ISLAMABAD Nearly 100 percent of young Pakistanis are pessimistic about the future and believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, a survey released on Wednesday found.
A British Council study, entitled "Next Generation Goes to The Ballot Box", also showed that only one in five young adults expect their economic situation to improve over the next year.
The findings make for disturbing reading for politicians who are trying to win over Pakistanis ahead of a May 11 general election.
Pakistan's elected government completed its full five-year term last month, the first in the country's turbulent history to do so.
While that may have bolstered the young democracy, a growing number of Pakistanis are wondering if their leaders will ever tackle poverty, crippling power cuts, corruption and a Taliban insurgency.
"Pessimism is fast becoming a defining trait of Pakistan's next generation," said the British Council, which defined young people as between 18 and 29 years old.
"Economic factors appear to be the most important driver in the next generation's rising pessimism," said the council, which is partly funded by the British government and promotes British education, culture and business abroad.
Critics say Pakistani politicians are often too distracted to fix the nuclear-armed country's problems.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 66-year-history, is widely seen as the most efficient institution in the South Asian nation.
Politicians are often consumed by tension with an increasingly interventionist Supreme Court or the army and spend little time worrying about the economy, critics say.
In 2008, Pakistan averted a balance of payments crisis by securing an $11 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package, but the IMF suspended it in 2011 after economic and reform targets, including widening a miniscule tax base, were missed.
The Asian Development Bank, one of Pakistan's biggest lenders, predicts Pakistan will have to lean on the IMF again before the end of the year for up to $9 billion.
The Taliban, who are waging a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-backed government, often recruits young jobless men who have grown disillusioned with the state.
"Unfortunately, most young people feel that prosperity is sliding further from their grasp," said the British Council.
"Over two-thirds of the next generation think they are now worse off than they were."
Rising prices are the biggest concern.
"The next generation has been shaped by its experience of increasingly expensive food, energy and other commodities. An overwhelming majority report pressure on the living standards of themselves and their families," said the council.
Pakistanis, long accustomed to dynastic politics or military rule, have few new candidates to choose from in the election.
A former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is seen as the front runner. But he could face tough competition from the ruling Pakistan People's Party.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan had gained some popularity but analysts say his appeal appears to have faded.
"Young people have very low levels of confidence in the institutions - government, parliament, political parties - most responsible for setting the country's direction," said the survey.
"In contrast, the justice system and the media have higher approval ratings, as does Pakistan's armed forces."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)