Without sustained efforts to introduce population control, Pakistan is unlikely to prosper in the way envisioned by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
write everyday Dawn on February 2, columnist Zahid Husain linked Pakistan’s population to security, meaning the state might not last if the people living there are allowed to proliferate at the current rate.
Pakistani population has one of the highest growth rates in the world with a youth bulge that creates an extra dimension that Pakistanis don’t pay attention to as they think the threats are only external and for that it enough to have a large well-armed army. According to Hussain, “Pakistan is now the fifth most populous country in the world. With a worryingly high growth rate of 2.4% per year, compared to 1% in Bangladesh, four to five million children are added each year to the existing figures. At this rate, we should have around 300 million people by 2030… Our literacy rate has stagnated at 60%, 32% of our younger generation cannot read or write; most others drop out of school; the school enrollment rate is one of the lowest in South Asia. And we spend barely 2% of GDP on poor quality education, driving us even further into isolation in an increasingly interconnected world.
The loss of rationality
There are steps Pakistan could take to prevent this impending state collapse due to overpopulation, but its ideology and political mindset will not allow it to associate education with ‘rationality’. . Most observers who warn Pakistan of what is to come ignore the changed nature of the Pakistani state, which by its very intellectual evolution has become incapable of heeding any rational discourse. The complaint that it only spends 2% of the budget on education ignores the fact that more spending on this kind of irrational education will hasten the death of the state instead of saving it.
There was a time of “ideological immaturity” when “birth control” was the mantra and large billboards could be seen along city roads spreading messages of security and prosperity through a small family. All of this is now “ideologically” impossible because the Pakistani mind has come full circle. Now the solution lies in “free kitchens” and their attendant economic malfeasance rather than education, when that meant something else in bygone days. Today, it too has been overwhelmed by ideology. There was a time in 1947 when East Pakistan was more populated than West Pakistan; today, a non-ideological Bangladesh is no longer threatened by the size of its population and has $40 billion in its kitty compared to the dollars borrowed by Pakistan.
When Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared on the scene in 2018, his heartfelt statements about ending poverty in Pakistan were loud and clear. But his view of how China had managed to lift 700 million people out of poverty was blind to one of the most obvious levers of change: reducing population growth rates. And China had controlled the rate of population growth that Khan could not even think of: through contraception and stiff penalties for anyone violating it. And his view of education – a dimension of the state that requires a scientific and rational approach – may in fact lead to a fertility rate that Pakistan’s ailing economy simply cannot sustain. The year he came to power, Bangladesh’s GDP per capita surpassed that of Pakistan, reaching around $1,700. The solution is not the “health card”, but a rational orientation of the behavior of the State directing the popular spirit towards moderation. Perversely, a health card in an ideological environment can only lead to proliferation rather than population restriction.
A large population is exposed to poverty because the state’s means of subsistence are always limited. A low level of non-ideological literacy actually encourages the illusion among poor families that they need more members to earn a better living. However, this strategy is flawed in an economy that generates insufficient employment opportunities, even for young people with education and skills, and where real wages are declining. The increase in the population composed of unskilled individuals actually leads to a decline in wages. This may not sit well in the minds of today’s Pakistanis, but the fact is that a contraceptive-controlled population leads to higher wages.
Was the Riyasat-e-Madina that Prime Minister Imran Khan refers to when he talks about governance based solely on divine guidance and not on rationality, which is also a gift from Allah? He thinks of charity and welfare when he opens free kitchens for the poor, but there is also room for rationality. In the developed world, with economies that produce wealth, free kitchens are carefully exploited, but not without consideration for population growth that could spiral out of control. In Riyasat-e-Madina there was no prison and hands were cut off for theft; but that does not mean that the Riyasat would have refused to change its system of punishments over time. What to watch is the proliferation in major cities:
In 1947, only 10% of the population lived in urban areas; today the figure is around 50 percent. This means that the size of the urban population has increased 26.5 times, again one of the highest growth rates — 5.4% per year. Life has become harder for disadvantaged families and the state must approach the problem rationally; solutions must be found by thought rather than by the politically powerful clerical community, which opposes contraception as a part of religious belief.
Khan, the strange pedagogue
The Prime Minister has repeatedly criticized the education system in Pakistan, saying that there are “three different education systems, an English system for the country’s elite, an Urdu system and religious seminaries for the rest of the country”. He expressed his opposition to English-speaking schools because they distanced students from “Pakistani culture” and recommended that “education should be provided in English only at higher levels and even then the curriculum should be in accordance to culture in Pakistan. .”
Khan’s opposition to “English” schools is quite clear. He’s not critical or clear about the other two systems probably because he thinks they don’t need improvement. It is certain that English schools instil a culture that is not Pakistani. By implication, the other two systems inculcate Pakistani culture. What is important is that his declaration implies a change in the education of the country, but this change must be made in English-language schools. They might have to close because he is not in favor of English starting in first class. His objection comes down to a single point: not teaching English from the first class because it prevents the inculcation of Pakistani culture.
It is clear that education is not going to help Pakistan control its population. Yet the myth that Prime Minister Khan needs to bust first is that the poor want more children: that poverty creates overpopulation rather than the reverse. The Population Council’s national director in Pakistan, Zeba Sathar, wrote in Dawn in 2017, noting the internalization of the ideological edict: “After working with religious leaders, politicians and the media for more than three years to raise awareness of the facts of the population, the Population Council and UNFPA have found that these are closest to policy implementation – bureaucrats and politicians, who are furthest from recognizing the urgency of tackling the problem. Especially in denial are health practitioners who still dispute whether the poor really want fewer children; they miss opportunities to make a difference when they don’t see providing family planning counseling and services to those they interact with as part of their job.