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youth dilemma

Written by Hammad Waleed 6:46 pm Opinion, Published Content

Beyond Security Narratives: The Dilemma of Youth in Pakistan

Pakistan has struggled with political instability and governance issues since its inception, leading to a lack of meaningful political engagement among its youth. Hammad Waleed notes that despite making up over 60% of the population, young Pakistanis are disconnected from the political process and feel unheard and unrepresented. To address this crisis, he surmises that, policymakers must empower youth politically, include them in decision-making processes, and prioritize peace over security narratives.
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About the Author(s)
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He is a graduate of International Relations based in Islamabad. He is an independent researcher who writes on issues of national security, geopolitics, counter-terrorism, and public policy.  

Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has battled political instability and governance woes. It has embroiled itself in conflicts that have had a trickle-down effect on Pakistani society. The current “youth dilemma” is an unfortunate consequence. The sporadic power struggles amongst political actors and the military have narrowed political narratives to shallow premises. 

One struggles to come across seasoned political comprehension, even among acclaimed Pakistani scholars and media analysts. Instead, what one does come across are conspiracy theories, lewd narrations of the personal lives of politicians, or, at most, religious sloganeering that tends to paint complex political matters as black or white. There is no discussion over political contexts, verifying historicity, or how selective discourses have inveigled into the masses

What comes as a shock is the lack of interest among Pakistani youth in politics. The youth’s detachment from the political process has widened to such an extent that indifference to political events is morphing into an overall disillusionment within the system. This certainly does not augur well for societal peace, as such detachment often marks the initial step toward young people seeking alternatives—especially at an age when impressionable minds are susceptible to external influences. Compounding this issue is the dearth of productive outlets where youth can channel their energies.

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To provide insight, this was precisely one of the underlying reasons behind the scourge of terrorism and extremism that has plagued Pakistani society for a long time. Youngsters—succumbing to any influence that gave them a sense of purpose or adventure. A young person presented with a choice between subscribing to the state’s securitized narrative or a similar epistemological narrative promoted by an extremist group. Those who did not align with either simply retreated from the mainstream.

The air-conditioned halls of policymaking institutes in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi echo with buzzwords like “youth inclusion,” “young minds,” “youth-driven,” or “youth bulge,” yet their content is largely shaped or propagated by elderly men who have little understanding of the thought process of young minds. Old men still entrenched in narratives of traditional security tend to view “youth” merely as an extension of their thinking. In this scenario, the youth feels unheard, unrepresented, and sidelined from mainstream processes.

The state has banned student unions—the cradle of politicians and active public leaders, leaving us with aging feudal lords, dynasts, or retired public servants dominating politics—leaving little or no room for grassroots leadership.

For those in higher echelons, this should be a moment of serious introspection. In a society marred by political polarization, religious extremism, creeping violence, and constricting economic resources, the disillusioned youth offer a perfect recipe for disaster. If not more, Arab Spring ought to serve as a subtle reminder for Pakistani elites, before things cross the inflection point. 

If the nation has to centralize a security narrative, it should be done so while keeping the youth as a focal point. Policies, narratives, and doctrines should be formulated around the needs and emerging threats to the youth. Youngsters should not be cannon fodder for jingoistic nationalism or religiously motivated proxy wars. Policymakers should have realized this by now as their security imperatives have backfired not once, but multiple times. The cauldron of jingoism and paranoia has eroded societal peace.  Even as the state endeavors to correct its course, the underlying issues run deep.

Frequently, our TV screens depict disturbing scenes of mob violence or domestic altercations escalating into bloodshed. For a viewer concerned with social stability, a state of helplessness prevails. This raises one question—whether our society is in a state of, what the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim termed, “anomie.” To provide a context, the state of anomie is when norms, values, and customs become inoperative and society falls into disarray. The lack of social control mechanisms (traditions, values, or religious beliefs) leads to a phenomenon of social disorganization where people are driven to use any means (devoid of legitimacy) to fulfill their needs.  

It’s high time to go back to the drawing board. To read the room where more than 60 percent of the audience is the youth of Pakistan. It’s a youth that has witnessed terror firsthand, is on the receiving end of economic woes, and feels envious of its counterparts in other developing countries. This youth needs a break, it needs to feel heard and empowered. They deserve to have a say in decisions that directly impact their lives.

The forthcoming decades present certain challenges in terms of global economic upheavals, climate change, and disruptive technologies that will undoubtedly reshape lives. A narrative driven by the youth transcends the security discourse obscured by narrow objectives.

The first step would be to empower the youth politically. This entails reinstating student-led politics at the campus level, followed by operationalizing local governments in their intended sense. This empowerment can also be achieved if policymakers surround themselves with promising young individuals who understand how to navigate a technologically advanced environment.

We are currently witnessing a transition from Generation Z to Generation Alpha. These youngsters are exposed to the world through media and are influenced, in part, by a consumerist culture fostered by capitalism. Their expectations, goals, and inclinations differ significantly from those of their elders.

National policymakers must also recognize the importance and potential of their youth and engage with their counterparts from other countries to contribute to peacebuilding efforts. Prioritizing peace in the region, rather than engaging in security contestation, would be beneficial for the country as a whole as well.

The dilemma, as the title indicates, also entails the very solution—where narratives become subservient to meet the needs of Pakistan’s youth bulge. A promising and peaceful future will not remain a pipe dream if the country departs from its current narrow conceptions of security that have defined its foreign and domestic policies.


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