What to do with Pakistan’s illiterate youth?

Prof Farakh A Khan (15.10.12)
The UN has now presented alarming population figures about Pakistan. I have written about this many times. My claim that population figures are a sham a crutch to lean on by our scholars to explain our failure of economic development. It is not the number but what you do with it. UN now tells us that 65% of Pakistani population is under 25 years age. But what is more alarming is that 32% of our population between the age of 15 and 29 years are illiterate. Of these 6% have any technical skills and only 2.5% received any training. Majority of the illiterate youth are in our rural areas. These are depressing figures (Ticking bomb. Editorial. Dawn. October 14, 2012). The usual remedy put forward by our economic gurus is to reduce population growth. This is a very long term strategy and doubtful outcome. Ayub Khan’s family planning programme with backing of the Americans did not succeed. People have the naive idea that if we educate our youth somehow Pakistan will become a developed state. We spent billions on educating adults with no success. In our planning we turned a blind eye to 32% of our population since 1947. This is our lost population ignored by the state.

We also established vocational training centres at great expense for only the educated youth with dubious results. These schemes only provided employment to the staff. So what is the answer?

I have always believed that the answer to our problems lies with us and not by importing systems from some other country. This is what China did. When tractors were introduced in Pakistan it was considered as a risky enterprise. However very soon workshops opened up in small towns and even in remote villages. This had nothing to do with the government. It was a purely a private endeavour based on experience of car and truck workshops. Lot of illiterate youth found employment in tractor-trolley sector in the rural areas. They were even bold enough to create a ‘van’ using Peter pump as an engine.

How can the government help 32% of our population? Presently it can do nothing because the institutions are so corrupt and incompetent that the money dedicated to this sector will go down the drain like so many ‘poverty alleviation’ programmes launched by successive governments in Pakistan.

What government should do is to use the existing small private workshops introduce better working conditions and pay them to train the illiterate youth. There are many other areas in the private sector, which can be opened for the youth training. A sincere government can do a lot instead of doling out money under Benazir Income Support Programme, which only creates beggars.

Pakistan has a chronic financial problem because we are made to believe that only the army can save us from India and has to take the major share of our resources. We have to remind ourselves that all wars (1965, 1971, Siachin and Kargil) were the brainchild of our elite army. The military action in Fata since 2009, which is not likely to conclude soon is a huge drain on our financial system and is not sustainable in the long term. In the perception to rush into saving Pakistan from India and snatch Kashmir we have a bloated army and no end in sight. Today the defence of Pakistan lies with the people and not the army. Unfortunately the army is not under any ones control and is free to spend without any constraints and feel proud of not being monitored by ‘civilians’. Pakistan is the only Third World country with nuclear capability. Instead of making a bomb we should have invested in nuclear power plants from our expertise. With enormous amount of money (we have no secure figures) sunk into the ‘Bum’ we could have upgraded our social sector. The only beneficiaries are the ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’ of the ‘Bum’. Today instead of saving Pakistan we are trying to save our ‘Bum’. So far the military brass has enriched it self rather than bother about the country.

Our civilian governments are no better. They focus on grandiose projects using them a vote pullers. One small example is new road building projects in Lahore. These roads are designed for the motorists and not pedestrians or cyclists. There are strong allegations of corruption, scams and mismanagement with cases pending in the courts.

Then we have aid money. Our rulers and their cronies gobble up huge sums of aid money. Our foreign aided projects are rife with corruption including payments to foreign ‘consultants’. We now need Turkey to clean our cities, import railway engines and bogies from China and textile from Bangladesh. Pakistan is a beggar state living off other people’s money and expertise.

Let me remind you that in UAE and Saudi Arabia major building projects were undertaken by illiterate Pakistani youth. They were also being used in Libya in the oil industry. These are people who escaped from stagnant Pakistan where they had no future. Our governments were proud to export our illiterate youth first to UK and then Middle East. Only Pakistan has failed to use this vast human resource. Nevertheless our overseas Pakistanis are remitting money back home which sustains our economy. Our economists and leaders consider 32% of our deprived population as part of Pakistan’s problem and not an asset. The only solution from the government was to sterilise them. If we had focused on this population in1947 Pakistan would have been a developed country today.

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