PTI was the first political party to cash the youth vote bank in Pakistan since 2013’s general elections. In doing so, it raised hopes among the youth to get their due share in the national economy and budgetary allocation, but it could not present a youth-friendly budget in 2019-20 and 2020-21. The country has 64% of its youth population below 30 years of age but the budget contribution is only PKR 2 billion, that is extremely low for the youth due to a huge population. Between the age group 20-24 years, the country has 9.7 million male, 9.1 million female and 18.8 million in total as per Population Council estimates. This age group is in dire need of education and employment.
If we calculate using the budgetary allocation PKR 2 billion for an 18.8 million youth population, we get 106 rupees per person for the year 2020-21. This is an amount which is allocated for a year – and it will buy peanuts. It is also not clear how this amount would be used, and which kind of initiatives would be financed. Although slogans of youth empowerment were raised by the ruling party, when it comes to the budgetary allocation, priorities changed. I am not sure about the youth’s reaction and perception towards this budget, but it seems the dreams and hopes of the youth are broken.
During the previous government, the budgetary allocation was not ideal either: they allocated up to PKR 22 billion in 2018-19. However, this amount was slightly higher, and each young person got 1,170 rupees for the year 2018. In my view, this amount was also peanuts, but several initiatives were taken which were aimed at addressing the needs of the youth. The previous government started internship programs, provided laptops (though of low quality) and granted some loans to the youth. The laptop scheme was an important initiative and it can be used for online classes during the Covid-19 crisis. Similarly, the internships gave a window of opportunity to get employment. Nonetheless, there were still very limited opportunities for the youth to improve their lot during the previous government’s tenure.
The results of this low youth budgetary allocation will be seen in the coming years.
A young person is always full of energy to get education, skills and contribute to the economy, but if one does not have opportunities, what they will do? They have another option to be vagabond and get engage in antisocial activities. They may get engage in drug addition to relax and come out of the crisis through artificial means for a certain period. For drugs, you need money. To get money, the natural direction is deviancy and criminality if no legal means are available to make a living. Thus, we can foresee that youth may get engaged in robbery, burglary and theft crimes for their survival. It is easy to foresee such neglected young people becoming victims of anti-social forces.
High-level criminality will provide a logic to allocate money to the police to control crime. Proposals might even pop up to establish a new security force (like the Dolphin Force in Lahore) to control street crime. In case this kind of force is established, it may later turn on to be a white elephant while demanding more and more resources for functioning and controlling crimes. A vicious cycle of misery for society, state and the youth can thus be expected. Historically, we have experienced the street crime culture in Karachi for decades, but we never tried to address the root cause. Thus, Karachi has experienced bloodshed in the last three decades but unfortunately the Government of Pakistan did not learn from mistakes.
Pakistani governments have to start investing in youth as their foremost priority, rather than an afterthought. They should start new initiatives to engage and empower the young population and make them an asset of the country. Youth-led initiatives will not only generate revenue, they also generate a positive ripple effect as empowered and secure young people themselves will begin to engage other young people.
The youth are quite justified if they go on to demand from the Government an increase in their share of the national budget. It is their right to receive education and employment with dignified means.
Quite simply, Pakistan’s youth is a valuable resource if it is perceived as an asset. It may, however, become a liability if ignored. The Government of Pakistan should invest according to the outcome it wants to see.
The writer is Chairman, Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org