The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a culturally and linguistically diverse large South Asian country bordered by Afghanistan and Iran to the north and west, China to the northeast, India to the east and the Arabian Sea to the south. The Muslim-majority country was established in its current form after the partition of former British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, and the subsequent secession of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, in 1971.
Currently the sixth most populous country in the world with 212 million people, Pakistan is characterized by one of the highest population growth rates worldwide outside of Africa. Even though the roughly 2 percent rate is now slowing, the country’s population is estimated to reach 403 million by 2050 (UN median range projection). There are more young people in Pakistan today than at any point in its history, and it has one of the world’s largest youth populations with 64 percent of Pakistanis now under the age of 30. Consider that Karachi is projected to become the third-largest city in the world with close to 32 million people by the middle of the century.
If Pakistan manages to educate and skill this surging youth population, it could harness a tremendous youth dividend that could help to fuel the country’s economic growth and modernization. Failure to integrate the country’s legions of youngsters into the education system and the labor market, on the other hand, could turn population growth into what the Washington Post called a “disaster in the making”: “Putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless”—trends that would almost inevitably lead to the further destabilization of Pakistan’s already fragile political system.
Given the poor state of Pakistan’s education system and its already rising youth unemployment rate, such fears are anything but unfounded. According to the Global Youth Development Index published by the Commonwealth, a measure which uses the domains of civic participation, education, employment and opportunity, health and well-being, and political participation to gauge the progress of young people, Pakistan ranked only 154th of 183 countries, trailing sub-Saharan African nations like Sierra Leone or Ethiopia.