Dawn News

Young face of the mob

THEY turned out in multitudes. Many of them in their teens, they poured into the streets. Leaderless, they turned major Pakistani cities into veritable battlefields, attacking everything in their way. They looted shops, burned down cinema houses, banks and restaurants. The daylong violence left scores of people dead and injured across the country and incurred losses running into billions of rupees.

The spectacle of the mob on the rampage was frightening. Blinded by emotion they vented their anger and frustration with impunity. It was not the first time the country had witnessed this kind of madness, but the scale was unprecedented. What happened last week did not come as a surprise. It was an implosion waiting to happen.

It is not just religious fanaticism that drove the young men to resort to senseless destruction. It also has much to do with the unparalleled ‘youth bulge’ that Pakistan is experiencing and the failure of the state to turn this young population into proactive citizens.

A weak state, unable to productively utilise a large, young generation of Pakistanis, has turned into a breeding ground for violent extremism. What happened last week was just a trailer of the horror that awaits us.

Pakistan is sitting on a potential demographic disaster with more than 100 million or 65 per cent of Pakistan’s population under 25 years of age. With an extremely low literacy rate and bleak job opportunities, the future prospects for the young generation are uncertain and dark. Growing frustration among the youth makes them vulnerable to prejudices and extremism.

The gravity of the situation can be assessed by the fact that 32 per cent of our young generation is illiterate and the majority of the others are school dropouts. Enrolment rates are the lowest in South Asia.

Pakistan’s spending on education is around two per cent of the economy, about half that spent by India. Even the education they receive hardly equips them to face the challenges of the globalised world they live in, further pushing them into isolation.

Moreover, the existing three-tier education system — elite private schools, public schools and madressahs — has widened the social, cultural and economic divide, making the less advantaged youth receptive to radical Islamic views. Their alienation and marginalisation has also produced a giant underclass more prone to extremism and violence. It has created a mindset that facilitates a militant agenda. Many studies have shown a direct link between religious extremism and social and economic marginalisation.

Pakistan needs at least a six to seven per cent annual economic growth rate to absorb millions of people entering the job market every year. The population of the unemployed has drastically risen with economic growth rate averaging less than three per cent over the past five years, thus creating a dangerous situation. The instability resulting from severe demographic pressures have led to civil war in many countries. Pakistan will not be far away from that situation if the drift continues. The growing alienation of young generations and their feelings towards the government and state have been illustrated in a study conducted by the British Council at the end of 2009. The finding drew an alarming picture of a young generation deeply frustrated by the state of affairs and despondent about their future. Politically disillusioned, it was found to have little faith in the government and key institutions of the state. The despair among the youth is deep-seated given the present conditions. With no or little education and lack of economic opportunities, they have not much to look forward to.

According to the study, an overwhelming majority of young Pakistanis believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Most see themselves as Muslim first and Pakistani second. The majority of them do not consider democracy as the right system for Pakistan. Fewer are hopeful of getting jobs.

Although a very depressing scenario, such findings should have served as a wake-up call for the government. Instead, the situation has gotten worse over the last three years since the release of the report. There is complete absence of governance and the continuing downslide of the economy does not give much hope of things getting better.

Pakistan’s population has doubled in the last 40 years, a rate that is twice the world’s average. That has left the country struggling to provide for this rapidly expanding populace. With more people joining the ranks of the unemployed, the situation is explosive, providing more recruits to extremist and militant groups.

Pakistan could have used its demographic power to turn around the country’s economy, but with little investment in education and slow economic growth, the youth bulge is fast becoming a liability and serious threat to the country’s internal security. It is a nightmare scenario fast unfolding.     Pakistan has never had such a high proportion of young people and its large number is the face of today’s Pakistan. This new generation is also at the centre of an unresolved ideological struggle about what sort of country Pakistan should be.

While the state has failed to channel the energies of the young generation, militant groups have succeeded in mobilising a section of marginalised and alienated youth around their extremist slogans. The bankruptcy of the administration was laid bare when it adopted the agenda of extremist groups, ceding space to the mob. The government actually joined the mob by declaring a holiday on Friday, facilitating the violence.

What makes the situation more unsettling is the escalating militant insurgency in the northwest bordering Afghanistan. That has also provided a new cause for the radicalised youth. Thousands of them from across the country have joined the so-called jihad.

Firm and decisive action is needed to put Pakistan back on the path of social, economic and political stability. The consequence of further delay will be disastrous.

The writer is an author and a journalist.

