The force of youth
Prime Minister Imran Khan is right to focus on providing job opportunities to the youth as he charts the country’s way forward. There is an inherent force in the nation’s youth and, if nurtured and employed productively, it has the potential to turn around not just the country but also much of the region with it. For it is a fact that Pakistan struggles with its population growth rate but all said and done we are a remarkably young country. Presently, 64 percent of the country is younger than 30 years old and 29 percent is between the ages of 15 and 29. Statistically, Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had, and this trend is expected to strengthen till at least 2050.
It is important to note that the average age in Pakistan is far below most other countries. In fact, it has been decreasing all the time that the average age in most advanced countries has been increasing. All we need to do now is understand the latent strength of the youth and harness it in a way that can help the economy grow and the country prosper. The only problem is that we, as a country, are just not in a position to empower the youth with the skills that they will need if such a turnaround is ever going to happen. Much of the country lives at or under the poverty line, which is no secret, so any hope they have of getting their children educated or even empowered enough to earn a decent wage lies with the public education system.
And since it is also no secret that all public departments, education being no exception, are in such a deep state of decay that it is nothing short of a miracle that they are still functioning, whatever advantage the youth could bring us quickly turns into a big disadvantage. Because while a large number of young people is sure plus for any country, provided they can educate and equip them well enough, a big army of struggling, poor and frustrated people is just like a time bomb that is constantly ticking. So while the prime minister’s thinking and direction are both correct and deserve appreciation, he will still have to work out just how his government is going to work out a plan to really empower the country’s youth. *
World Bank’s warning
It seems there is going to be no shortage of bad news, especially on the economic front, at least till the coronavirus is going to last. And, to their credit, all notable international financial institutions and global lenders have kept their hand on the economic pulse in all regions across the world. For only when you know what is most likely to happen can you prepare contingency plans accordingly. That is why the latest warning from the World Bank, that South Asia is set to experience the worst recession in living memory and Pakistan looks certain to witness an increase in poverty and a muted economic recovery over the next couple of years, ought to have sounded serious alarm bells in Islamabad. GDP growth is projected to remain well below the four percent annual average in the three years to FY2019, and settle at around 0.5 percent for FY2021, before growing only very modestly to somewhere around 1.3 percent in FY2022.
And all this, which presents a pretty uncertain picture to start with, is still based on the assumption that things will not get any worse and the coronavirus will not stage a comeback at least till next year. Surely this would have made everybody in the government that much more worried about the recent surge in the number of fresh infections as well as deaths. When the country did so much better than others in terms of containing the spread of the virus, and the Pakistani economy was reopened ahead of regional competitors, the government thought that the worst was already behind us and the economy would not be as much of a bother as just a few months ago.
The Word Bank Vice President for the South Asian Region Hartwig Schafer was right when he lamented that “the collapse of South Asian economies during Covid-19 has been more brutal than anticipated, worst of all for small businesses and informal workers who suffer sudden job losses and vanishing wages.” It was bad enough that the pandemic pushed the whole world into unchartered territory so suddenly, but the global recession it has caused is causing unemployment, and accompanying rise in poverty, on an unprecedented scale and countries like Pakistan, which already struggle to provide the basic necessities of life to their big sea of poor people, are likely to suffer the most. The government must now position itself to brace this economic storm while facing an onslaught from the opposition at the same time as well. *