The youth of Pakistan constitutes more than 60 per cent of the total population of the country. Despite this fact, this intersectionality has been forcefully and by design kept away from all decision-making forums, whether elected or unelected, by the state for the past three decades.
This whole process of keeping the youth apolitical started off by enforcing the ban on student unions, the starting point where the young take part in political activities by contesting elections at the college and university levels. That was not the end; the state wanted to ensure that students didn’t even think of anything remotely political. They may be enrolled in a political science degree programme but they better not dare think anything political or practise any political idea apart from reading about them. So, educational institutions introduced an affidavit that students had to sign to secure admission in any degree programme; if violated even slightly, the repercussions would be brutal and career-ending.
The affidavit has a clause that states: “I will not indulge in politics or seek membership of any political party/organization/student federation/union, nor will I attend any meeting of such party/organization/student federation/union. In case I am reported to be guilty/involved in any case of the aforesaid activities during my stay in the university/college authorities can rusticate me temporarily or expel me permanently from the university/college and that I shall neither have any claim nor will I go to any court of law against the decision of the university/college authorities”.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob in a recent article highlights the low voter turnout among the youth and mentions two reports that draw special attention to the chasm in young voter turnout between India and Pakistan. According to the reports, the young voter turnout in the past eight general elections in Pakistan is 31 per cent. Whereas, in India, the average young voter turnout is 60 per cent. The difference is staggering – and rightfully so. India has both student unions and a functioning local government setup, which indicates that their politics does not bar the young from taking part in political activities nor excludes them from becoming part of decision-making platforms and a culture of voting.
In Pakistan, a person has to be a little over 20 to be eligible to contest local government elections. A person contesting general elections has to be above the age of 25. Usually, someone in the age bracket of 20-25 is either still a student or has just kickstarted their career. So, this begs the question: how is one supposed to take part in the democratic process of the country when they are barred from taking part in politics or being affiliated with any political party/organization?
These repressive policies of the state to keep the youth apolitical are hurting the democratic process. The young bright minds who want to see and make change happen in the country are being denied their right to do so.
This signals a message to the youth of this country: that politics is only reserved for the rich and the powerful of society, those who hail from an aristocratic background, who have generational wealth to parachute their way into powerful positions and then gaslight the young. And this happens quite frequently, when political parties hand out tickets or appoint a young member of an established political family to a policymaking position and then try to sell the idea that they somehow have championed the cause of youth empowerment.
In the age of youth, Pakistan lags far behind. We seldom see a member of parliament or the cabinet, national or provincial, fitting in the youth age bracket which is 18-29. Those who have no stake in the future are shaping tomorrow’s policies, while those who will live to witness the next 3-4 decades have no stake or say in the matter.
Our political parties need to up the ante and seriously introspect on this matter which concerns the future of democracy in Pakistan. They must update their manifestos, reorganize and restructure their party structures to cater to the young and also empower them not just economically but also politically – or face irrelevance by the juggernaut of the youth.
The writer is a youth activist. He tweets at mustafa_wynne