The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Running counter to a trend in a number of countries, Pakistan is witnessing a positive growth rate and that can be the country’s saving grace.

Amid a debilitating economic crisis—arguably the most severe in its 75-year history—Pakistan is grappling with various existential challenges. From political instability and external debt woes to the ramifications of climate change and endemic corruption, Pakistanis are beleaguered. Yet, often overlooked is a unique demographic edge that could pivot the nation from economic vulnerability to strength: its youth.

Pakistan boasts the fifth-largest youthful population globally, with approximately 63% of its people between the ages of 15 and 33. This comes at a time when many developed nations are confronted by demographic decline, grappling with phenomena like ‘peak child’ and an emerging ‘silver tsunami.’ Countries like Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia find themselves deep in a demographic winter, wherein the number of children is on the decline and the population is graying.

Most countries have watched their total fertility rates plummet below the “magic number” of 2.1 children—a rate necessary for stable population growth. Policy interventions like tax breaks and generous parental leave have emerged as desperate attempts to turn the tide. Yet, such measures appear ill-equipped to reshape demographic destiny within the next two decades.

At a time when the world is clamoring for younger, vibrant populations, Pakistan is teeming with them. This youthful boom isn’t just numerical; it comes fortified with a burgeoning educated class. Conventional wisdom may chide Pakistan for its high fertility rate—3.4 in 2022—but such statistics could signify an untapped resource. Leveraging its youth as a prime export could be Pakistan’s strategic move to mend its fragile economy.

Interestingly, countries with significant populations, like India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, don’t share this youthful advantage. Both India and Bangladesh have dipped below the 2.1 threshold, while Nigeria lacks a technically skilled young workforce. In contrast, Pakistan is ripe to serve a global market aching for youthful exuberance and talent, particularly in fields such as healthcare, engineering, and management.

Sending young professionals abroad yields more than mere remittances, substantial as those already are to Pakistan’s economy. The diaspora also acts as cultural ambassadors, enriching the lives of families back home with gifts like technology and boosting the nation’s soft power. For instance, the presence of Indian professionals in leading tech companies has had undeniable diplomatic dividends.

Critics may point to Pakistan’s inconsistent educational standards as a roadblock to global competitiveness. While not stellar, the country’s higher education system does offer gems like LUMS and NUST, capable of producing skilled graduates. Ethical qualms also linger around the idea of exporting human capital: What image would these young Pakistanis project abroad? Such concerns could be mitigated by a simple background check.

A more existential question is whether such a diaspora would create a talent vacuum within Pakistan itself. However, given the global demographic trends leaning toward aging and decline, it is not the world but Pakistan that can afford to continue producing talent at its current rate.

Yet, there remains a cultural stumbling block: the stigmatization of emigration. In a society where leaving the homeland is viewed as unpatriotic, and where family bonds outweigh individual aspirations for education and growth, a paradigm shift is needed. By educating its populace on the benefits of emigration and fostering policies that encourage overseas work, Pakistan can unlock a new avenue of national improvement.

Pakistan’s economic turmoil may necessitate complex, multifaceted solutions, but capitalizing on its youthful demographics offers a promising mid-term strategy. At a time when global demographic scales are tipping unfavorably, Pakistan stands uniquely poised to benefit from a demographic dividend. It’s high time the nation recognizes this advantage as more than a statistical footnote—it may well be Pakistan’s ticket to economic resurgence.

Muhammad Rauhan Rasheed is a versatile researcher with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. Muhammad's Bachelor’s thesis dealt with wolf-warrior diplomacy. Muhammad previously worked for the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), where he produced daily content and scripts for a show related to global affairs. In addition, he also worked in the media arm of the Pakistan Air Force and Inter-Services Public Relations. His interests also include China’s foreign policy and the politics of South Asia.