In the situation created by the spread of the novel coronavirus and the consequent lockdown across Pakistan, we are seeing that fewer people are on the streets and roads with relatively serene environment all around, forcing one to think the importance of a small population. For decades, Pakistan decision-makers and policy formulators have been looking for ways and means to control the growth of population, which in Pakistan’s case has been explosive.
At the moment, Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world with around 220 million people while the total volume of its economy is not more than a few hundred billion dollars, making it very difficult to develop. It is important to note that the coronavirus and the ailment it causes, Covid-19, has struck the United States and China as well as the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, the most developed countries of the world. All of them are economically and infrastructure-wise quite developed states. However, a very important variable which is common among nearly all of them is that China and the US are among the most populous countries of the globe while the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy are also among the most populous in Europe. This reveals a very important lesson that densely-populated states and regions are at a greater risk of the spread of the coronavirus. By this logic, Pakistan and India, the two South Asian arch-rivals, are also facing a grave challenge of the possible spread of Covid-19. Although the figures of infection and deaths from Covid-19 in Pakistan and India, the fifth and second most populous states respectively in the world, are relatively low, yet it could be due to certain other factors, like fewer tests conducted in the two countries. One hopes that the number of infections and casualties from Covid-19 in Pakistan and India would not increase much but the densely-populated countries are still at a greater risk of the contagion.
It is important to note that most Covid-19 positive cases in Pakistan have been discovered to be among pilgrims, missionaries or in localities with closely-knit social networking. It means that the religious and social groups have very close relationship and a large number of their members contracted the disease from each other. It makes one to realize that collectivism of such a high scale and deep nature could be very much conducive to the spread of viruses. Here, it is important to note that one could force them to abandon their religious rituals and observances, which even Pakistanis are not ready to do, but it is very difficult to make them abandon their social groups and networks. Social groups and networks of Pakistani society are not only extensive and large but also extremely strong. For instance, extended or joint families, biradaris (clans), tribes and neighbourhoods with huge and ever-growing population. Optimistically speaking, Pakistan may be able to control the spread of the coronavirus with the help of international efforts but the hugeness and quality of its population is such that if the virus strikes again or there are other such pandemics in the future, the country’s population would be at a higher risk. So, the only way to avoid a catastrophe for Pakistani state and society is to control its huge population. With so big a population we can never dream of having sustainable development, because whatever progress is made in different fields, like education and health, is overshadowed by the unhindered and swift growth of population. Pakistan would not only have to effectively control its growing population but also have to improve the quality of its existing population. It has to be done now, otherwise, it will pose a serious threat to the state and its security. It is much obvious in the ongoing lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic across the country, where state authorities have been facing an uphill task to enforce the law to keep the people indoors. Noticeably, the lockdown and efforts to keep the people indoors by state authorities is not due to some law and order or security situation but to contain the spread of a deadly virus. In other words, keeping the people inside their residences by the state is only and solely aimed at saving their lives instead of fulfilling the nefarious design of some person, group or institution to have power. Despite it, the people are not paying heed to state appeals to remain confined to their homes. In other words, the intellectual quality of the population is so low that its members are unable or unwilling to understand their own well-being and interest. It means that the state has to make Herculean efforts to keep the people indoors and make them understand why. Most people want to come out of their homes fundamentally for two reasons. The first is economic compulsions and the second is their self-belief of avoiding “social” activities. A deeper look into the two reasons would reveal that both are triggered by a huge and dense population. With a very large average household size, it is very difficult for people to remain out of work for even a single day, what to say of months. Insofar as social activities are concerned, it is also due to the huge population size and its members’ level of intimacy. While economic compulsions are unavoidable in the current situation, social activities, like weddings, gatherings, fairs, funerals etc, are very much avoidable, not only in the current situation but also in the long run. However, for this the state has to launch a big effort to change the way people think, so that their worldview could be transformed positively and they take part in social activities not for the sake of the activities but primarily for personal development and grooming.
One must not be harsh but to argue that most of our social activities are quite against individual development and grooming and had they been so Pakistan would not have been such an underdeveloped state and society. The key to making the people understand is to convince them of the futility of big families and most of their social activities. It is important to note that insofar as changing the thinking and the worldview and in this regard social discourse is concerned, the state has never done it. The situation created by the spread of the coronavirus must be exploited to the hilt by the state and its apparatus to lay the foundation of a progressive society.