Pakistan is among the most urbanised countries of South Asia, with underappreciated implications for the nation’s future security and stability. Pakistan is expected to largely shift from majority rural to majority urban within the next two to three decades, urbanising at a yearly rate of three percent — the fastest pace in South Asia. The United Nations Population Division estimates that, by 2030, nearly half the country’s population will live in cities. The vast population complexes have come up merging adjacent suburbs, cities and districts neighbouring one another. This phenomenon is highly concentrated, and further trends are visible in the cities like Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The villages and hamlets of the1980s have grown enormously into oversized ‘kachiabadies and slums’, irrespective of development works by provincial and local governments, ie construction of roads, cementing streets of villages, water supply system, rural health centres, provision of electricity and sui gas facilities. One of the reasons for this menace is the further multiple subdivision of single housing unit of one family of 1950s/60s. Besides, the overall size of the village and hamlet have increased two to three times. Most of these large sized village complexes are situated adjoining developed housing societies and industrial areas of the main cities. The megacity of Karachi is in a category of its own: larger than the next three to four cities combined. With an inflow of Pashtun migrants that challenges the Muhajir-Sindhi balance of the past, it is experiencing greater demographic changes than any other large urban centre. As with any social shift, these changes have serious implications in future for the provision of security, civic facilities, governance, law and order, education, health etc.The other drivers for increased urban areas are high birth rate and migration from rural areas. People are moving from the countryside to urban areas in droves for better livelihoods and access to relatively better services such as education and healthcare. The second reason for migration — one with troubling consequences for stability and security — is war and conflict on western borders. For decades, people have been fleeing war-torn regions of Afghanistan and particularly the Pakistani tribal areas — to seek the relative safety of cities such as Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore and Karachi. Many of these migrating people were innocent civilians. Unfortunately, in recent years, militants — including the Pakistani Taliban — have blended in with these fleeing families and come to the cities as well. What are the main challenges that go along with such a rapid level of urbanisation for a country like Pakistan? The chief one is to provide civic services for so many new urban arrivals. Even today, it is difficult for cash-strapped and capacity-constrained city officials to provide water, energy, housing, healthcare, and education to their growing masses. And yet, with urban populations continuing to increase, this will become even harder to do.Pakistan ranks eighth among the ten countries that collectively hold 60 percent of substandard housing across the worldThe second major challenge is ‘security’. With so many people in cities struggling to access essential services, and many unable to do so, the implications for security and stability are considerable. None of this is reassuring for a country with already so many existing security problems to start with. Another challenge is the menace of ‘encroachment’; on newly constructed roads, illegal constructions all over the suburbs, absence of application of bylaws to convert agriculture land into residential or industries, the lack of any kind of building control measures in suburbs and villages, deprivation of required sanitation system in suburbs and villages and an absence of futuristic development plans to ultimately convert the old villages into citified societies located within megacities.Water supply, sanitation and sewerage system in big cities are mostly ignored and get step treatment by the town planners and city governments. It is unfortunate that the big cities like Karachi and Lahore do not have fully developed sewerage treatment systems. Increased private transport on urban roads has caused severe congestion. The government has responded by upgrading urban roads and construction of metro lines. However, infrastructure for the most common modes of travel in Pakistan — such as pavements for walking or special lanes for bicycles, motorcycles and animal carts either do not exist or have been encroached upon.Health and education facilities are certainly better in the urban areas of Pakistan than that of in the rural areas. There is a dire need to improve education and health infrastructure in the rural areas to minimise urbanisation as well as migration to other small cities and towns from villages.Pakistan has a flourishing yet underappreciated young urban workforce. The economy will suffer if you have a potentially large workforce that cannot be productive because it does not have access to water, energy and schooling necessary to keep it healthy and educated. And of course, when you have so many people in urban areas looking for jobs, the labour market — especially one that is relatively small such as Pakistan’s — will have trouble supporting it.The rapid urbanisation has adversely affected the agriculture and farming in the rural areas which are already an ignored in Pakistan. The workforce for farming in villages has severely reduced in the last ten years, despite it being the mainstay of our economy and culture, without getting into the rigmarole of GDP and GNP.Notwithstanding the challenges of rapid urbanisation, certain other relevant aspects of social and civic challenges require serious consideration. The government must understand the importance of following holistic city plans in line with firm urban and housing policies. The prevailing direction of urbanisation has serious implication for national security and will continue producing the negative impacts on our future generations.The writer has served in Pakistan ArmyPublished in Daily Times, February 11th 2018.