STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Pakistanis are creative and enterprising. They find ways of coping, whether surviving in abject poverty or developing their future, if given an opportunity. Few nations are blessed with these traits. Having lived abroad and being exposed to different peoples, this entrepreneurial spirit is quite rare. Generally folks seek regularity and routine that provides security.

Living in Canada I have observed most people go through their adult life on a nine to five job routine. They adjust their lifestyle according to their income bracket. State provides them the safety net to educate their kids, provide healthcare and other essential services. Electricity breakdown is headline news. Water and gas supply is generally uninterrupted. They get opportunities to rise based on education, competence and hard work. In more ways than one life is quite predictable. They value life and enjoy based on their capacity.

My neighbor, an immigrant from Italy; started as forklift driver in a well-established company. Based on his dedication and hard work he rose through the ranks to retire 35 years later as a Supervisor. Within 7 years of working he bought his home with 5% down-payment in an affluent neighborhood and paid off his mortgage in 25 years. Now he is retired. He bought his house for twohundred thousand dollars which is now worth two million. He leads a comfortable life on his pension and retirement benefits by the Government. Healthcare is free and he stays fit using community centers provided by the City.

Such luxury exists in Pakistan only for selected few. Those who are lucky enough to get employment with Government or the corporate sector concentrated mainly in bigger cities. For the rest, struggle for survival begins young and continues for the rest of their lives. As the population grows the competition gets fiercer for a piece of pie that is shrinking due to monumental mismanagement by our incompetent rulers.

In 1971 at the time of breakup of Pakistan, the West Pakistan’s population was under a hundred million. In fifty years we stand at over 225 million; an increase of 125%. Using this population growth rate by 2050 Pakistan’s population would be around 500 million. Do we have the resources, capacity or infrastructure to handle these numbers? The answer is a big fat no. Since Ayub Khan’s family planning efforts to create awareness for a smallfamily; successive Governments have only paid lip service. Overseas aid and loans obtained under this head have been pilfered and squandered away.

Awareness for a small family has been stymied by the most regressive part of our society. Mullah’s resistance based on ignorance has instilled fear amongst the rulers focused on grabbing power and short-term gains. Long term planning remains a pipe dream. Large segments of the society have been brainwashed to believe that each child brings one mouth to feed with two hands to produce.

This is a total fallacy that has given birth to a “rent a child” society. Five or six years old kids rather than going to school are sent to work as domestic help. With six kids, the dads collect their salaries to sit on a “manja” all day to smoke “hukkah” or hash. The mom toils away to feed and house the kids. We are churning out hordes of uneducated and depraved generations where child abuse is a rampantill; we are raising under–nourished children competing for a loaf of bread. Population below poverty line is exploding as their numbers ramp up.

This is creating a huge schism in our society. The ruling elite and their beneficiaries in business, bureaucracy, judiciary and armed forces have captured power and nations wealth. Less than 10% control all levers of power and wealth. Rich are getting wealthier as poverty rates spins out of control.

Based on statistics more than 60% of Pakistani population is below 25 years. This can be our greatest asset or biggest liability. Unless we educate, train and equip our youth we are headed for anarchy. India and China stood at the same cross-roads thirty years ago. China enforced strict population controls and focused on developing opportunities by expanding their production base. India did the same. Their forward thinking leaders caught onto the potential in IT and created training institutions.

Stories on social media narrate how Pakistan lost out on this once in a century opportunity. Bill Gates came first to Pakistan, encouraged by some enterprising Pakistanis in USA. He met with greedy leaders then in power who were more interested in lining their pockets rather than change the fortunes of Pakistani youth. He flew onto India and laid the foundations for the IT boom. It led to creation of hubs like Bangalore and others. It changed India’s fortunes. It is claimed that India’s IT revenues per annum exceed the revenues of Saudi Arabia’s oil! Bright Indian stars now dominate Silicon Valley and top executive positions in North America.

Our prevalent education system is useless. It follows British system of churning out “baboos”. I sat in interviews where a Master’s degree holder could not write a single sentence in English correctly. This regime is a write-off. An elected government should declare an educational emergency to train our youth in fields that will provide skill-sets that are in demand. This will make them employable and productive. Why do I keep writing when nothing will happen? Losing hope equates to dying before death!

The writer is the director of CERF, a non-profit charitable organization in Canada.

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