Pakistan’s beauty lies in its diversity – diversity of its people, culture and landscape. It is also this diversity that poses a challenge in policy formulation in a way that it celebrates heterogeneity yet sets a nationalist outlook.
Sixty-four per cent of Pakistan’s total population is below the age of 30, making it one of the youngest countries in the world and the second youngest in South Asia region. Its youth population is the highest in its history. The youth bulge created is similar to countries such as Malaysia in Asia and Brazil in South America.
However, though the demographics of the youth are similar, development indicators show otherwise. Pakistan has been ranked among the least likely places for youth to live in with a rank of 154 out of 183 countries scored (Global Youth Development Index, 2016). On a more contextual level, Pakistan is the only Commonwealth country whose score dropped during 2010-2015 and among the five countries overall for which the score deteriorated the most. African countries such as Kenya and South Africa have the greatest percentage improvement.
How can Pakistan invest in its youth so they become socioeconomic change-makers similar to European countries with a more stable, yet high score? We can learn from policy experiences and develop similar contours. To address the heterogeneity defined by cultural and socioeconomic factors, an inclusive, comprehensive and strategically well thought-out youth policy is immediately needed.
Here are the five ‘Es’ to address the challenges faced by the youth and enabling them as agents of change.
Equalise – Access to education and health are basic needs, true. But there are equalising factors even before these. For example, common public spaces such as parks and libraries, which promote values of inclusiveness and respect. To inculcate tolerance and patience from a young age, “discussion” has to be promoted.
Equip – The level of education and exposure determine one’s skills. Where a slum dweller is seen as an economic burden with no apparent skills, the youth also includes a tech-savvy startup co-founder. If the youth is to truly contribute, its holistic skill-set needs to be developed strategically in line with the requirements of the 10-year economic plan that includes mega projects such as CPEC.
Engage – The youth needs to be “trained” for better decision-making. This calls for its engagement in public matters. Youth involved in a decentralised governance structure from early years, a Youth Council, similar to Emirates or Commonwealth Youth Council, which follows a bottom-up approach and lets its members tackle different real-life challenges. Imagine a shadow cabinet of young ministers similar to in Kerala, India.
Exposure – But that’s not enough. This quality of decision-making, self-awareness and sharpness has to be put to test for it to be refined. To push the benchmark for the youth, it must face fierce global competition. Hence, the need to utilise collaborative platforms like the Commonwealth, UN, SAARC and OIC that Pakistan is a member of. We need to curate partnerships in areas such as research, capacity buildings and scholarships. It will give the youth global exposure and a new thought process. It will equip them as perception builders instead of followers.
Empower – The youth must be provided with a holistic conducive environment where all basic needs are catered to so they can just “focus” on building Pakistan. The most recent example of this is Malaysia’s Commonwealth Youth City in Perak.
Implementation of the 5E's such that it creates impact and enables the youth to develop uncompromised political will, strong coordination and foresightedness. The current government sees the youth as its biggest asset. It also has the political will to make it happen but will it be able to garner support of all stakeholders like Malaysia did?