Poverty paradigms of Pakistan

By Muhammad Zain Zeeshan Malik

“The imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” This quote was written by Plutarch almost 2,000 years ago, but despite the passage of centuries, it seems that it has never been more relevant.

With economic inequality that exists even in the most prosperous nations, Pakistan has also suffered from the scourge of poverty since its inception in 1947. Poverty has become a key part of Pakistan’s image in recent years. If you ask a foreigner what comes to mind when they hear the word “Pakistan”, chances are it’s either a scene of overcrowded slums alongside the Ravi or a disheveled beggar walking from car to car outside a department store in Islamabad.

The roots of this problem are deep and widespread, holding back economic growth and preventing the less fortunate from escaping the shackles of poverty. At 2.0%, Pakistan has the highest population growth rate in South Asia, a nerve-racking number when you consider that it borders some of the world’s most populous countries. In an agricultural system where the top 1 percent of farmers own nearly 20 percent of farmed land, the increase in the family household increases the pressure on breadwinners and ensures that they are unable to improve their lifestyles.

In addition, Pakistan’s dominantly patriarchal system encourages couples to have children until a boy is born into the family: fueling the fire by increasing the number of feedings in already struggling households. In addition to population growth, about half of Pakistan’s population is illiterate. Without education and basic skills training, youth are unable to meet employment criteria. Existing systems have proven inadequate in addressing these issues, which hampers economic growth and societal development.

Without sufficient education, people remain unemployed and do not get the opportunity to break out of poverty. Pakistan also notoriously spends the lowest on education compared to other South Asian countries. Coupled with institutional corruption, the rise of child labor, and the growing trend of madrassa education, a lack of literacy can be seen as a major contributor to poverty. Another major factor contributing to poverty in Pakistan is the unbalanced tax system, which is detrimental to the poor. In a country where four out of ten citizens live without the basic necessities of life, it is disheartening to see the fortunate clearly feeding off the less fortunate without consequence. A lecturer at UMass Amherst, Obed Pasha, is quoted as saying,

“What we have is a completely broken system, where the entire burden is on the poor and large businesses do not pay taxes at all.” With no income opportunities and a parasitic society, the poor cannot afford to pay taxes, reducing their chances of breaking out of poverty. Recent governments have made several policy changes to try to end poverty in Pakistan once and for all. Indeed, Pakistan was among the top 15 countries that showed the largest annual percentage point average decline between 2000 and 2015. However, as famous playwright John Heywood quoted, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The problem of poverty is much deeper than we think. To make significant progress, we need to change our perspective and think in the long term. We must focus on changing the traditionally parasitic system, contribute to job opportunities for the poor and finally try to end the problem of poverty in our beloved nation once and for all.


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