Last Saturday, a thick moustached, oil-combed guard showed me a No Entry sign on the entrance of a local mall. I was accompanied by my brother. However, the same custodian of the mall welcomed me with warmth as I drove back to the same building after an hour, but this time around, I was accompanied by a female acquaintance. According to the mall mafia, one’s brother does not tick the family box but a random girl does. Ridiculous definition of family and laughter aside, this gives birth to a couple of questions that beg for an answer. One, where are we heading to as a nation? Secondly, how are we treating our youth? The dozens of countries I have walked through across Europe and Asia, I have never seen such bizarre policies chalked-out by malls.As per the 2017 census, young citizens comprise 64 percent of the country’s population; meaning three out of every five Pakistanis fall in the youth category. Unfortunately, the much talked about “Falcons of the Nation” upon which our leaders have pinned hopes to act as magic wand to all the myriad problems are not provided with enough space to open their wings. The youths cannot play sports in the parks because families walk there. They are often denied by the university administration to organise events, at times due to security concerns.Theatres that would liberate young brains from their shackles through art and literature have now been dominated by government’s myopia. Festivals like Basant have now been restricted only to the nostalgic stories of grandparents. Owing to tunnel-vision policies, campuses that once served as breeding grounds for sound minds have now turned into cages. Consequently, frustrated minds either jump from red-brick buildings or become a voice of the extremists. History bears testimony that rogue elements prey upon vulnerable masses. All in all, the prospect demographic dividend is being victimised by two cardinal evils. One, the young populace is strangled in the ropes of government’s ill-thought policies. Two, taking advantage of the situation, the rogue masterminds are poisoning the already suffocated minds in the name of freedom. The more the new generation is pushed to the walls, the more it gets lured by the so-called slogans of liberty. If not nipped in the buds timely, the frustration turned hatred against the state will grow into a grave security challenge.On the other, the sunniest of optimists, Prime Minister Imran Khan expects the chained youth to stay resilient in the face of so many travails and such turbulence. The recurring theme of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s two decades march to Islamabad was youth empowerment. A fan of Mahathir and Lee, PM Imran Khan has always urged the nation to emulate Malaysia and Singapore but hardly imported any lesson from the youth policy of both the Asian tigers. In developed countries, young ones are not caged but provided with conducive environment under a comprehensive youth policy both inside and outside educational institutes, to fly with freedom. Competent ones are placed in PM and chief minister offices to be tailored as future leaders. Malaysian debater Syed Sadiq joined the PM House as an intern, and later on, became the voice of Mahathir Muhammad led charge against corrupt Najib. Huma Abideen arrived in the White House for six weeks, and soon became the right hand of the strongest lady of America. In contrast, young Pakistani graduates rarely get opportunities at such level. Pakistan will not stand in line of successful nations unless an all-inclusive youth policy is devised and implemented in letter and spirit. In the much-awaited Naya Pakistan, time is ripe to mend the chords.Firstly, the government needs to take all direct stakeholders on board. A prescription written in the absence of patients further ails the affected soul, so is happening in Pakistan. Special Assistant to the Premier on Youth Affairs Usman Dar’s efforts for a collaborative youth strategy involving leaders from all four provinces are commendable. However, he needs to draw some lessons from the success of Malaysian and Singaporean Youth Councils. A National Youth Policy should be formulated keeping in mind suggestions of NYCF. This will not only engage young citizens at policy level but will also address core issues of more than 60 percent of the population. If not taken care of, the blessings of youth bulge will soon become a curse.Information & Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan’s announcement of Basant is welcomed in a way thirsty sand embraces a drop of oasis. However, Punjab archives speak the otherwise. The festival is annually celebrated by successive governments but only in words, not actions. Owing to the nation’s resolve and sacrifices of Armed Forces, the dove of peace that once flew away from the land of the pure is finally heading back to the land of five rivers. With peace restored and fuel of faith injected in state’s machinery, all we need is a political will to declare ‘Bo Kata.’ The policy of local solution for local problem pays dividends. It is inevitable to channelise their energies and making them equipped with required ammunition. A country without a youth force interwoven with the threads of strong moral and spiritual values is more of a tree without green leaves.The writer is a policy scholar at the Centre for Public Policy & Governance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, January 12th 2019.