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Pakistan: population existential threat

By Rasul Bakhsh Rais
November 20 2013




What is, or can be, the most devastating threat to society and the state in Pakistan today? We may get several different answers but with one thing common in all: we are facing multiple threats to our individual as well as collective existence. We have written and spoken about a lot of these threats, like extremism, terrorism, political and ethnic violence that all erode or diminish the power and authority of the state. True, they are all threats and we must think of their roots and why we are not fully, or even partially, able to end them. In my opinion, the cause of Pakistan’s growing and unmanageable troubles is population explosion.

I believe one of the best ways to understand any social or political problem is to visit as many different areas, rural or urban, and observe and listen to people. I wish I could do more of this. For the last five days, since I met about seven youngsters walking on my little farm in district Rajanpur, the picture of a real existential threat has emerged very clearly. I have no ambiguity about it anymore.

While talking to these children, I learnt that each of them has several siblings. Every kid I shook hands with was stunted in growth, weak and suffering from serious food deficiency. While looking into the pale eyes of these kids, my thoughts rocketed back to the 1960s when religio-political parties persistently launched campaigns against the family planning programmes of the Ayub regime. Do you remember their political message? A man is born with one mouth but two hands. What bigotry it was then and remains now. There is no rational thinking, no learning from history or human experience or even any sense of how population explosion — the human bomb — has contributed to the multiple threats we confront today.

We haven’t been able to collect genuine figures of our population, all we have are projections based on selective sampling and past trends. Every regime has made half-hearted efforts towards a national head count. All the rival, competing ethnic groups in Balochistan and Sindh exaggerate their numbers and have prevented an honest counting in the past and will do the same in future. But this is an extremely important business of the state without which no future planning can be accurate, focused or realistic.

The concerned demographers and social scientists have begun to raise the alarm of a population threat. Why it is an existential threat? It shouldn’t be difficult to fathom; imbalance between population and natural resources generates conflicts in more than one ways. You will see bigger rallies of disaffected populations, proliferation of militancy and violence. No government will be able to ensure even basic needs. Our production of every consumable item is falling behind demand. Watching the debate on the rising prices of tomatoes and onions, I have yet to see anyone talk about population. For the superficial, it is a non-issue.

Any thinking politician will have sleepless nights over the rising population numbers. But thinking is not the right way of doing politics — populism is.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan 

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