. . . . . .  


Rector Dr Jonathan Addleton,

Mr Irfan-ul-Haq, President Ewing English Society, FCCU

Young Pakistanis  


I refer to you as young because most of you are still visibly young, and because the future of Pakistan – if you choose to live here - lies in your hands. 

[Foreign nationals.  Emigres? ]


We have the next hour to talk about Pakistan in 2047.

Some years ago, the BBC asked me to speak on the future of the Commonwealth. I asked how much time I would have. I was told four minutes.

I replied: ‘That just about summarises the future of the Commonwealth.’  

I am therefore grateful to Irfan-ul-Haq for giving me an hour to interact with you this afternoon.

I realise that at this moment, many of you are thinking more about what’s for lunch today rather than what Pakistan will be like in 2047, Pakistan’s centenary year. That may seem far away. But, it is closer than you think. 


What credentials do I have for speaking to you today?

I am an 81 year old, retired Chartered Accountant. I have taught Accounting FCCU, and before that at LUMS. And I am an author who has written 22 books on varied subjects for a diminishing readership.  [Anecdote]

I doubt whether I or my fellow octogenarians can expect to live until 2047.

But while I am alive and able to walk and talk, let me share some thoughts with you about our country’s future.   


I am a Pakistani, and have been since 1947. Before that, I was, like many of your grandparents and ancestors, Indian by origin.

It is because I am a Pakistani that I, my children and grandchildren after me have a vested interest in the continuity of our country.

How many of you know anyone who witnessed the funeral cortege of Quaid-e-Azam on 12 September 1948?  I did, as a six year old from a balcony on Victoria Road, Karachi.

Our Quaid died at the age of 72. He had every expectation that the country he founded would survive beyond him.  

Had he been alive, he would have wholeheartedly endorsed today’s topic. He did not create Pakistan to see it subsume in internal bickering, political infighting and fiscal insolvency.

I will focus this introduction under three headings: our unbridled population growth, our dyslexic democracy, and our geographical predicament.

Our burgeoning population affects every aspect of our domestic policies.

Our dyslexic democracy has yet to find its balance.

Our relations with hostile neighbours and distant friends determines our foreign policy.


Let me begin with our population.

In 1971, the population in our west wing was 55 m. We were outnumbered by Pakistanis living in our east wing. They were 65 million of them. Today, Bangladesh has ballooned to 173 m.   

Presently, our own population is close to 242 m. It is growing at the rate of 2.5 % per year. By the time we reach our centenary in 2047, we Pakistanis will have increased to over 330 m.

Will we have enough arable land left to feed them?

Will we have enough homes to house them?

Will we have enough schools, colleges and universities to educate them?

Will there be enough job or business opportunities to sustain them?

Will we have enough armed forces and the resources to support them?

Will we have the technology (i.e. nuclear) necessary to defend them?

And in the end, will we have enough land to bury them?


Our unbridled population growth will exacerbate the existing inequality in education, insufficient healthcare, increasing deprivation and job opportunities, shrinkage of arable land, decreasing water availability, shortage of power.

The list is endless. Quite frankly, as a struggling, developing nation we have more issues than we need.


Our problems are short-term, their solutions long-term. We lack the social and political will to address either of them.  

To the outside world, we must appear to be a sinking Titanic, without the compensation of Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio on board to distract us from the iceberg. 


Can we improve? Of course we can. We had done so before. In the 1960s we were regarded as a model of growth amongst emerging nations.

Today, depending on how you tilt the begging bowl, Islamabad says 29% live of us below the poverty line. The World Bank insists it is 39%. By the World Bank calculations, 95 million of us Pakistanis live in poverty, i.e. they have an income level of $3.65/ Rs 1,100 per day. Our minimum wage should be Rs 35,000.

By 2047, we will have 130 million (plus or minus 10 million) struggling to survive. 


We became independent in 1947. The People’s Republic of China did so a year later.

Over the same period of time, China reduced its rural poverty from 88% in 1981 to 0.2% by 2019. Our rural poverty by comparison is 41%. 

China’s achievement is clearly because it contained its population. It enforced a one family, one child policy. National imperatives were given priority over human urges.  

The Chinese attribute their agro-success to implementation of program through village communities and village work teams. It trained 128 thousand work teams and 540 thousand officials who had to stay in villages for 2-3 years.

Key infrastructural elements lay in the construction, management, maintenance and operation of roads in rural areas, as well as better power supply to poor areas. 

This replicated the Indian Punjab model which achieved the Green Revolution in the 1960s by electrifying each village. This increased the farmer’s working hours. By connecting each village to the urban mandi, inputs like seed and fertiliser could be brought in and farm produce exported. Simple and therefore successful.

