Sunday, November 22, 2009

Report warns of Pakistan's younger generation losing faith in democracy

Report warns of Pakistan's younger generation losing faith in democracy
• Swelling population 'risks demographic disaster'
• Cynicism and disaffection among disturbing findings
Declan Walsh in Islamabad, Friday 20 November 2009
faces a "demographic disaster" if its leaders fail to invest in a youth population that is disturbingly cynical about democracy, has greatest faith in the military and is resentful of western interference, according to a study published tomorrow.

The report, commissioned by the British Council, says the nuclear-armed country is at a critical point, with its population forecast to swell by 85 million, from its current 180 million, over the next two decades.

"Pakistan is at a crossroads," said David Steven, an academic who helped write the report. "It can harness the energy of that generation, and collect a demographic dividend. But if they fail to get jobs and are poorly educated, it faces a demographic disaster."

Pakistan has never had such a high proportion of young adults: half of its population are aged under 20, with two-thirds still to reach their 30th birthday. But they are deeply divided about how the country should be run.

Only a third believe democracy is the best system of governance, one third support sharia law, while 7% think dictatorship is a good idea. Fasi Zaka, a radio DJ and commentator who helped launch the report, called it a snapshot of a "lost generation".

"They don't believe in anything firmly. Maybe they want sharia law, maybe they want democracy. It's all over the place. But despite this there's a lot of patriotism. So it's not a lost cause." Summing up the contradictions, he said young Pakistanis "don't like this country, but they love it".

The report makes sobering reading for the country's civilian leaders. Of the 1,200 young people surveyed for the report's opinion poll, 60% said they had faith in the military as an institution while only one in 10 voted for President Asif Ali Zardari's beleaguered government.

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