Pakistan has the advantage of having a predominantly young population, with almost 52% of the populace under the age of 25, and almost 29% between the ages of 15 and 29. This could be a source for great progress for our country, yet it could also become a potentially devastating problem for the future as well, if left unchecked. Pakistan has made great strides in its battle against terrorism and militancy in the past decade. A series of military operations across the country have dramatically reduced the number of terror related incidents, however, in order to find a long term solution, we also need to address the societal and political norms in our country. A large population of youths, without adequate opportunities for employment, social interaction and cultural activities are extremely susceptible to extremist thought. Contrary to what most people believe, extremism is a phenomenon that can manifest in any strata of society at any given location. Radical ideologies aren’t only found in Madrassas or religious seminaries, but in urban based public and private educational institutions as well, as evidenced by the Mashal Khan lynching case in Mardan or Noreen Laghari’s foiled terror attack in Lahore. Radical ideologies aren’t only found in Madrassas or religious seminaries, but in urban-based public and private educational institutions as well, as evidenced by the Mashal Khan lynching case in Mardan or Noreen Laghari’s foiled terror attack in Lahore What we need in our country is a comprehensive and well coordinated strategy aimed at the youth, with the main objective focused on tackling their vulnerabilities and keeping a check on the kind of ideologies they are exposed to everyday. The targets of this plan will not only be the people who have already been radicalised, but also those that might be susceptible to such extreme thought. Even though the government has already set up programs aimed at de-radicalisation, disengagement, and rehabilitation (DDR), like Mishal, Sparley, Rastoon, Pythom, Heila, and Sabaoon, more needs to be done. These programs need to be implemented all over the country, and can be supplemented with peace education programs, which largely focus on tolerance of diversity, coexistence, conflict resolution techniques and gender equality etc. A major hurdle in introducing such programs around Pakistan is a lack of will by the people in power. There is also an absence of any representation for the youth on our policy-making bodies, and with the 2018 elections just around the corner, this is an opportune moment for all political parties to highlight the significance of this marginalised, but powerful, group. They should prioritise the de-radicalisation of our youth, and focus all their power on empowering them in order to ensure a brighter future for our country. Another reason for the youth to become so inclined towards radical ideologies is the lack of adequate economic opportunities in our country. According to Pakistan’s National Human Development Report, published by the UNDP, 41.6% of Pakistan’s labour force comprises of people between the ages of 15 and 29. In order to provide an adequate number of jobs for the youth sector in the future, Pakistan will need to create 4.5 million new jobs in the next five years, which amounts to almost a million jobs annually. With employment elasticity at 0.5, the country will require an annual GDP growth rate of 7% to achieve this objective, even though the current GDP growth rate stands at 5.2%. As the parliament of Pakistan completes its five-year term, it is time for reflection. Is our country headed in the right direction? Do our current policies reflect the path we want to take for the future? It certainly doesn’t look like it. This is because our future is based entirely on our youth. If they are kept being ignored, then they will have no choice but to turn to extremist thought, fanaticism and frustration. All these can lead to disastrous results, echoes of which can already be felt in the youth-led Pakhtun movement, which started with the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud. We cannot, and must not ignore the sentiments of the young in this country and take a strong stance in the fight against extremism. With the security situation improving, and the youth taking an active role in the development of the country, there is nothing that can stop Pakistan’s charge into the future. The writer is working with the German Political Foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung at its Islamabad office. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, June 13th 2018.