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page


Comments (21) Closed

Stephanie Rudat ☮ (@srudat)
Sep 25, 2012 06:54am
They also turned out in droves to clean up the mess and show the governmental leaders what real leadership looks like. Project Clean Up For Peace is a true reflection of Pakistan. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Clean-Up-For-Peace/398863793512233
Krish Chennai
Sep 25, 2012 06:37am
You identified the problem(s), but nary a word on the solutions. I recall that the respected writer Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee wrote about precisely this subject, in his last article in Dawn. Young people should be given the confidence that there is a future for them, and kept fruitfully occupied, else "empty mind is a devil's workshop"
Sep 25, 2012 07:06am
Education is not the real answer sir, it is the only answer...though not one that may produce the immediate results we crave. It will provide lasting results if properly invested in and executed by the government and citizenry which, I realise, is a highly optimistic thought. But we can't give up on it or ignore it any longer. Education is not the same as schooling (though we don't even seem to have much schooling now) much like illiteracy should not immediately be equated with jahaalat. Of course, they are connected, but if the state of our schools and our teachers remains the same, if we send our youth into eight hours of the ratta-system per day, the disenfranchisementwill only continue and soar. The jahaalat eating up our society will spread, our government representatives and leaders will remain as they are and have been. Even our 'educated' people will not be truly educated, as you point out. The education solution needs to be played as a test innings and we can only hope the country doesn't burn itself to ashes in the meanwhile. I agree with the writer.
sarfraz masih
Sep 26, 2012 04:59am
it depends on what kind of education is here , informal and informal. our social actions are the product of our socialization.
Sep 25, 2012 05:31am
An excellent analysis. It feels really sad to read about the state of affairs in my neighbour country. As an Indian, I can only wish that the Pakistani govt would wake up to this situation and really do something to address this problem.
sarfraz masih
Sep 25, 2012 04:40am
there is immensely need of allocating national budget more than two percent for educational sector, monitoring and evaluation of schools and training of teachers, curriculum taught in those schools and one more thing which is very important in my perspective that is personalities invited in talk shows , and dramas many of them are also the catalyst of promoting fanaticism in Pakistan, religious scholars and personalities should always demonstrate the model of patience and tolerance not over hyping during conversation because this youth is more prone to electronic media now.
Sep 25, 2012 11:56am
me too. True Islamic state in the only solution.
Arman Mehmood
Sep 25, 2012 05:10am
Dont agree with the writer.
Ali Abbas
Sep 25, 2012 03:41pm
This writer like many other writers has tried to focus on simple rhetoric, "too little education and ineffective govt". Even though its true, writer failed to mention medias role to educate the population. What about the role of religious leaders in this countries, why not mention that "there is too much religion" in our public life and only superficial display of religion and not the essence of it. How about personal responsibilities? where are parents and elders in all this? We have pictures and movies of these people on camera, who is going to take suo moto notice against this? Please do not keep repeating same old mantra. The solution to this problem as its cause has to be more nuanced.
Bulusu S Murthy
Sep 25, 2012 05:03pm
Well said.
Sep 25, 2012 12:15pm
There is a difference between education and upbringing. Please don't confuse the two. I've met illiterates with far better upbringing and moral values than highly educated people who would have no qualms about getting elected and taking money from the national exchequer.
P N Eswaran
Sep 25, 2012 04:41pm
"With no or little education and lack of economic opportunities, they have not much to look forward to." Afia Siddique was a neuro physician, the New York bombing aspirant, Shahzad something was educated and from a privileged family, Ajmal Kasab, the Mumbai terror convict was uneducated poor, OBL was strikingly affluent. Lack of education and economic opportunities is the cause of social unrest in civilized societies where people look to make a mark in 'this' world. But to the 'other world' aspirants social destruction is a training to graduate to a suicide bomber.
Sep 25, 2012 02:32pm
Eduacated,motivated and self guided young generation are the key asset of any country if wish to have a progressive thought developement, children are similar to dam full of water, but canal will deside where water to move, and who will decide where to put canal?,I could see looking at current seniario "this young man are wrongly motivated capable people, and mentally torched by mullas religious fundamenalism with hatred, and feel unsecurity in social and politically.
Sep 25, 2012 07:50am
The change will come.
irfan durrani
Sep 25, 2012 07:31am
A very good picture has been drawn and government is no where in taking care of the whole society to take them towards the right direction. Its the responsibility of not only government but also our civil societies to play their role at national and international level. This blame games needs to be converted into positive outcomes.
Arbab Zahid
Sep 26, 2012 03:15pm
''It is not the neutrals or the lukewarms who make history'' - Adolf Hitler The so-called secular approach could not make a headway in turning the leaves of the fate by altering the historical facts and denying endevours of the freedom leaders. To you those heartrending miseries may sound like fiction and fairy tales depicted in syllabi, but it is due to those freedom fighters you are saved from the hegemony, as being faced by rohingyas in myanmar.
Sep 26, 2012 01:03am
very strange analysis of the situation - almost laughable.
Sep 25, 2012 03:50am
Is EDUCATING the youth the real answer to the problem of violent street protests ??? I am not sure. ARE EDUCATED PEOPLE MORE CIVIC MINDED ? MORE civilized ? Educated folk want to migrate ~~~yes.
A. Salma
Sep 25, 2012 05:35pm
"The gravity of the situation can be assessed by the fact that 32 per cent of our young generation is illiterate and the majority of the others are school dropouts...." I dont know if even education is the answer. The education material provided by state is full of bigotry, bias, prejudices and lies about hindus, jews and other majorities. History books reads like a bad fiction. Throw in the regular verbal diarrhea of the tv anchors and their invited right wing guests...from the retired military officers to the ulemas and you have a perfect environment for upbringing violent behaviour as witnessed on last friday. If the curriculum is not made 'secular' and all the hate materials removed, education(at least the public schools) is not going to help.
Sep 25, 2012 09:36am
Point made.We have educated illiterates everywhere.We have knowledge but not wisdom .Most terrorists were educated in that sense?
Sep 25, 2012 07:18pm
"True Islamic state" is a mirage.