Navigating Civic Spaces During a Pandemic: Pakistan Report
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The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated trends in civic spaces underway before 2020 in Pakistan, reinforcing the state’s on-going deep discomfort with rights-based actors and mobilizations whilst allowing the divisive rhetoric and mass gathering of sectarian forces to flourish. The crisis afforded some new opportunities, too. Diverse interest groups gained recognition of some rights or tried to stave off further hardship during the economic downturn. Digital spaces became an increasingly powerful arena for activism and dissent. They were also targeted by security agencies, as women journalists who reported against the government’s narrative on its Covid-19 response discovered. This report shows how different actors responded to the pandemic in ways that affect civic spaces. The research identified areas of civil society which underwent some forms of public mobilization, whether through articulating new or ongoing claims, forming new associations, or using innovative strategies to respond to shrinking civic spaces. The discussion captures new forms of social and political action, in particular the opposition political alliance (Pakistan Democratic Alliance) formed in September, 2020. It ends with an assessment of the implications of these changes in civic spaces for the governance context in Pakistan.