Pakistan’s Price Hike Sparks Outrage: A Call for Accountability and Human Rights


In recent days, Pakistan has been gripped by a wave of protests, ignited by the government’s audacious decision to hike electricity prices. These protests, which have persisted for a week and escalated to violence in some cities, reflect the frustration of a nation grappling with one of the most profound economic crises in its history. The consequences of this reckless policy extend far beyond the confines of fiscal balance sheets; they imperil the fundamental rights of millions of Pakistanis, affecting their access to health, food, and an adequate standard of living.

The dire state of Pakistan’s energy sector is not a new predicament. It is a persistent and deep-rooted issue that successive governments have either failed or been unwilling to address. Yet, the recent electricity price surge is not merely the consequence of domestic mismanagement. It is a result of a US$3 billion pact inked between Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July 2022. This ill-conceived agreement compels Pakistan to dismantle energy and fuel subsidies, shift to a market-based exchange rate, and impose tax hikes, even as the country teeters on the brink of economic collapse.

The protests are not just an outcry against economic hardship; they are a resounding indictment of a government that has lost touch with the plight of its citizens. The IMF-backed austerity measures, including the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, do not just strain the country’s finances; they perpetuate a dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the world is clamoring for a transition to renewable energy to combat the looming climate crisis.

Removing these subsidies without implementing robust social safety nets disproportionately impacts vulnerable, low-income segments of the population, who bear the brunt of this economic turmoil. The consequences reverberate far and wide, affecting not only the price of electricity but also the cost of essential goods, housing, and services. In its essence, the right to an adequate standard of living, as underscored by Human Rights Watch, encompasses affordable and accessible electricity for all, without discrimination.

To salvage this situation and align the removal of fossil fuel subsidies with the protection of citizens’ rights, both the IMF and the Pakistani government must conduct a comprehensive assessment of the impact of these drastic changes. Prior to the phased withdrawal of subsidies, a meticulously crafted reform strategy should be set in motion to cushion the blow of rising prices and facilitate a smoother transition to sustainable energy. One viable solution is the introduction of a universal social protection system that extends its benefits to those most vulnerable to income insecurity, including children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. Studies have consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of universal systems compared to those based on socioeconomic status, a principle the IMF has vocally supported in the past.

The ongoing protests should serve as a stark warning to both the Pakistani government and the IMF. Effectively addressing climate change and advancing economic and social rights need not be at odds. These twin objectives can be realized through a principled approach that respects the rights of all citizens, prioritizing their welfare over fiscal short-termism.

However, it is evident that the Pakistani government, in its shortsightedness, has strayed far from this path. It is incumbent upon the United Nations and the international community to step in and assist the beleaguered citizens of Pakistan. Sanctions, though a blunt tool, may be warranted to hold the government accountable for its disregard of human rights and well-being. Additionally, diplomatic pressure should be exerted to urge Pakistan to reconsider its ill-conceived pact with the IMF, which is clearly exacerbating the suffering of its people.

In conclusion, the people of Pakistan are crying out for justice and their basic rights, and it is the duty of the international community to heed their call. The situation in Pakistan underscores the urgency of adopting a holistic and rights-based approach to economic policy, one that safeguards the well-being of all citizens, ensures a just energy transition, and bolsters the global fight against climate change. Anything less would be an affront to the values of human dignity and justice that we, as a global community, should tirelessly uphold.

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