Video: How 'Youth Bulges' Are Reshaping Pakistan and Afghanistan


In this video, Tom Nagorski (L) speaks with Asia 21 leaders Saad Mohseni and Faiysal AliKhan (R) at the Asia 21 Summit in Hong Kong. (Tahiat Mahboob/Asia Society)

Pakistan and Afghanistan are now uncommonly youthful, with more than half the population in each under age 25. This could have far-reaching effects in both countries.

“The youth bulge can either make or break a country,” says Saad Mohseni, chairman and chief executive of the Moby Media Group in Afghanistan. “This is the challenge.”

Speaking on December 3 at the 10th anniversary summit of Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leader’s Initiative in Hong Kong, Mohseni, an Asia 21 leader, discussed how he’s tapped into the talent and drive of youth at his news organization. “It’s these 24 to 25-year-olds that we have to back,” he said. “Once we’re confident they can do the job, we back them 100 percent. ... To have a creative organization that’s what you have to do.”

Fellow Asia 21 Leader Faiysal AliKhan, a research fellow from Pakistan at the New America Foundation public policy institute who also spoke at the event, recounted meeting a 24-year-old news anchor at Mohseni’s Moby Group. The anchor grilled a provincial governor on live TV about his work habits and how he apparently was only present in his office for two hours per day. “When [the anchor] finished this, I said to him, 'Are you crazy? This guy's going to hang you up,’” AliKhan recalled, adding that it’s usually the young who are bolder in trying new things.

AliKhan says that harnessing the power of youth is still an underutilized strategy in the region. “In our part of the world and most of Asia, there’s a very hierarchal system where younger people are always told by older people that you’re a young person and don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Instead of mentors grooming them and providing opportunities, they stifle them.”

He said this is starting to change though, with many local leadership positions in Pakistan being taken up by very young people, including the 23-year-old mayor of his hometown. This, he says, has created leadership that’s often viewed as less corrupt, more responsive, and bolder in tackling certain issues. “When these people are empowered, or at least not interfered with, and have the ability to be creative, and when the leadership backs them up, there’s a lot they can actually do.”

“We’re seeing a lot of positive changes and enough momentum to change the country,” Saad Mohseni added of his native Afghanistan. “We have to be honest about the challenges ahead of us. But nothing is impossible.”

Watch the full program in the above video.

About the Author

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Eric Fish is a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.