millions of women coming to vote, made me feel really privileged to be working for DFID. As I said it’s not just a job it’s a platform to do things I’m passionate about.

In my next blog I will write more about how we are helping Pakistani people and their new government to tackle the enormous challenges to deliver on peoples long awaited expectations. I will also talk about how DFID supported students at a Lahore University to scale up a really innovative idea to tackle corruption by getting feedback from people on how government services are being delivered.

I see change coming in Pakistan. I see reform happening everywhere I look. …Oh and since then I've even purchased a T-shirt from a trendy shop called Uth-oye Pakistan – Punjabi for Rise Pakistan.

Are you interested in development issues and the UK's support to Pakistan? Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter which includes new announcements, case studies, photos and blogs on our work as well as jobs and funding opportunities.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Zeeshan Siddique posted on

    Thank you for sharing the blog

    Although citizens were passionate to exercise their civic responsibility, but jingle bells are still alarming on Pakistan. These bells include hung parliament with nationalist and leftist political parties, corruption in power sector and even embedded into social protection programs. Coping capacity to deal with mighty jingle bell of terrorism is not merely the issue of good governance. We have more teachers in numbers than army in education sector aims to provide just education instead innovation or quality.

    So, quasi - civilian public offices are delivering "just services" to run imported buses instead overhauling of abandoned thermal power plants having the capacity to produce 3500 MW power. There are so many jingle bells which need to be neutralized, prior to talk on governance. Bottom line - we need reforms in legislation, promote patience through peace building initiatives, improve policies / legislation to proactively fill the gaps, involve stakeholders to get sustainable outcome and rely on decentralization that have been practicing since 1935 (Government of India Act) to centralize decisions at provincial level and decentralize powers at community level.

    Your services rendering to improve governance are surely acknowledged and well recognized and agree with innovation but how long? It is susceptible till political stability and end of quasi - civilian regime.

    Stay blessed and please keep it up as we need innovative leaders and governance practitioners rather contractors spending million on Metro and bullet train plans (devaluing cost)

    Your ignored fan

  2. Comment by Zeeshan Siddique posted on

    Will DFID support the transparency and accountability in upcoming local government elections?

  3. Comment by Dawood Ali Khizai posted on

    Very Interesting views Sikandar Sahab.

    Yes we all are indeed looking forward to see things take a positive turn, however, amongst a huge list, one of the core issue remains of Previous Governments' excessive baggage, that the new government has to carry on...

    I believe that the whole world and specially the Pakistani Community living in Pakistan and Abroad, is watching and anticipating/expecting change starting from KPK Province. KPK somehow has become a benchmark for change in Pakistan. Now that makes the political scene not only interesting but very challenging for other competing Provinces (I am still not sure to put the word "Competing" here or not).

    Coming back to your presence and DFID support for KPK, I am sure the province will get a better start to plan as well as to achieve its developmental targets.

  4. Comment by Zeeshan Siddique posted on

    Today democratically elected political party has announced 3.5 trillion PKR budget. As usually, budget put extra burden on the middle income and low income cadre of people. Disputed social safety programmes remains on track with additional injection of funds, despite of 127 billion PKR financial embezzlement (ref. Audit Report conducted by Auditor General of Pakistan). 1% GST has been increased which means that prices of Text Books would be higher than before 12th June, 2013. Children of poverty stricken parents keep working in workshops / begging on the road and seeking their fortune while living in slums.

    Indirect taxes have been increased which raise the inflation by 3%, consequently drain the intellectual assets.

    Optimistic, for conscious investment by DFID

    your ignored fan


  5. Comment by Zeeshan Siddique posted on

    Dear DFID Representative for KP

    It has been evident that you cannot achieve prosperity and integrity until increasing the bar of education in areas being affected by insurgency or disasters. Allocation of 66 billion PKR in new fiscal year budget, is an encouraging step by KP government. Innovation and diversification has been set as a hallmark of this budget which among many consist of i) introducing services and increasing quota of job opportunities to disabled people and ii) distribution of insulin to poverty stricken - diabetic people with free of cost and discouraging laptop distribution among student on merit basis without any significant stride in their future.

    Beauty of 18th amendment is evident as provinces (except Baluchistan) have devised their budgets in line with their needs and aspirations.

    I wish that DFID will take initiatives with regard to budget tracking to ensure transparency and value of money being spent through their funds


    Your ignored fellow