Pakistan is a resource-stretched country with a runaway population. According to the 2016 national census, the country’s population is 208 million and increasing at a high rate of 2.4 per cent and stands at sixth position globally. Unless effective steps are taken to stop the trend, the country’s population could exceed 300 million by 2050. The current rate of population growth shows lack of proper interest on the part of the government, physicians, and leaders of public opinion. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey of 2018 has found the contraceptive use to have been stagnant over the past five years. In fact, from 35 per cent in 2012, it dipped to 34.2 per cent in 2017. This is worrisome given Pakistan’s commitment at the 2012 London Population Summit that it would bring it up to 50 per cent by 2020. Senior gynaecologists and obstetricians say even their junior physicians do not have enough understanding of modern contraceptive methods, so how can they be expected to give proper advice to married couples on how to limit their family size. There are several social and cultural issues involved that are constraining the country’s efforts to control the population growth.
The world population stood at 7.7 billion as of April 2019. Most developing countries are confronting the problem of keeping their population within manageable limits. In the European Union, the birth rate is 1.9 live births per woman per year. In Pakistan, it stands at 3.46 live births per woman per year. Historically, families in countries of Asia have preferred to have a large number of children. In the 19th century, an Indian king had 22 sons and 32 daughters from several wives. The wife of King Louis XIVth of France gave birth to six children. Only one survived into adulthood. The present trend needs to be reversed because there has to be a balance between the world’s resources and the population that it can support.
Pakistan’s economy is having a hard time is no revelation. While the incumbent government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is doing all it can to treat the ills, many an economic expert believe it is the remedy that has worsened the malady. The policies adopted by current economic managers, meant to achieve economic stability in a country with negligible FDI and exports totalling half as much as imports, have literally squeezed the common man dry. Fiscal tightening measures, coupled with currency depreciation, have turned inflation into a double-digit demon and led to a notable fall in the economic growth rate. While the government claims that it has achieved the economic stability and is now all set to hit the road to growth and then move on to attain prosperity, there are apprehensions that the economy will be able to turn the tight corner.
A recent report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has affirmed all apprehensions about the flagging economy during the ongoing fiscal year i.e. FY2019-20. The Asian Development Outlook Update 2019 released by the bank yesterday has projected that Pakistan’s economic growth rate will be 2.8% — the lowest in South Asia — and its inflation rate will be 12% — the highest in the bloc of eight nations — during the current fiscal year. In its previous outlook released six months back, the bank had forecast 3.6% growth rate and 7% inflation for the current fiscal year. With a 2.8% growth rate, Pakistan’s economy will be the slowest growing economy in South Asia. Like the last fiscal year, Bangladesh’s economy will be fastest-growing at a rate of 8%, followed by India at 7.2%, and the Maldives and Nepal at 6.3%. Even war-torn Afghanistan’s economy is projected to grow at a higher rate — 3.5% — than Pakistan’s.
What’s even more troubling is the ADB predicting yet another round of hikes in electricity and gas tariffs. The warning for the common man is thus pretty clear: hard days are hard to go.
OIC Kashmir communique
It took a while, but the Muslim world slowly seems to be getting on the same page on the Kashmir issue. On Wednesday, members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Contact Group on Kashmir expressed its complete solidarity with the Kashmiri people as they called on India to end its repressive seven-week lockdown in occupied Kashmir as well as to rescind its illegal annexation of the disputed state. The group also voiced concern over the “gross and systematic human rights violations” taking place in occupied Kashmir and urged India to allow human rights organisations and international media access into the locked down territory to ascertain and report on the situation there.
This is by far the strongest statement issued by the 57-member Islamic bloc since India revoked Article 370 of its constitution, which accorded special status to the occupied state. After the ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted that the unanimous adoption of the communique represented a “positive development” that has given a boost to Pakistan’s intense diplomatic campaign to push for a settlement of the decades-old Kashmir dispute. He was very true to point out that the OIC had never previously issued such an explicit statement on the longstanding Kashmir dispute.
The communique will be submitted for action by the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC, which will meet next week. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons many Muslim countries, particularly the oil-rich Arab states, opted not to condemn India’s illegal annexation of Kashmir much earlier was because of their economic interests in India. Behind the scenes, this remains the case. While the OIC’s communique is most certainly a diplomatic win for Pakistan, whether or not it translates into a win for Kashmiris depends on whether OIC members follow through in their individual capacity and use their economic leverage to push India to do the right thing.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown that he has no love for Indian Muslims, let alone Kashmiri ones, but perhaps his love for Arab Muslim money will force him to do the right thing.