It is a common practice in developed countries that those who have achieved a prominent position in their respective fields visit universities to educate, enlighten, and groom the younger generation. The year 2008 saw one of the biggest election campaigns in the history of the United States, and perhaps the world. At the time, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain left no stone unturned in their battle for the Oval Office. Not only did they focus the masses, but they also focused on another group of Americans – the educated youth.
Obama visited the state university at Wyoming and, as president, he visited the University of Maryland; first to gather votes, then to garner support for his health care reforms. This is not a new phenomenon in American history: candidates who have run for elections at the presidential, state, and local level have almost always paid visits to universities. This outreach helps politicians come closer to an educated and politically engaged segment of society and aids them in making a connection meant to last for years.
Now, let’s take a minute to turn to ourselves. Pakistan is a country marred with poverty and conflict. It has one of the highest levels of corruption, and one of the lowest levels of literacy. The rich become richer, and the poor struggle to survive. But let us cut to the chase. Why do we have such problems? Could any of our so-called educated elite address some of these issues in an informed way? Why is the majority of young Pakistanis oblivious to national policies and their far-reaching impact?
Given the lack of awareness about political issues at the college and university level, it would be nice to see our president make a campus visit. But for the current government, this has been an unknown trend. No doubt, a few senators have spoken at universities: recently, the son of the Punjab Chief Minister visited a university in Faisalabad. But even if a politician makes it over to a campus in an effort to directly address the country’s educated youth, they restrict their comments to one issue: terrorism.
A general commentary includes expected phrases about the war against terrorism being ‘our’ war, about the supremacy of government writ, and about the evils of Blackwater. Rather than describe the country’s law and order situation to youngsters, politicians speaking at universities should be prescriptive. They should tell the youth how they can participate in nation-building, how they can help those affected by the war against terror, and why their pro-active energies matter. More importantly, politicians should use the opportunity to explain the challenges facing this country and articulate the concerns that plague the average, non-elite population.
It is also important that politicians recast themselves as a ray of hope for the country’s youth. The people who roam the so-called corridors of power need to come out and tell the youth that the country’s situation will get better; that Pakistan, even though it is going downhill, has a large, young population that, if properly motivated, can bring about a change.
The problem is, our government talks the talk about democracy, but rarely walks the walk. It does not address the masses before announcing a decision that affects them, nor does it bother to gather support from the youth that will have to live with the long-term fallout of the decision. If taken into confidence, Pakistani youngsters could contribute alternative ideas and instill strength in this otherwise fragile leadership.
Young Pakistanis – even those who have the rare opportunity to seek out a higher education – are apolitical and uninformed, or worse, deeply enmeshed in campus politics on the basis of strength in numbers rather than ideology. Youngsters remain oblivious to Pakistan’s national policies because they are kept secret until it is decided what needs to be done. Rather than let this non-intellectual elite proliferate, the government should prioritise consensus building and the bringing together of the educated youth.