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Battle of the Youth Bulge

Demography may explain Pakistan's political turmoil.

11:00 PM, Nov 28, 2007 • By GUNNAR HEINSOHN
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PAKISTAN'S GROWING WAVE of internal terror that led Pervez Musharraf to assume dictatorial powers on November 3 is commonly blamed on the country's poverty. Such an assessment, however, is not supported by the facts. Between 1979 and 2007, per capita income in Pakistan jumped from 600 PPP-$ to 2,600.

Other observers blame Pakistan's domestic chaos on religious leaders preaching hatred. But why would Pakistanis respond to radical rhetoric at a time when prosperity is improving their quality of life?

However, prosperity itself may stoke the fires of civil conflict when it is accompanied by a "youth bulge"--a phenomenon that occurs when 30 to 40 percent of nation's males are between the ages of 15 and 29.

Over the last 80 years, Pakistan's population exploded from 20 million in 1927 to 165 million today. If the United States had grown at the same rate as Pakistan, instead of 300 million the U.S. population would now be 960 million. With a median age of 18 instead of 36, this much larger U.S. might well be seeing the high levels of crime, violence, and radical activity that are threatening Pakistan today.

Since 1950 Pakistan's rapid demographic increase has combined with rising salaries to assure that the young men of Pakistan's constantly growing youth bulges are better nourished and educated than ever before. But Pakistan's population has grown so quickly, even an expanding economy can not keep up. For millions of young men, ambitions and hopes for a successful future cannot be realized. Attractive jobs matching ever rising ambitions are hard to find. Today, three or four Pakistani boys compete for one place in society, or for the property left by their father. Angry, frustrated young men are easily recruited into radical groups and terror organizations. To them not only the spoils of victory but even the honors of a hero's death become an option.

General Musharraf was born in 1943. In his cohort of 60 to 64 year olds, Pakistan has just 1.6 million men. However, in the prime fighting age cohort of 20 to 24 there are 8.6 million potential warriors who are followed by 10.7 million boys aged 0 to 4. This rapid upsurge, which I call demographic armament, translates into every 1,000 pensioners being followed by 5,400 men of military age, who in turn will one day be replaced by 6,700 boys. The United States, by comparison, is in demographic neutrality. Every 1,000 older American men are succeeded by 1,570 young men, who will in turn be succeeded by 1,540 boys. The United Kingdom is in demographic decline: 1,000, to 1,186, to 970. My native country Germany provides an example for demographic capitulation. It goes from 1,000 via 1,150 to 820. (Editor's note: See Clark Whelton's "A Demographic Theory of War" in THE DAILY STANDARD for more on demographic armament, neutrality, and capitulation as described by Gunnar Heinsohn.)

Pakistan's bloodletting will not be ending soon. A burgeoning population of young men shares the Taliban's dream of a nuclear-armed Islam, with a united Afghanistan and Pakistan as its core territory and led by a new Caliphate. Although the fertility rate among Pakistani women has declined from close to six in 2000 to an average of four children each in 2007, their sisters in Afghanistan are still having close to seven. That is why in the Hindu Kush every 1,000 pensioners are followed by 5,570 men of best military age and 11,130 boys aged 0 to 4. This means the troubles in Pakistan and Afghanistan will be with us for at least 20 more years.

NATO is now demanding that Musharraf return Pakistan to democratic rule. But is NATO or anybody else ready to handle Musharraf's radical Islamist opponents if they get the upper hand in Pakistan, either by winning free elections in the style of Algeria and Gaza, or by winning a civil war? Is NATO or anybody else ready to send an American family's only son or a European family's only child into mortal danger in order to prevent third and fourth sons in Pakistan and Afghanistan from killing each other and forcing the burqa over their sisters' eyes?