How committed the PTI is to the resolution of the issues of the youth will become obvious in how it responds to their needs and grievances. For now, its Tiger Force seems to be up in arms
When Hammad Butt, a Tiger Force leader also known as Madi Butt in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, was telling The News on Sunday (TNS) that those in the force only seek improvement in society, he was unaware of the protest being held at Lahore Press Club by his Tiger Force colleagues. The protestors held up placards calling for fulfilment of their demands ranging from administrative to political problems.
Butt runs an IT business in the Blue Area in Islamabad, an upscale area in the capital. Butt and his family have been diehard PTI supporters, through and through.
“After business hours, I give my time to the Tiger Force. The card and jacket are my identity,” he says.
His card strikes a resemblance with the one described by Omar Shahid Hamid in his novel The Party Worker.
“At least, give Imran Khan credit for mobilising the youth. During the peak days of the corona pandemic, my team and I identified the poor in our area and supplied them rations. We generated donations from well-off people and got supplies from government offices. We are still keeping an eye on inflation and adherence to corona SOPs in public places,” he says.
Shahida Parveen, who runs an online TV channel, has a point of difference. She says that every political and religious party formed groups to help out the masses in those days. “The problem with these youth groups is that they always try to target their rivals and favour their like-minded people. Women have largely been discounted in this activity; so, how can it be generalised to represent the society?” she says.
Prof Dr Muhammad Ali Shah, the vice chancellor of Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), tells TNS that he thinks that there is no harm in political parties engaging the youth in politics and community mobilisation.
“But then they resort to violence, which is very bad. Look at our universities. Youth wing of a political party tries to dominate the campus instead of co-existing with others. Once it succeeds, it makes sure that no other group can operate there. Monopolies are set, and chances of improvement in the society diminish,” he says.
Prof Dr Shah is also the chairman of the Vice Chancellors’ Committee of Pakistan, and has been the head of several public universities.
Asked if political parties are able to train Pakistani youth not to be violent, he says it is a very far-fetched suggestion.
“When these parties cannot wean themselves away from violence, how can you expect that they will train our youth to be peaceful?” he asks.
He contextualises his observations in “the lack of a culture of courteous engagement”, “peaceful coexistence”, and care for others.
“Please, excuse me and sorry are the three magic words our youth are oblivious to. Use of these words changes your thinking pattern and behaviour. Our youth need to be taught about these,” he says.
“When politicians shout at each other in TV shows, it generates an acceptance of intolerance, impatience and shouting in society, 64 percent of which are youth,” he says.
“To be frank, we need jobs and earning opportunities. The government needs to give this issue some serious thought,” says Ali Hasnain Khan, a Tiger Force office holder in Rawalpindi.
However, Naveed Iftikhar Chaudhry, a young PTI leader endorsed by Aamir Kiyani, believes that Imran Khan has electrified the spirit of the youth, and they have realised that they have an important role to play in societal progress.
Kiyani’s father is a local leader of the PTI. He says that when party leaders ask them to bring crowds for political gatherings, he tells them to apply the same approach in the distribution of jobs.
“I’ve fought, and traded hot arguments with party seniors during our meetings. When we ask them for jobs, they tell us that we need to hold merit. [Practically speaking] who [even] is on merit? Our guys meet the requirements and [so] should be adjusted,” he says.
Syed Nauman Kazmi, a Tiger Force officeholder from Taxila, says that he lost his office job during the elections because he was canvassing for his party candidate and could not attend office for two days.
“For three months after that, I remained jobless. Now, I am working in the real estate business,” he says.
He says that an assistant commissioner interviewed him for induction in the Force and told him during the interview that he would be paid nothing.
He says that they had come under attack at the beginning but now government officials and general public were afraid of them. “We report inflation and hoarding cases to the AC and he takes action based on our complaints,” he says.
“In Taxila, AC Fahim Khan has marked out an area for Tiger Force people to sell vegetables. The Force members buy vegetables from wholesale market and sell them. They make a reasonable profit. Everyone earns Rs 1,000 or so a day,” he says.
Like Shahida Parveen, a community leader of transgender people in Islamabad, Kashish, says that her community is not represented in the force.
“Most of our community comprises youth. We die young. We are not included in any community mobilisation programme by any political party”, says Parveen.
Several young people with varying degrees of education and career prospects that this scribe spoke to were of the opinion that the youth are being used to counter the opposition. They hold the opinion that politicians exploit joblessness and inflation to extend their agenda through the youth.
Hammad Butt agrees that politicians do engage in some level of foul play.
“In Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid and his nephew tried to highjack the Tiger Force but we resisted this. It’s true that various politicians are patronising different youth groups to pursue their personal goals. It’s also possible that we get into altercations with the people in the future. We experienced this at the start. But, we will go ahead with our plans nonetheless,” he says.
However highly mainstream political parties may speak of the youth, it remains a reality that the youth have seldom appeared in government policies. Political parties have historically encouraged them to set out and fill chairs at their jalsas but have been criticised for not paving the way for them to become leaders. It is widely acknowledged that PTI’s success in transitioning from the margins to the mainstream has been attributed, among other factors, to being able to get the youth interested in politics. The party also prides itself in bringing forward a new tier of young political leaders and legislators; however, its commitment to its young voters and the youth of the country at large will be seen in how promptly and earnestly it responds to their needs and grievances.
The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat