A country of 60% youth, but for why and how long?

As we retreat to our homes or head out for long-weekend trips to Murree this August 14th, a question arises: what exactly are we celebrating? For a nation that was conceived with the vision of embracing secular ideals and progressive policies, it seems we have veered off course.

I write not on behalf of any specific group but rather on behalf of the youth, often considered the backbone of our nation. Pakistan has long been renowned for its youthful demographic, touted as one of the country’s greatest strengths by our leaders. Yet, how long can this vitality be sustained?

The relentless rise in inflation has pushed the youth and their families to their limits, where merely making ends meet is a daily ordeal. Concurrently, viable employment opportunities have dwindled to an alarming low. Job prospects within Pakistan are shrinking with each passing day, as businesses either close down or move elsewhere due to the nation’s unstable economic and political landscape. Countless students graduate in Pakistan every day, investing their energy and their parents’ hard-earned savings into obtaining degrees that hold the promise of a way out of poverty. Unfortunately, contrary to the façade our education system presents, possessing a degree doesn’t guarantee a livelihood in this country.

Amid the ongoing economic and political turmoil and the absence of a clear path toward a stable future, the youth of this nation are left with little choice but to seek refuge elsewhere. They flee to lands where they can earn enough to support their families. The cost? A lifelong burden of guilt. Guilt for leaving aging parents behind and neglecting mounting responsibilities. Every young Pakistani who ventures abroad is haunted by the fear of that single missed phone call, that one skipped flight, that pivotal moment that could plague them with regret for a lifetime.

The current economic turmoil and political tumult are wreaking havoc not only on people’s day-to-day lives but also on the very fabric of families, eroding what little remains of patriotism among the common populace.

Regrettably, the government seems oblivious to this issue. Instead of addressing it, our statesmen appear to encourage young adults to abandon their homeland, sever ties with their families, and earn foreign currency to alleviate the debt crisis. But is sending the youth away truly a solution? Draining the nation of its human resources to address a debt problem that arose from the neglect of long-term policy is hardly a sustainable strategy. The fixation on remittances as a panacea for Pakistan’s economic woes only highlights the shortsightedness of our politicians.

If this strategy is indeed the silver bullet they believe it to be, then why not facilitate entire families relocating? Why must millions of young Pakistanis be separated from their families, burdened with perpetual guilt? Why should individuals have to choose between their loved ones and financial security? Why have we, as a nation, failed to foster opportunities for our so-called prized youth? Nations that pride themselves on their substantial youth populations make certain they have robust job-creating industries to ensure sustained growth. Unfortunately, our objectives and methods diverge. We’ve long relied on quick fixes and short-term solutions, living from election to election, governed by the strategies of a select few. But this cannot be sustained indefinitely. How much longer can we continue this pattern, until there are no more voters to cast their ballots and no more taxpayers to bear the burden?

The repercussions of this exodus of young talent extend beyond Pakistan’s borders. Our neighboring counterpart, India, also boasts a significant expatriate population. However, despite many young Indians seeking opportunities abroad, the domestic youth population remains a driving force behind the nation’s advancement. India’s economy thrives due to the enterprising spirit of its youth, contributing to a range of sectors from technology to innovation and entrepreneurship. Despite the challenges, numerous young Indians opt to stay in their homeland, leveraging the diverse opportunities it offers. This contrast with India compels us to reassess our approach.

The Indian government actively supports its youth by investing in job creation and encouraging entrepreneurship. Education also plays a pivotal role. According to the World Bank’s 2020 report, India allocated 4.5% of its GDP to education, while Pakistan allocated a mere 2.4%. Despite some young Indians seeking opportunities abroad, the Indian government’s commitment to nurturing local talent and fostering an environment conducive to growth has resulted in success stories within the country.

However, our nation’s priorities starkly differ from those of successful regional players like India. As the world evolves and progresses, we remain stuck in the 1950s.

Amidst all of this, what does the first generation of Pakistan, who witnessed its evolution year by year, see? They were once optimists, believing that everything would eventually turn out fine. They held onto the hope that over time, the nation they were liberated into would fulfill its promises – if not for them, then for their children, or perhaps their grandchildren. Yet, confronted with widespread failures of the state, they now find themselves disillusioned. They lack the words of encouragement to inspire their children or grandchildren. Their dreams have evaporated, and their expectations for a better tomorrow have faded. We’ve succeeded in transforming the small optimistic segment among us into pessimists, or perhaps, realists.

We’ve endured this struggle for far too long to allow it to define our destiny. So, what are our choices? Should we stay and strive to make things better? Or should we take flight?)