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Generation Y to the Rescue

November 15, 2011

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

In popular parlance, the term “Generation Y” is loosely used to refer to the generation born in the early 80s. As the Pakistani Generation Y seeks to take centre stage and make its presence felt in the political arena, it is worthwhile to take a look at the experiences that have shaped its world view.

In the midst of Generation Y’s formative years (1988-97), Pakistan went through four elections in a span of less than nine years. The overriding narrative of that phase of our history is of politicians playing a game of musical chairs, taking turns to deceive the nation and line their pockets. While it is difficult to draw positives from an era as dark as that, it would be naive to dismiss the experience as an exercise in futility.

For the generation that grew up in the Pakistan of the 90s, elections were a time of great festivity. Schools were closed, corner rallies were witnessed in every town and heated political debates were a favoured pastime. PTV being the only show in town enjoyed a monopoly on the coverage, but it did not disappoint. As if the election results were not gripping enough, PTV added sonay pai suhaga by churning out classics like “Sheeda Tully.” Oblivious of terms like ‘Establishment’, ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ and the diabolical ‘Greater National Interest’, the youth of that era soaked in the experience. Seeing the democratic process in action made it a part of their collective consciousness.

This gluttony of democracy coincided with the end of Zia’s era. The generation of that era grew up under the hangover of Zia’s 'Islamization' drive. Today there seems to be unanimous agreement that this ‘Islamization’ was a ruse meant to put on an Islamic facade on the society for reasons of expediency. In his book "Pakistan: A Personal History” (p 77), Imran Khan says that Zia's Islamization "did not bring me closer to religion," instead it had the "opposite effect". Famous writer and a contributor to these pages, Nadeem Paracha has not minced words in describing the hypocrisy of that age either.

While this Islamization drive may have been the height of hypocrisy, there was no way the impressionable youth of that era could discern that. We grew up convinced that Pakistan was the perfect Islamic Republic. I recall an incident in my 9th grade Islamiat class where the entire class consisting of children of the elite of the society were up in arms

against our teacher for insinuating that Pakistan was not an Islamic state in the true sense. In time, this generation grew to see Zia’s Islamization as fake, but its Islamic hue refused to dissipate. Instead it became an intrinsic part of its ethos.

Today that generation has come of age. Thanks to the real-life civics lessons it received earlier, it is a generation that has no inherent aversion to democracy. In fact, it is a generation for whom democracy and the electoral process is second nature.The muted elections of 2002 and the NRO-cum-emergency stained elections of 2008 have not done much to enhance the reputation of the democratic process, but democracy in of itself has not been discredited, This generation has not yet given up on democracy, and believes that if the kinks in it are straightened, democracy can deliver them the change they pine for.The great interest in registering to vote in recent times and the talk of a ‘soft revolution’ brought about in a peaceful manner are testaments to that.

The Islamic tinge of this generation is no secret either. A study conducted by the British Council in 2009 revealed that 72 per cent of Pakistanis between the ages of 18-29 believe their primary identity is Muslim. This is a direct consequence of being exposed to the remnants of Zia’s rule.

Empowered by the print, electronic and social media, our Generation Y is intent on becoming masters of its own destiny. By espousing ideals that resonate with them, Imran Khan has successfully coalesced the vast majority of this generation around him. While it would be  foolish to dismiss the potential of a motivated populace with a charismatic leader at its head, the long term prospects for the success of this generation in bringing about change is inextricably linked to how it organizes itself and how durable its enthusiasm levels are. Initial signs are promising.

Allama Iqbal had declared democracy as the “most important aspect of Islam” and a “political ideal”. Through a dysfunctional upbringing and a tumultuous coming-of-age, the Pakistani Generation Y seems to have kept its wits about them and reached the same conclusion as Iqbal. Armed with its innate sense of identity and a penchant to express itself democratically, it is poised to rescue Pakistan from the edge of an abyss. If it succeeds, Revolution would be an understatement for what it will have achieved.

Irfan Waheed is an engineer working in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at or on twitter.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.