Can we be another China or India? All we need is the will.

If only we did not suffer from an intellectual imbalance, where our expenditure in words exceeds our income from ideas.


I would describe our national psyche in two words: Institutionalised Inertia. It is aggravated by rudderless governance. 

Next January, hopefully, we will be given the opportunity to decide on who we choose to be governed by. An elected government, or a selected one?  

The ECP tells us the total number of registered voters in the country is 127 m., up 21 m. from the last general elections in 2018.  Of those voters, 68 m. are men, 58 are women.

The youth dividend – i.e. those voters between the ages of 18 and 35 – upon whom the PTI and other political parties are relying, are 57.1m.  Compare this to the total voter turnout of 53 million in the 2018 general election. 

The elderly — aged 56 and above —amount to almost 24m., only 19 % of the total voters.

Our generation is on the way out. The future lies in your thumbprint. 


By 2047, someone intelligent would have resolved the present regional disparity. To no one’s surprise, Punjab has the largest number of voters - 72.3m., or 57% of all voters.

Sindh ranks second, with 26.6m voters (21%).

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 21.7m potential voters (17 %).

Our least populous province Balochistan has 5.3 m. registered voters (4%).   [AUDIENCE PROVINCIAL REPRESENTATION]

Such inequality between our provinces cannot continue indefinitely. It has led to the present corrosive state of inter-provincial relations.

For example, our provinces cannot agree between themselves on National Flood Disaster Plans, nor on water off-take, nor on the adoption of a National Curriculum in the light of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Provincial bickering over water usage will continue even into 2047. By 2047, the present Punjab will have been trifurcated into Northern, Central and Southern Punjab, with names that are yet to be decided.  It is not only probable. It is inevitable.

In 1947, Punjab was divided into our West Punjab and Indian East Punjab. Mrs. Indira Gandhi further divided Indian Punjab into three states – Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and residual Punjab. 

Incidentally, the name of Punjab is an obsolete misnomer. After the Indus Water Accord of 1960, only two out of the five rivers from which the Punjab derived its name are in Pakistan’s Punjab.  The Indians have threated to abrogate the IWT. If they succeed, we will become as arid as the Saharan desert.   

I wanted to avoid quoting Kahlil Gibran on provincial disintegration, but these words from his poem The Prophet are unerringly apt:

Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.


Let me now deal with our foreign relations. They are fractious.

India and Afghanistan are neighbours we cannot live with, and cannot live without.

The stumbling block in our relationship with India is the non-implementation of the U.N. resolutions on the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir since 1948. As a savant once said, “Conflicts acquire a life of their own until the combatants forget what it is that they are fighting about. They are just engaged in combat.”

Jammu & Kashmir is a conflict we cannot win. The best we can hope to achieve is to end it with dignity.

The former Indian prime minister Inder Gujral once told me: ‘Aijaz, the Kashmir issue has been resolved. Neither can we give it, nor can you take it.’  

In 2019, prime minister Modi and the Indian parliament cut this intractable Gordian knot with the Abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Emboldened, they went further. They partitioned J & K into the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

No matter how loudly we may remonstrate at this latest violation of the UN resolutions, from the Indian side the absorption of J & K is a finality. It is now for us to decide what we wish to do with the portion of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir in our possession.

To realists like me, Azad J & K is a legal fiction. I have a good reason for saying this.

In 2005, there was a massive earthquake in Muzaffarabad and KPK. More than 86,000 persons lost their lives and over 3 million were rendered homeless. A donors’ conference was convened by the Federal Government, at which over $2 bn. was pledged. I asked a Federal Minister why representatives from the government of Azad J & K were not present. The answer? ‘We forgot to invite them.’

The Indians clearly have no intention of reversing their actions, nor can we force them to undo a constitutional amendment.

I would ask therefore: Is it not time that we absorbed Azad J & K constitutionally? By being decisive ourselves, if nothing else, our action would clear the deadwood of our relationship with India.

Take that corridor of peace - Kartarpur. The reality of the Kartarpur project belies official propaganda. The project cost 180 crores. Instead of the 4.5m. Sikh yatrees we expected since it opened in 2019, only 100,000 have used the corridor.  It is a costly monument to misplaced optimism.  

India and we are among the nine nuclear powers in the world. We nine exist in a nuclear limbo with weapons they dare not use. Remember, the last atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, seventy-eight years ago.  

Winston Churchill once said that Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War. Over the past four years of PM Modi’s government, Jaw-Jaw has been absent. The saffron curtain that he has let fall from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea has hardened into an impenetrable wall.

One of the popular topics today is regional connectivity.  Is that at all possible?

India has effectively emasculated SAARC. It has ensured our exclusion from BRICs. As long as the BJP remains in power, there will be a continuing freeze in Indo-Pak relations.

