Muhammad Rauhan Rasheed
Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis, adversely affecting ordinary citizens’ lives. This situation is primarily attributed to political instability, the balance of payment crises, recent floods, and corruption. However, it is widely believed that the continuous population growth in Pakistan is also a significant contributor to the country’s food crises, unemployment, and security risks.
Some segments of society have expressed concerns about the impact of high fertility rates, contributing to the larger issue of overpopulation in the country. While it is undeniable that Pakistan’s population is alarmingly high, it is also possible to view it as an advantage for the country. For instance, exporting Pakistani-qualified individuals abroad could help alleviate the current economic crisis.
Pakistan is deemed the fifth-largest nation in terms of its youth population, with approximately 63 percent of its populace comprising individuals aged 15 to 33 years. In contrast, several countries worldwide grapple with the peak child phenomenon and the silver tsunami. The global child count is dwindling, while the proportion of elderly individuals is increasing. This demographic winter significantly impacts the developed nations, including Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia.
The replacement level fertility (RLF) or Total fertility rate (TFR) in many countries has fallen below the recommended healthy benchmark of 2.1 children per woman. Demographers widely acknowledge that if a country’s RLF falls below 2.1, it will decrease population over time, resulting in a disproportionate number of elderly individuals.
Developed nations have implemented various measures to address this issue, including financial incentives such as tax breaks and social benefits like maternity leave to encourage larger families. China relaxed its one-child policy in 2016 to counteract population aging. However, the culture of reduced reproduction has become ingrained in many societies worldwide, rendering such policies ineffective in altering the course of these countries’ populations for the next two decades, at the very least.
The global population requires more offspring, and Pakistan boasts a comparatively high fertility rate. Rather than condemning this trend, Pakistan ought to leverage its population advantage through efficient management. Numerous surveys indicate that Pakistan’s fertility rate exceeded 3.4 in 2022. Notably, Pakistan’s youth population is abundant and comprises a substantial proportion of educated young individuals.
Given the country’s ongoing economic crises, Pakistan can utilize its youth demographic as a valuable export to bolster its financial status. Developed nations seek young, educated minds imbued with youthful vigor to fulfill job roles across their organizations. These states require individuals to perform various duties, from labor to management, medicine, and engineering. Pakistan annually produces well-qualified individuals, many of whom remain unemployed due to a lack of local employment opportunities.
By exporting its educated youth overseas, Pakistan stands to gain manifold benefits. It is worth noting that remittances already constitute a significant percentage of Pakistan’s GDP. In contrast, population behemoths such as India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria do not enjoy this population advantage. India and Bangladesh’s fertility rates have fallen below 2.1 and entered the stage of peak childbearing, while Nigeria’s youth population lacks technical expertise and education.
The emigration of individuals from Pakistan presents a range of benefits beyond the receipt of remittances. While remittances have traditionally been an important source of income, their significance is expected to increase further as more individuals move abroad.
The inflow of remittances alone can potentially strengthen Pakistan’s financial foundation in the future. In addition, overseas Pakistanis enhance the living standards of their families in Pakistan by sending them various gifts such as mobile phones, laptops, and other gadgets.
Moreover, Pakistan can expand its network of influence abroad by encouraging its citizens to work for multinational corporations overseas, similar to India’s approach. India’s diplomatic support can be attributed to this strategy. Its citizens serving in tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple help pave the way for other Indians to join them abroad.
Furthermore, having individuals abroad strengthens cultural diplomacy and promotes a positive image of the country. By exposing foreign nationals to Pakistani culture, Pakistan can also attract tourism, a tactic that has been successful for countries like South Korea and India. In light of these factors, encouraging individuals to emigrate appears to be a viable opportunity for Pakistan to ensure its economic stability.
The educational standards of Pakistan are often viewed as insufficient to compete on the global stage. Nevertheless, the situation is not entirely bleak, as Pakistan boasts reputable universities that produce skilled and knowledgeable graduates.
To improve the quality of individuals sent overseas, Pakistan could establish stringent selection criteria and collaborate with internationally-renowned universities such as LUMS and NUST. Additionally, it is worth noting that not all overseas employment requires high educational attainment, as there is a demand for laborers.
Concerns have been raised that Pakistanis may not possess the ethical standards necessary to promote a favorable image of the country and support it from abroad. To address this, Pakistan could conduct psychological assessments of individuals seeking to go abroad and monitor the outflux of youth. It is important to note that many overseas Pakistanis provide financial support to their families in Pakistan and contribute to various funds such as dam funds.
A commonly held perception posits that Pakistan may face a dearth of qualified individuals if educated youth depart for foreign lands. However, it must be acknowledged that global demographics point towards a scarcity of skilled professionals rather than a surplus in Pakistan. The nation’s capacity to annually produce qualified individuals remains robust and need not be hindered by such concerns.
Furthermore, while it is true that remittances to Pakistan have declined in recent times, it should be noted that such estimates exclusively account for official channels and do not include indirect modes of remittance inflow.
Regrettably, Pakistani society lacks the mindset required to promote emigration. A pervasive stigma exists attached to individuals going abroad in Pakistan, with leaving one’s beloved country and family to settle overseas considered unpatriotic and unethical.
Despite the Islamic faith, the most popular religion in Pakistan, advocating migration for a better life, the cultural tradition of investing more in property and transportation for children rather than education and opportunities to grow abroad contributes to the discouragement of individuals seeking to emigrate.
As a solution, Pakistan must address the stigma associated with emigration. The government can play a significant role in promoting emigration. At the same time, political leaders can educate the populace on the benefits of individuals leaving the country to establish a more accepting culture.
In light of Pakistan’s current financial predicament, the country needs substantial institutional restructuring and long-term strategies to enhance its export capabilities. Nevertheless, by prioritizing the country’s youth as a primary export, Pakistan may find a medium-term solution to its challenges. Given the impracticability of immediate demographic reversals on a global scale, Pakistan is fortunately situated to capitalize on this demographic phenomenon for the next few decades.
*Muhammad Rauhan Rasheed is an early career researcher with a
Bachelor’s in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad
**The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views or position of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor takes responsibility for the content of this article.