Note: This paper is based on a lecture delivered in the meeting of O.M. Center for Policy Studies in Islamabad.

By Saif Khan

According to the United Nations (UN) youth are defined as those people who fall between the ages of 15 and 24 years. In Pakistan about 63% of the population falls under the category of young individuals. In the context of our country, a major portion of youth may be seen as having immense potential, yet their talent being not fully utilized.

It is arguable that immense positive potential may be wasted if careful attention is not paid to their wellbeing. Surely youth of any county serves as its backbone in taking the country forward with their energy and zeal, but most importantly their right grooming.

Besides taking part in the development of a country, the youth also contribute by providing or serving in leadership roles. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the youth of today would form the leadership of tomorrow. Without incorporating youth in productive activities and empowering them in meaningful ways, a country no matter on the map of the world, basically endangers that country’s future. In other words, the youth factor is a double-edged sword. If not utilized wisely by the policy makers of a country could very fast become the wasted generation of a country that instead of contribution in its development become the source if its destruction by engagement in unuseful and even illegal activities.

Educated and productive youth are the lifeline of a country. Consider the example of Japan; the third largest economy in the world. It is a great industrial nation yet there is something that greatly concerns the Japanese policy makers, and that is the decline in its population especially the youth.

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On an optimistic note, the Pakistani youth is second to none in its hard work and productive potential. In light of the myriad of problems facing our country, they have a key role to play as nation builders; not only in the economic sense but also morally and practically for the betterment of Pakistan. We know as fact that when the need arose, they united, came forward and proved their metal. Be it the 2005 earthquake or the floods in any part of the country, Pakistani youth have demonstrated an unparalleled example of resilience and unity. However, more needs to be done if we truly want to see a prosperous Pakistan. As a start, the youth needs to better engage in national affairs. In a lecture, Miss Shabana Fayyaz who is an assistant professor at the Defense and Strategic Studies Department of Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, said that “the best investment under current scenario would be empowering the youth”. She added that “we are surrounded by multiple crisis and we cannot meet these challenges without active participation of youth as a crystal of change. There is no doubt that the youth have been at the centre of socio-economic and socio-political changes taking place in Pakistan and elsewhere.

The period of life under which the youth fall is the most productive and energetic. If their energies are not channeled they fail to harness opportunities that come their way. I believe that our demographic situation provides our young with an extraordinary opportunity to compete in their required sphere. We have an opportunity to engage our youth as productive assets, which contribute significantly to economic growth and poverty alleviation. That of course will come through awareness and a general realization of some important points. The youth need to take charge of their destiny, stand united, shun negativity, and engage in positive endeavors.

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Each stakeholder in the society needs to play its role. Both the government and the society must join hands to engage youth, and concentrate on protecting their emotional and physical health, enhancing their skill based education, provision of recreational facilities, employment. Government should launch youth promotion and youth investment schemes at large level. There must be corrective measures at government, social and individual levels to restore the confidence of the youth in their potential qualities. The incorporation of youth in the national affairs and policies is also important to save them from becoming a liability for not only themselves but the society as a whole.

The most important step to be taken by the Government of Pakistan, in this regard, is revision and revival of a national youth policy. The idea is to create an environment in which youth skill development is a priority.

It must be added that, in these challenging times when it is easy to become disillusioned, there is a greater need to incorporate in them, self-confidence, motivation and the courage to move forward. The youth of Pakistan despite having multitude of problems like unemployment, poverty, social taboos, or drugs, has always been in the forefront of movements and political changes. Be it the Pakistan movement of independence, or the Indo-Pak war, natural calamities or making the country known in sports worldwide, the youth factor has been instrumental.

Saif Khan, Media Coordinator at Opinion Maker and a student of International Relations, Islamabad.