Pakistan is among those nations where the youth have been completely ignored and left exposed to merciless tides. The memories of the early years of the draconian rule of General Zia-ul-Haq are still with me, when educational institutions, in the hangover of the colonial days, gave priority to extra-curricular activities. Every year the student unions would celebrate a week full of extra-curricular activities, mostly nocturnal, and the institutions were lit up the whole week. Debates were held and students from other institutions of Pakistan participated with all their energy. ‘Mushairas’ were the feast of the week, and the presence of celebrity Urdu poets was an event to remember. The last night of the gala week would be a musical night. Of the famous singers of the country, I remember Mehdi Hasan Khan, Fareeda Khanum and many others performing in college halls, would win the hearts of the audience with their enthralling performances.
Student unions were an effective means of exposing students to the changing values of society. Some wanted Asia green, others wanted Asia red. The world was bipolar, and young people were eager to mold the world to their own ideals.
Zia-ul-Haq allowed private educational institutions to flourish. He banned the student unions because in the last ever held union elections, left-wing flags were hoisted on educational institutions across the country. How would a right-wing autocrat like this?
And everyone knows this story of how religious extremism snared the youth of the country and the fictional characters of Nasim Hijazi became the role models of the rudderless youth.
The youth are the harbingers of changing values in any society, and are a great threat to the pervasive status quo. But, in Pakistan, the critical thinking skills of the youth were discouraged by clever tricks. The curriculum of Pakistan Studies convinced the learner that only a messiah could change the course of history. Iqbal was also a supporter of this ideology.
“Hazaron saal Nargis apni benoori pe rooti hai…”
History testifies that left-wing students propelled the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in its early years and brought about a social revolution in the country that terrified the elite. How the PPP reneged on its promise is a different story.
Benazir Bhutto marched with the youth because she was one of the youth herself. But, unfortunately, today’s leadership of PPP believes in ‘maneuvering’ in the corridors of power, and hence, has no contacts with the despondent youth any more.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stayed away from the politics of the youth because it was playing the politics of power. It is a fact that the then PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) changed the course of politics of the country. They relied on the establishment in their nascent years, and diligently re-strengthened the elite, and also advanced religious trends in the society. The ruling elite and religious groups are closely related in Pakistan.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in its early years was busy attracting a neo-elite. Such a segment, made up of immigrants from abroad or those who made money from drugs in the Afghan war, emerged in the early decade of the 2000s. The neo-elite felt shy in the presence of the traditional elite but was eager to have its share of power. PTI was the facade to help them grow.
In 2011, the image of Imran Khan as the messiah, with the help of mainstream electronic media, was bloated – and it proved a successful strategy.
It was legitimate for the youth to worry about their future, since there are no significant economic projects in the country that would cater to their interests. Another factor was that a large number of educated young women started pushing for employment. All other political parties left the youth to the flow of the situation and the PPP got busy in ‘maneuvering’ in the corridors of power. The propaganda against hereditary politics and stories of corruption of erstwhile civilian rulers – whether true or false – influenced the youth. Consequently, a large number of disillusioned young people, and especially young women, found Imran Khan as their messiah.
Will the politics of the neo-elite around Imran Khan end up actually helping the youth? The jury is out on that count.