A Way Forward for Longstanding Issues and Challenges of AJK Youth

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By Hammad Gilani
The empowerment of youth in the state system ensures the peace and progress of the nation. Highly motivated educated people remarkably uplift the national development. Indeed, young people are the real agents of bringing social reforms into society. Nation-building is guaranteed when all the individuals of the society get a chance for their active participation. The power of young minds and their capacities for the brighter future of the state is unimaginable but it depends upon the provision of opportunities to them. Countries like Pakistan where 60% of its total population is consist of youth. While talking specifically for 4.361 million populated Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) the situation is quite daunting. The land full of resources, forests, valleys and talented people is striving for their basic needs and rights from the last 70 years. Currently, PTI has been elected to form a new government in AJK. It should be the priority of the government to address the long-awaited prerequisites and demands of deprived subjects. The growing hopelessness and lack of trust among youngsters upon successive government policies may fuel the hostility and stirrup conflicts for the system. The recent GoAJK should learn lessons from the Ex-FATA region, how bad governance has provoked innocent teens and adults against the state. In this regard, the remarks of the NSA in the Islamabad Security Dialogue March 2021 are highly commendable, now a days, the security of the state has taken many folds.Currently, the Kashmiri youth are mainly engulfed by horrendous obstacles like unemployment, immoral activities, nepotism and lack of representation in the fragile political system of AJK. Here, it is important to highlight the causes of aforementioned problems like the old system of apartheid, poor education system, absence of complaint cells, lack of training/participatory culture in the socio-political system, unequal demand and supply of skilled labour in the job market, gender-based violence/ issues, lack of interest in entrepreneurship and inadequate connectivity to channelize with the political system. The practice of the old school of thought “Bradari-ism” in AJK politics has deadly limited youth participation in local government. The situation is worst as more than 30 years ago, successive governments have shown shear reluctance towards the democratic power-sharing mechanism in the region. Inefficient political culture and absence of Local Bodies Elections have kept youth politically paralyzed. The most pressing issue faced by Kashmiri Youth from decades is unemployment. In the absence of proper youth development policies and placements in the public/private sector the educated minds are unable to serve the state. The lack of planning and impractical government policies for inclusive development often leads the fresh blood towards illegal activities. To curb their poverty, young learners adopt three pathways: involved in child labour, drug addiction and seek refuge via illegal means for money-making. Due to joblessness, the large scale brain drain process in AJK is also observed. Successive governments in AJK had claimed for heavy investment in youth development but ground realities are inestimably divergent. Deteriorating political and economic situations, self-interests of government officials, lack of attention towards the empowerment of educated and skilled labour, unaware policymakers about the strengths of a geostrategic position of the AJK region and slow pace of public policy execution are mainly responsible for low investment and resulting in fewer job opportunity creation. Unemployed pupils are more cursive than the modern weaponry for the state system. The alarming youth unemployment percentage (18.44%) in AJK in the presence of more than 70% of literacy rate as compared to other provinces depicts undeniable gaps in its government policies. Although, the current government of Pakistan is not extending the scope of the “Kamyaab Nojwan Program” to Azad Kashmir. The outcomes of the limited availability of the program are deleterious for the Kashmiri youth. It is essential for young people of Kashmir to equip themselves with the latest technologies along with innovative knowledge in the era of technology, therefore, the availability of fast and stable internet services are vital for their progress. The prevailing situation requires a coherent and incorporated Youth Employment Strategy by GoAJK, 2021 to make a visible impact. It will support in gaining economic stability and endorse youth empowerment in Azad Kashmir. Ensuring transparency and accountability in the enfranchising of the economically and politically disabled AJK young population is highly needed. The GoAJK should pay heed to the numerous projects to streamline the educated youth to become skilful. By involving them in mega development projects including technical education for youth employment, introduce various programs for self-employment and enterprise development and government sponsorship for entrepreneurship. Initiation of joint ventures between government institutions and research organizations is beneficial for the capacity building of youth. The ministry of education in AJK should institutionalized inter-university level youth development competitions, foreign exchange programs, model showcases, research/non-traditional business ideas based expos-exhibitions with incentives among public and private sector universities including their affiliated campuses in colleges. The establishment of archaeology and geology departments across AJK offers a scheme of internships, assistantships, research projects, contractual and BPS scale jobs to talented people. It will motivate the educated natives to pursue their careers successfully. Moreover, these organized departments elevate AJK’s history and its civilization to a larger audience simultaneously. Hence, it will also present the true culture of AJK to foreign tourists and attract foreign revenue. Another strength of AJK that need to be governed and utilized for the growth of young talent is to involve them in its small scale industry like Kashmiri food cuisine, handicrafts, carpets, outfits, wooden carving, sheeshum/ walnut fine furniture, carved utensils, Kashmiri music, the artwork on precious stones like Ruby, Neelam and their ornament production, promoting hotel management institutes, tourism sector, familiarizing with modern methods for the production of honey, harvesting herbs and spices. However, with the collaboration of China under the projects of CPEC, the government should devise policies and execute certain education and technical projects various in the entire AJK to polish the competencies of Kashmiri youth for their incredible gains in the Special economic zones (SEZs), agriculture, fisheries, mining and natural resources sector. Despite a large number of problems, the current government should take practical steps. The government should consider the young population as an asset, not a burden. We need to keep in mind that “the destiny of nations is in the hands of the youth.” The writer is a Youth activist and entrepreneur. He tweets @Hammadgilani786