Saturday September 23, 2023

Channelising the potential of our youth

August 14, 2022

The major strength of any nation is its youth. However, if visionless and misled, this strength can turn into a weakness of any nation. A thoughtful and considerate youth can prove to be an asset; on the other hand, the passionless and indolent young population is a liability for the nation, with too many mouths to feed. Youth is a time in one's life when one is packed with mental and physical energy. This is a time when one observes and learns eagerly. The knowledge one acquires in his younger days is what guides the trajectory of his lifelong actions and most certainly, worthwhile knowledge can guide one to reason and grow while indoctrination leads to chaos.

Pakistan with a median age of 22 is one of the youngest nations in the world. It is the second youngest in the South Asian region after Afghanistan. as per the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Report 2018, of the entire population, 64 per cent are under the age of 30, and 29 per cent are between the ages of 15 and 29. In the history of 75 years, youth has never been truly recognised as a changing force for advancement and progress in the country. The blessing of having big zestful youth was thus cursed when this section of the population went into the hands of predators.

A viable system of education enables a nation to achieve its national goals. Pakistan as a developing country had to deal with tons of problems since its inception and therefore our educational system has failed to deliver according to the aspirations of the 220+ million people. From low budgetary to low quality of education, unprofessional teaching staff, ghost schools, out-dated curriculum, over-population, and unprofessional attitude of learners towards learning, all contributed to hinder individual genius to an alarming extent.

Youth is a time in one's life when spirit and enthusiasm reach the pinnacle. The downside of this however is this spirit can easily be misused. A lack of thoughtful youth brings good fortune to political and religious coteries. The cunningness of playing with words and creating negative discourses is an operational strategy used as an instrument to attract the bewildered lot by the clergy and nobility instrument. Dull-witted and gullible youth is readily propagandised by the slogans and verbal claims of these sects. At a time when the world is dreaming of expanding civilization to other planets and sending missions to stars and planets light years away, we unfortunately are entangled in a situation where people are lynched and mobbed for merely speaking. Religious indoctrination spread chauvinism and a lack of tolerance toward others. Islam, for which Pakistan was liberated, encourages reason and question but somehow the opposite is in practice. Social sciences are stereotypically downcasted, and a lack of social and political awareness creates a vacuum of rationality. Predators undeniably prey on such opportunities and exploit the youth as much as possible. It would not be an overstatement to say that most of the people who patronise political rallies are young.

A nation is an agglomeration of people bound together by a sense of oneness and national purpose. The hypocrisy is that while claiming to be a united nation, a sense of competition rather than cooperation is ingrained in young minds. Such beliefs fail in the long run and build a community of individuals seeking personal benefits only instead of building a nation. Such an outlook when coupled with the dearth of opportunities causes frustration in the youth, projected in the form of peaking crime and corruption.

The true potential of our youth can be steered in the right direction through enlightenment only. Creating a tolerant and intellectual society should be the primary objective, a society where people listen, understand, process and reason. The power of reason and logic will not only make our youth good humans but good learners as well. When adequately educated, this nation has yielded geniuses like Arfa Karim and Abdus Salam.

Religious extremism in the youth can be rolled back only if people understand that religion is a personal matter and a way to connect to God and not something to create prejudice over. We should recognise the right of others to exist on their own terms. Our youth can unlock their true potential, once they realize that over the past 75 years their potential has been misguided.

Ethnocentrism is another challenge to national development. Ethnic slogans are glamorised by some rogue elements to consolidate political power. On June 15, 1948, in his address to the Quetta Municipality, Quaid-i-Azam made the following remarks:

"While, however, one must love one's town and work for its welfare-indeed because of it-one must love better one's country and work more devotedly for it. Local attachments have their value but what is the value and strength of a "part" except within the "whole"?

The fall of Dhaka was a result of ethnocentrism. Although in post-1971 instead of learning a lesson from history, provincial nationalism reached a new low. The Sindhi-Muhajir clashes in the late 80s and early 90s and other ethnic conflicts and movements were all provoked by political opportunists. Even today, after 75 years we still haven't learnt enough. The youth must question such projections of hate on ethnic and provincial grounds. The youth need to know the divergence between constructive criticism and destructive carping. The youth must not let themselves be used against the national purpose which is to build a better homeland where hate has no place.

Youth also get easily driven by nonsensical drives. We are faced with a dilemma where disillusioned youth become habituated to drugs and substances instead of looking for solutions to problems in life. Enlightening them about their importance in national development will prove helpful in keeping them away from such futile ventures.

Moreover, young people are confronted with immense pressure when it comes to choosing a profession. They should be given the liberty to find their passion. Each person has his own gift (talent) and the wealth of a nation lies in liberating people's gifts. We must not judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Our youth has the potential to pull the country from current social and economic stagnation once they attain functional specialisation. What if Allama Iqbal was a scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan a musician or Shahid Afridi a doctor? Everyone has a purpose in life. The youth of this nation must strive to turn their passion and mission into their profession. The Japanese call this Ikigai, the secret of a long and happy life.

Fear of failure is another factor which thwarts progress. No one is perfect all the time and we all fail in one thing or another. But it is important to rise after every fall. Instead of losing hope to failures, the youth must know that life is all struggle for a better tomorrow and failures make one more resilient. All legendary characters of history were not always success stories but rather forged through failures. Thomas Edison who amassed a record 1093 patents failed a thousand times in inventing the light bulb. Quaid-i-Azam never quit even after losing so much in the struggle for Pakistan. In his struggle for freedom, he lost both health and family but still never let hopelessness impede his endeavour. Youth must know the importance of trial and error in life. However, parents too have a role to play in motivating the youth. We cannot afford to lose young fertile minds to depression and fears.

Our founding fathers dreamt of a happy and peaceful country for us, where everyone is conscious of their rights and obligations. They aimed to create a state where everyone is free from any kind of oppression. The responsibility lies on us to look for the answers that why for so many years we achieved so less. The youth is in a muddle and there is no silver bullet that can cure everything magically. We, the youth of this nation must resolve to ourselves to work for a better tomorrow. Our energy must not be misspent, and we must discourage idleness too. Creating a tolerant society should be our utmost priority. The past 75 years have not been a good experience, but the next 75 years are for us - the young generation - has to pay attention to unearth hidden talents and utilise the utmost potential for the betterment of the country and its people.

-Kashif Mehmood is an undergraduate student at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. He can be reached at