Pakistan's Population Program: A Tale Of Failure And Urgent Call To Action

Pakistan has the second-highest number of out-of-school children, higher rates of child labor, bonded labor, gender-based violence, and many other social injustices.

Pakistan's Population Program: A Tale Of Failure And Urgent Call To Action

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is arguably the most intriguing country compared to all Islamic nations and developing countries ensnared in poverty, sham democracy, and merciless elitism. Despite my unwavering love for my homeland, I must acknowledge certain harsh realities. These reflections stem from a thorough examination of some key past and present initiatives and statistics related to human development, gender inequality, illiteracy, maternal mortality, infant mortality, contraceptive prevalence rates, transparency, and economic growth indices.

Beyond the facade of beautiful young and happily aging faces, mostly from the privileged families and dynasties or a few of those nobodies suddenly promoted by those who matter,  lies a world of monstrous and odorous truths. Even mentioning some of these stinking facts can lead one into a never-ending spectrum of troubles, with the most obvious consequence being the closure of doors to employment or opportunities for publication or feature in any mainstream media outlet. 

As we approach the end of 2023, it is crucial to scrutinize our own backyard and identify the root causes of failures across all sectors and areas of national development. As a fervent advocate of Family Planning (FP) and women's empowerment, I have chosen to address the underperformance (in the politest terms) of our population program, initiated in the 1950s, which initially garnered praise from many countries. The reasons behind its decline and the lack of accountability need to be discussed. Shockingly, honest deliberations on this issue are seldom found on any related platform.

The non-serious attitudes of our governments regarding this program have never been highlighted to the extent and degree necessary to unveil the gravity and magnitude of the issue. The reason is straightforward. Pakistan has been plagued by unstable governments and sham democracies.

Democracy, to me, means that all citizens should clearly feel they live in one country. However, here, there is a Pakistan of classes and a Pakistan of masses. The rural and urban non-elites suffer parallelly in different ways. 

The UN agencies cannot afford a head-on collision with public sector organizations, as the UN is mandated to work with the government. Consequently, they are often toothless, if not in a blackmailed state. Legislators and civil servants view the UN as donors, their retirement plan, and a job platform for their cronies and kin. For minimal gains and good optics, the UN enters this bargain knowingly, perpetuating the fairy tale of deceptive development.

The UN is not alone; many international stakeholders, masquerading as funds, lenders, and technical assistance, also act in connivance. Take a random sample of key employees and consultants from any implementing arm of the population program in the government, private, and not-for-profit sectors, and you will likely find connections to civil and military bureaucracy in Pakistan. Perhaps, it is the only country or one of those where parliamentarians own NGOs, Welfare Trusts, and Think Tanks, creating a peculiar situation.

The seemingly free and fair TV channels (read private) are also shaping narratives in Pakistan regarding public policies and politics. The anchor on the screen is merely a highly paid puppet, and the profit-making puppeteers contribute to this national damage. Consider the derogatory, alarmist, and dismissive terms such as 'Population Bomb' and 'Explosion' used on mass media by the representatives of political parties and population specialist platforms. It is a shrewd deflection; nobody dares to mention the elephant in the room.

This country is marked by the second-highest number of out-of-school children, higher rates of child labor, bonded labor, gender-based violence, and many other manifestations of social injustices and elite capture. How effectively and shamelessly the focus has been diverted from the root causes of our population problem? One can only offer a slow clap to the conductor of this orchestra. The irony does not end here.

There is no loud and clear mention of the direct relationship between the NFC award and the number of people. The injury to the insult is augmented by a sizeable volume of bogus research works and published analyses in powerful newspapers. What to do when highly qualified researchers fail to understand that only likes are comparable, yet they write, 'Bangladesh and Pakistan are similar…'? Dear wealthy and funds-biased researchers, please understand that our former East Pakistan, which emerged as liberated Bangladesh, was never similar to this current-day Pakistan, as you can verify from their recent ranking on economic progress, all while you boast about your elite figures stewarding BISP or Ehsaas programs.

What should be the call to action? The business-as-usual approach, as conveyed by many of us who share the same stance on Pakistan's population program on numerous occasions, cannot continue. The country is unable to deliver the desired output as articulated in Pakistan's FP 2030 Commitments. The need of the time is an emergency action plan that involves urgent surgical solutions, not elective ones.

In the obvious state of denial, loss of interest, intellectual laziness, and unpreparedness of the concerned departments and forums, the question is who should take the leadership of this significant operation. In all earnestness, I would suggest that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of Pakistan looks into the matter and prioritizes it amidst national interests and security concerns at the earliest.

Pakistani intersectional feminist Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen is a volunteer campaigner for causes like anti-dowry violence legislation, gender and marital-status-based taxation and creating empathy for the forgotten “missing Pakistanis” aka Biharis. The writer is a public health expert, a former senior gender advisor to different UN agencies, and the former South Asian Gender Advisor to CIDA. She was also the first trainer on social marketing of contraceptives in the North of Pakistan. She can be reached via Twitter: @Kafekaam