Dear Pakistani Govt, You Can’t Win by Ignoring the Youth’s Needs

Ignoring the largest chunk of Pakistani population – the youth – could lead to an ‘Arab Spring’ of sorts.

4 min read
Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Pakistan has a population 207.77 million as per the last Census conducted in 2017, marking a 57 percent increase since the last population count in 1998.

In a recently published United Nations Population Fund report, it is claimed that 63 percent of the country’s population is comprised of youth; of these, 58.5 million are aged between 20 and 24. And those aged between 25 and 35 also make up a huge portion of the population, making it one of the “young countries” in the world.

This rising youth population in Pakistan has also translated into an increase in the number of young voters, aged between 18 and 35 years.

Renewed Focus on Youth

Age-wise data collected through various official sources, published by Pakistan’s premier English-language daily Dawn, shows there are a little over 17 million voters between ages 18 and 25. On the other hand, the number of voters between the age group 26 and 35 stood at 27 million. This young population comprises almost 44 percent of total voters.

Perhaps this is why almost all major political players in the country are trying to woo the youth.

While such a huge chunk of voters will play a key role in determining who forms the government, those in power or those who were in power, have ignored the needs of this segment for a long time.

Pakistan will see a second consecutive democratic transition of power in its history, and the government that will be in charge will have to face a lot of challenges other than those of economy and national security.

The state’s aim should be to make the most of this growing youth population and to convert it into something productive for the country’s economy. Between 2013 and 2015, the government created 1.3 million jobs, when Pakistan’s need is 1.7 million new jobs every year, as per World Bank data.

Is the state prepared to have opportunities for them as they enter the job market? 

Pakistani youths have also been largely deprived of avenues for entertainment. There has been no international cricket for the past decade. Moreover, art, culture and music are often considered taboo, and the country’s conservative society is least appreciative of these creative disciplines and of those who pursue these.

2 June 2018 marked the first death anniversary of one of local music maestros Aamir Zaki, but not many cared about it.

Free of Violence, Entertainment Flourishes

Rafay Mahmood, a culture journalist, regretted that a year later, the fate of Zaki’s unreleased music and the many guitars that survived him remain unknown.

“Had he been born in a different place, even his cigarette butts would have turned into museum pieces. That enigma, that divine genius, is no more and neither are the values he represented,” Mahmood wrote in a post shared on Twitter.

It is reflective of the state of the country’s entertainment industry as well, which has huge potential but is not financially viable.

Artists, musicians and sportsmen (who fail to make it big) are left with no option but to seek out alternative careers. As these sectors offer a softer image of the country to the world, it would be in Pakistan’s interest to invest in art and culture.

The generation I belong to grew up seeing violence, especially in Karachi. It didn’t look like Karachi would ever witness peace. For many years, people living in Karachi were so busy trying to not get killed, that the lack of entertainment didn’t concern them.

Thanks to the operation by the country’s paramilitary and police forces, the city was freed of the clutches of a powerful group which no authority could earlier bring to task. There was a time when Karachi was held hostage by a powerful group and no law had enough power to put them to task.


Lack of Mobility a Problem

Since the return of “democracy” in 2008 and till 2016, 11,371 people were gunned down in the city, according to the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee. Those were popularly referred to as “target killings.” The Pakistan Army’s countrywide operations to curb militancy and extremism started in 2013. But the citizens of Karachi were offered reprieve by 2017, as targeted killings dropped by 72 percent (as per a report compiled by the Inspector General of Sindh Police).

The already frustrated young generation’s struggles are made worse due to a dismal transport system. Karachi, Pakistan’s most-populous city, doesn’t have a state-sponsored public transport system.

Imagine how citizens living in one of the biggest metropolises of the world commute. This has created a monopoly of private transport owners. There used to be a circular railway once, but it is now defunct.

On several occasions, the Sindh provincial government tried to revive the project but the project is nowhere close to seeing the light of day.

Whoever forms the next government should be aware of the growing youth population and should strive to provide for them. If the needs of such a large chunk of the population are neglected, Pakistan may soon end up seeing its own version of the Arab Spring.

(Umer Bin Ajmal is a multimedia journalist who has worked for several national media organisations. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism from the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi. He tweets @umerbinajmal. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them)

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