Pakistan’s digital present

population_Mariam_MalikA Dubai-based bank announced a job opening for South Asian applicants, where the copious number of Pakistani applications exceeded expectations, while the number of Indian applicants was… well, it did not exist. There was not a single Indian that wanted to work at that ‘bling-bling’ Dubai job.

Why? Because the Indian youth does not need to make a living in Dubai anymore. They don’t need ‘bling-bling’ jobs in Dubai as they already have them in India. This abysmal contrast between the two neighboring countries that we see today is partly because India was able to seize its demographic tipping point[i], the window of opportunity that was the ‘demographic dividend’ where they were able to optimize solutions for its youth bulge and made staggering progress as a result. Pakistan today stands precisely at that tipping point.

With nearly 50% of the total Pakistani population of 179 million individuals below the age of 20, Pakistan is currently home to its largest cohort of youth that could prove to be an asset to the country, the benefits of which could be reaped in the next 4-5 decades.  In the wake of this demographic advantage, policy-makers are giving considerable attention to the youth of the country in order to prevent it from becoming a demographic disaster, a high octane fuel igniting cycles of instability.

Social vulnerabilities, including unemployment and frustrations of this youth will ultimately cause plight to the economic welfare of the country. The mere fact that there are so many educated and aware job seekers in the country,  speaks in terms of how much talent is out there and how little of that talent is being utilized. The future development goals of Pakistan can only be achieved by actively engaging our youth. This explains why the government and other development organizations are executing and funding various projects to empower these individuals, as to utilize their talents to make social changes.

Education is a long-term solution to the numerous problems our country faces today. South Korea achieved universal access to education by seized her demographic opportunity by investing in education. This in turn improved national capital and governance, and led ultimately to higher economic growth of the country and therefore national prosperity. Pakistan’s greatest asset today is its youth. The deep-seated need for Pakistan is to focus on developing capacity of its human resource, the ‘software’ of the country as opposed to building ‘hard assets’ that require a higher investment.

Perhaps the most time-effective way to add value to this ‘software’ is through the internet. The internet penetration in this generation has gone from 2.7 to today’s 6.9 hours a month since 2006. According to a new report by mobile survey company,, Pakistan is home to 30 million internet users. Given its profuse use, one would imagine equally remarkable statistics indicating Pakistani research publications, online entrepreneurship or even discovery of new Pakistani artists. Yet, the number of any of these virtues is only a small fraction of the enormous pool of internet users in the country.

Why isn’t then the youth of Pakistan building their career on the internet, or learning online or writing publications? This is because the average Pakistani spends over two-third of their overall time online playing games or using social media sites. Instead of the positivity that can be created, the internet is currently pandering to the students addicted to social media which is thus having an unfortunate deleterious impact on vision, innovation, speech and exposure. It is actually damaging to a large sector of the gullible population.

Using internet entirely for these virtues would ultimately result in it becoming a self destructive device, rendering it impossible for any Pakistani to make use of the positive the internet can bring. Pakistan has a bottom-less supply of young, ambitious artists and intellectuals, who would be ever so thrilled at the prospect of learning incredible courses online, free of cost. All that it requires is the motivation and derive to stand out.

The internet is a free cornucopia of knowledge, skills and learning where the content is literally on our fingertips. It is unfortunate that this free and perhaps the most vital resource of knowledge, which can foster creativity among the underprivileged citizens, is being taken for granted.

It is important to recognize that the internet is the most cost-effective vehicle of gaining knowledge which can add “experience” to jobseekers’ portfolios, may it be while they are in schools, employed or while they are in their job-seeking sabbatical. Various websites on the internet offer free online courses that can facilitate in capacity building and skill strengthening. When compared to the cost of building vocational training centers, there is a stark difference with respect to cost, time and efficiency. In this era of self-learning, internet serves as a unique resource for keeping us updated with the latest worldwide.

While it would benefit the urban population, its self learning and virtual training tools would work exceptionally well in the rural settings where there aren’t enough human resources to spread the message. This is also where the development funding must also be directed. Exposure into the open infrastructure of the internet would be an important step in empowering these individuals that seek urban jobs. It saddens me to see that there is so much talent and passion in this country that is going unrecognized. The most accessible way of doing so would be to utilize the greatest recourse that’s at their fingertips, the internet. While the Government is launching its youth schemes, the youth must also find ways of standing out at their individual level.

All that it requires is a click.


Senior Research and Communications Associate
Twitter: mariammalik_

[i] the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place


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