This freeze will continue for another twelve years at least – another term for Mahatma Modi in 2024, and after Modi two terms for Home Minister Amit Shah (or another BJP successor).   

And what of our other neighbours?

Afghanistan? Some time ago, our diplomatic representative in Kabul was the victim of an assassination attempt. Inter-state relations cannot sink lower. We have yet to finalise the border between us. The Durand Line is not a border; it is a status quo.

In any case, history is against us.  Afghanistan is a diplomatic quicksand which swallowed the Russians, the Americans and the British before them.

What about the Stans – Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and far off Turkmenistan?  There, geography is against us. We have to pass through Afghanistan to reach any of them. TAPI - The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline - is just one of a tombstone of insecurely-founded intentions.

Iran? Gone are the days of CENTO and RCD.  Our trade with Iran is only $400 m.  Our political compatibility is precarious, given that the U.S. refuses to lift its embargo on Iran and will apply that embargo on any one who dares touch Iran. The Iran-Pakistan-India is one such casualty.

And China, our iron brother? Our relationship with the People’s Republic of China is one of the most durable of our foreign policy successes.

I had written once: We Pakistanis love China for what it can do for Pakistan. The Chinese love us Pakistanis despite what we do to ourselves.

That relationship has been tested during 1965, during 1971, and through numerous crises thereafter. But be clear: China is not a guarantor of our territorial integrity nor our economic solvency. China supported us in 1971, not because we in West Pakistan were right, but because they wanted to assert the principle of non-interference in another country’s affairs.  

Chinese policy has always been to provide military aid, technical know-how and logistical support to other countries, but never troops.

By 2047, the Chinese presence in Pakistan will go beyond CPEC and teaching us achieve military self-sufficiency. It will spread into our agri-economy with mass production techniques designed to feed the Chinese and keep their chopsticks clicking.


I believe that China’s One Belt, One Road scheme is the most significant diplomatic and commercial initiative since the Marshall Plan of 1948. We should not slip into complacency. We are only one out of 71 beneficiaries of China’s largesse.

China’s current commitment to us under CPEC is $62 bn. It began with $46 bn. I cannot see how we will be able to repay China

That amount is peanuts to a country with $ 3 trillion in forex reserves, out of which we begged for $3 bn. to be kept on deposit with the State Bank to window-dress our dwindling forex reserves.


The showpiece of CPEC is of course Gwadar port. It is China’s Hong Kong, taken on a 99 year lease. Before we start savouring its unpicked fruit, we might like to remember the Sri Lankan experience on Hambantota port. To prevent its collapse, the Chinese converted 70% of its loans into equity. And when Sri Lanka sought urgent assistance from China amounting to $ 2.5 billion, China has approved only $ 31 million. There is a lesson in this for us.   


In the pursuit of Geo-Economics, we must remember that except for China, our traditional partners remain beyond the Bosphorus and the Atlantic. The countries that matter to us economically are still the United States, the U.K. and Germany.     


Since we are talking economics, we owe about $ 140 bn. in external debt to these and other lenders.  We will still be a debtor nation even into 2047.

The bad news is that we do not have the money to repay what we owe. The good is that we owe too much to be allowed to default.

Our future is dependent upon our National Solvency. We are a poor country with rich leaders. We are an impoverished economy and yet use 50% of our national budget to support the eight largest army in the world.

By 2047, we may still be a nuclear power, but with no teeth. We lack the resources to upgrade our nuclear capability. We forget that it has been 24 years since we conducted our test at Chagai.

By 2047, when the world will be cloven into another Cold War divide, whose side will we be on? Uncle Sam’s or the Beijing-Kremlin alliance?


The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said that in a country that is well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country that is badly governed, the wealth of its corrupt rulers is something to be ashamed of.

Of our current leaders,

PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif is now 72 and prefers to rule from London;

His younger brother Shehbaz Sharif is 69 and commutes between London and Islamabad;

PML-Q’s Ch. Shujaat Hussain is 83;

PTI president Ch. Pervaiz Elahi is 77 and is in jail, after having been arrested 14 times.  



 In 2047,

Imran Khan (if he is allowed to live) will be 95 years old;

Maryam Nawaz will be 74 years old;

Moonis Elahi will be 70 years old;

Bilawal Bhutto will be 59 years old.


In 2047, the oldest among you will be fifty years old, the youngest in his or her late forties. By then, postal ballots will be allowed. Wherever you choose to live, you will still be able to vote.  

The future leadership of our country sits among you in this auditorium.  You are the voters who will decide that leadership.

In 2047, will you celebrate Pakistan’s centenary, or mourn its wasted past?



26 September 2023
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