Sometimes, Pakistani heads of state make such ridiculous remarks that it is difficult to decide if they are incompetent at governing, disinterested in providing for the people or simply stupid.
Recently, President Asif Ali Zardari (four of the scariest words in the history of Pakistan) made one such unintentionally hilarious remark. While addressing the graduation ceremony of Waseela-e-Rozgar Program, which works under the auspices of the Bolsa Familia-inspired Benazir Income Support Program, Zardari said that “youth need to be trained to work overseas”.
I was immediately reminded of the master faux pas committed by then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in an interview to CNN. When the host cited a poll and asked him that an alarming majority of young Pakistanis say that they want to leave the country, Gilani responded almost callously: “Why don’t they leave then? Who’s stopping them?“.
And then we wonder where organizations like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and others involved in rioting across Karachi on days like “Love the Prophet Day” find young men to “protest” by looting shops and burning down cinemas. When those governing the country have such ambivalence towards providing a fulfilling future for the youth, what else can you expect?
I, for one, am not surprised at the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) lack of common sense when it comes to devising a labor policy with a special focus on employment for the thousands of young men and women who graduate from universities, colleges and vocational training institutes across the country every year. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, after all, whose bright idea it was to send hundreds of thousands of less-skilled Pakistani workers to the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in the 70s. Simultaneously, his government forced more and more workers in companies like Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Steel Mills – almost all of whom were jiyalas – who were not only not trained for their jobs but also least interested in the work that was only seldom available for them because organizations were so overstaffed.
Those policies, if you want to call them that, are still being applied and that school of thought is still very much alive within the PPP as is evident from the asinine statements of Zardari and Gilani that I have quoted above. The current PPP government seems to have come out of a time machine and is still stuck in the 70s when the done thing was more state control over the economy. We are now 30 years ahead and the state intervention paradigm has become obsolete.
It is now time that we stop shoving employees into already over-staffed state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and come up with ways to provide more employment for young graduates in sectors that have great potential to absorb these trained individuals – such as the food industry, retail and consumer goods, which are the fastest growing segments of the economy. This can never be a sustainable solution and there is only so many people who can possibly be “employed” within an organization. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, as bloated as the government is when it comes to employment, it still manages to employ only 3% of the total workforce! Quite telling as to how beneficial the policy of forcing workers at SOEs is.
The solution is employment generation, not shipping people off to other countries to shoulder the burden that is actually Pakistan’s own. What is needed is more government spending and attention on industries that are simply waiting to grow, not more government coercion to stuff more and more employees in organizations that cannot afford them, like the once glorious PIA.