Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The British Council’s “Next Generation Report on Pakistan” provides perhaps the clearest picture of how our younger generation thinks and feels about their homeland. Its measured tones and careful analysis make uncomfortable reading despite both positive and negative paths being detailed. The sampling of the surveys that underpin the report is broad and its conclusions derived from data which is comprehensive. The report identifies something called the ‘demographic dividend’ which is a period where there is a favourable ratio of potentially productive young people, to old. The window of opportunity to exploit this began in 1990 and we have done nothing to take advantage of it since; and the window will close in 2045 (by when society will be aging rapidly) giving us thirty-five years to turn the tide. Alongside the possible opportunity there is demographic disaster which will only be averted by aggressive and sustained action by successive governments. The research indicates that one-third of the growth experienced by East Asian economies in their boom years can be traced to this demographic structure; and if we are able to harness it effectively we could see economic growth increase by as much as one-fifth by 2030.
Our young generation is politically disillusioned. They are very loyal and strongly nationalistic but only 10 per cent have any faith in the key institutions of state – national and local governance, the police and the courts. In terms of identity 75 per cent see themselves as Muslims first and secondly as Pakistanis with just 14 per cent seeing themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan. Democracy gets short shrift with 33 per cent seeing it as the right system for us and another 33 per cent preferring some form of Sharia. A majority are critical of the way Pakistan has been manipulated by the international community for most of its life. Despite attempts at optimism, there is little cheer in the report, especially when it is laid alongside the failure of virtually every government we have had to address the issues it identifies and which have been there from the beginning. We cannot throw up our hands and claim ignorance because this particular elephant in the living room has been standing there for over sixty years. Either we invest in our young generation now or we wither and fail in thirty-five years time — our choice is that stark.