HELLO there, it’s me again. We know each other, though it tends to slip out of your memory from time to time. That’s alright though, because it never slipped out of mine. You know me by many names, some of them quite flattering. But to put it nicely, I’ve been seeing a disconnect between words and action. To put it bluntly, we need to talk.
Let me first get introductions out of the way. I’m the silent majority of one of the youngest nations on the planet — 63 per cent of its population and barely a sliver of its political representation. Occasionally declared a tiger, regularly employed to fuel popular movements, consistently forgotten once those movements bear fruit. I am the naujawaan, the gen-Z, the vehemently neglected yet persistently hopeful future of this country — its youth.
And then, there is you — the reader of this paper. An unthinkably diverse consortium of anomalies, with notable inclusions. This country is run by men in high offices. In every office is a desk. And on every desk, every morning, is Dawn. You are the federal minister sipping his morning tea, the bureaucrat on her chauffeur-driven commute, the justice in between his judgements. But crucially, what you are not — is me. You are not the section of society devoting exponentially greater time to TikTok than op-eds. For whatever reason, my generation seems to have better things to do than read the paper.
Considering this, I’m cognisant of how unlikely it is that my words are reaching you here. Indeed, many who write for publications of this stature have been doing so for longer than I have been alive. And while that’s nothing unnatural, it opens the question: where exactly do such disconnects stem from? Earlier pieces have laid out how an exaggerated emphasis on seniority above merit holds Pakistan back. With every seat at the table refused to the new and reserved for the old, just how much of it is the former’s inexperience? How much of it the latter’s unease?
Will they speak out or will life move on?
Decisions made by senior leaders in realpolitik often had lasting effects on my generation’s childhood. Consider Pakistan’s role in the war on terror: in third grade, a suicide bombing next door shattered my classroom windows and sent us all scrambling out into the courtyard. I wish I could say the experience solidified my faith in good old Pakistani bravery, but the truth is my Urdu teacher had made a run for it before any of us had a clue what was going on. Bless her heart, I don’t blame her, and the rest of us made similar manoeuvres for self-preservation. I retreated to the safety of my home with surety that the worst had passed. Then a month later an explosion shattered the windows there too.
I’ll admit it feels strange, melodramatic even, to bring these instances up. After all, that was the world we all lived in. Life moved on. What worries me is what happens when the next generations open their eyes to a newer normal. When a world of filthy air, forever wars, and crumbling economies are all they have ever known, will they speak out, or will life move on for them too?
But of course, none of this is your fault. It is everyone’s, and therefore, no one’s. Mohsin Hamid wrote in The Reluctant Fundamentalist of inequality and ambition; there are some people born outside of the candy store, and others born on its threshold, watching as the door closes shut. The volatility of this country makes it feel like a revolving door, offering glimmers of hope and rude awakenings to reality. The youth of Pakistan might be on the threshold of take-off, or the edge of a cliff.
As to who led us to those cliffs, I couldn’t disparage those who came before me even if I tried. Because of course, that’s how my elders raised me. What I can do, however, is solidify a pledge on these pages. In the decades to come, if I fail to contribute to the fight against climate change, if I succumb to the seductions of self-interest, if I find myself sacrificing merit at the altar of seniority, may those who succeed me exercise their right to demand answers. Where I still fail, may they step in to make the decisions for themselves.
There is currently a youth election quota bill pending before parliament. Spearheaded by researcher and youth activist Shaheera Jalil Albasit, it proposes fair representation of youth not just in election tickets, but party leadership as well. Much like those it aims to uplift, this bill could do wonders if taken seriously. But its fate comes down to you, dear reader. The opportunity is there to back up words of appreciation with meaningful representation. Are you going to capture it, or just let it slip?
It’s said that youth is wasted on the young. If it were up to me, I’d give some of mine to you. But until I can, I look towards those who will succeed me. If we can’t give them a liveable planet, a stable economy, and freedom from perpetual conflict, the least we can give them is a chance.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist from Okara.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022