Having interacted with multiple political parties and entities with a major stake in Pakistan over the past year, I had gained a balanced approach towards understanding the Pakistani political dynamic. Yet, the “mighty” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) somehow had always seemed out of reach for youth and education. Except for brief meetings with a few leaders, I had never had an in length discussion. I thought I had never tried hard enough. Yet, last Wednesday I found myself climbing 15 stories of the Shaheed-e-Millat Secretariat. The elevators did not work because of loadshedding.
The office I was going to was of a PhD Parliamentarian of PPP, Chair of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and daughter of Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah. It was quite accidental, having her as co-speaker in the two-day ‘The News Education Conference’, gave me opportunity to engage with her. After a delay due to the disqualification of Yusuf Raza Gilani finally a long exchange of iMessages led us both to sit across the table and discuss politics, media, achievements, goals and the PPP.
Dr Nafisa Shah’s office had been quite colourful, cultural paraphernalia all over the office including ajraks, handicrafts and other things. I felt as if I had entered the room of an anthropologist with a love for the Sindhi culture, and that I actually had. The light was out and a UPS was running all but two light bulbs and a small wall fan in the corner. The meeting had a two-fold purpose, one was to discuss points of engagement with NCHD and deep down in latent terms it was to find out what the ruling party, PPP had been doing in terms of youth and their engagement in politics, if it had anything in the pipeline or not.
The NCHD was established in the Musharraf era. It was established to tackle Pakistan’s chronically poor human development indicators. NCHD’s core programmes are in education and healthcare. Yet, NCHD has suffered from a lack of major support from this government. The government has focused more on programmes like the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) over human development. It somehow seemed apparent.
I argued that while PTI and PML-N were in their own ways trying to reach out to the youth and the PPP had failed to do so. From this point we delved in to a deep intellectual discourse on how the youth wasn’t a monolithic entity.
She argued that the PPP had very strong youth initiatives in the rural sector. It was the urban youth where she agreed that the PPP had not been active in and ignored too. Obviously the question does arise that rural dynamics are different, and it is not so much a matter of policy and initiatives but more scholarships and jobs that the rural youth is more interested in.
She did say that she wanted more engagements with the urban youth and that it was important for the party to not lose its urban footing. It was good to know that in her constituency, Khairpur, she had set aside two crores specifically for giving scholarships to promising students who could not afford it otherwise. She had ideas on other initiatives which she wanted to keep secret for the time being, but did want some feedback on.
Yet, the point does remain that the urban youth is talented, tech savvy and has more exposure. It is a demographic which can be beneficial beyond just votes to a political party. It can help from research, to policy framing and even beyond. The urban youth demographic really needs to be considered from just beyond voter numbers. The PPP is in the government, in the federation and also in all provinces until recently. There was so much that it could have pushed for with these resources.
From the youth we moved onto the media. She expressed displeasure over how the media was focusing only on rhetoric and not going beyond it. She argued that so much was being done. However, an interesting point was that there was always a comparison being drawn. If the PPP was being run by one family, she said so was PML-N. To this I said but that is not the question. The question is never what someone else is doing but always what is being done by you. Similarly over other issues this was a common reply.
Nafisa Shah made it a point to say that the PPP does not believe in engaging with this rhetoric and at times just ignores what is being said in the media. It might be true that some elements of the media like everything are not perfect. Yet, not engaging with the media in today’s age is suicide. Even if false information is being propagated, negating it is somehow a necessity. With the fast flow of information, fast replies and fast rebuttals are not just advisable but mandatory. This is where the PPP in my opinion has become somewhat indifferent. This indifference has cost it support in urban areas and areas connected through information highways. While initially this may not seem like a big problem, but in time this demographic will become larger and larger and be the dominant demographic.
For one I was surprised to see educated and capable people in the PPP. Having said that would educated and capable people be able to come up if they had no family ties is a separate question. Yet, meeting Nafisa Shah was a pleasure in the sense that it opened up a different side of the PPP to me. But, this side is unfortunately dominated by the other side — the side that people sadly know too well. From a worsening economic, energy and accountability crisis that has gone on for their tenure so far, the people of Pakistan have grown frustrated, tired and desperate. This side of the PPP has completely let itself down. It does not lend support to people who are educated and talented. It does not let those who can actually play a positive role blossom nor does it give them the resources to do so, and that is where it seems to fail despite having educated and good people.
Ali Moeen Nawazish is Youth Ambassador of Geo and Jang Group Email: firstname.lastname@example.org