Written by Momina Sahar

International Youth Day is commemorated annually on August 12th to draw attention to issues concerning the youth and the fundamental causes of such issues. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness about youth engagement in political, cultural and legal issues and contributes to creating stronger and more inclusive communities.

In a national context, this day is of immense importance to Pakistan considering a major portion of the total population consists of people ranging from the ages of 15 to 25. The youth of Pakistan are the critical juncture of Pakistan’s development. The country can capitalize on this demographic divide for a more sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic growth. 

Unfortunately, the other path of the crossroads would lead to a swarm of unskilled and unequipped individuals who would be a major liability on the already scarce resources of the country. If we, as a nation, want to steer clear of the disastrous results it could bring, it is important to hold discussions regarding the role of youth in policy-making and equip them with an understanding of the factors affecting their social and economic status. 

To overcome the multifarious challenges that the country is faced with, an educated, well informed and politically aware youth can prove to be a national treasure. Overlooking the concerns of the youth can bring convulsive and disastrous consequences as Pakistan has already seen in the past where young people have repeatedly been used as fuel for religious and ethnic extremism and intolerance. 

To counter this, young people in the country need to be educated about their role in establishing accountability and a transparent governance system. Making policies and formulating laws in close accordance with such a large portion of the population will result in the benefits of the youth being prioritized and their energies and talents channeled in a way that is productive, sustainable and all-inclusive, leading to social cohesion, economic prosperity as well as incubating peaceful communities. 

An important step in this process was an initiative led by Transparency International on International Youth Day this year. A webinar took place with a panel of prestigious politicians and MNAs from the major political parties in Pakistan. The panel discussion was primarily focused on the youth dialogue with policy makers and how the youth can influence, change or create public policy decisions.  

During the hour and a half session, the representatives of the various political parties were asked to announce the authority, recognition and role they have accorded to youth in their respective factions. However, it was observed with concern that the speakers were hardly able to comprehensively describe the role their parties played or plan on playing to promote youth inclusion in policy-making and to harness the youth with the proper knowledge, skills, attitude, social awareness and enthusiasm for much needed socioeconomic development. 

Although the session was youth-focused, there was lack of youth representation in the panel of discussion which consequently led to a more traditional style of debate. Most of the representatives advertised their respective political party’s contributions to the cause through pre-established programs rather than mapping out the next steps for further improvement on the matter. 

A few questions from the youth in the audience were brushed off with evasive responses due to the panelists being unaware of youth issues. Political parties need to come out of the game of mere electables and start to include people in their parties with a broader vision about their role in framing policies and laws which best serve the people of Pakistan while including the voices of youth who represent a gigantic 64% of the population. 

We see most political parties being led by the immediate descendants of their founders and similarly the concept of integrity and transparency no longer exists in most sections of their governance. There is also an inadequate intersection between youth and governments and to foster this relationship, student unions in universities and colleges could play a crucial role in outlining a set of rules and regulations that provides a reasonable balance between rights and responsibilities for the youth. 

As we further progress into setting our heart into more inclusive societies and hold dialogues where such topics are brought to the surface and discussed thoroughly, it is important for political parties to ensure that they are represented by individuals who are sensitized about the subject matter and make an effort in generating fruitful results from the discussion. 

For similar sessions, having panelists from the political parties to be chosen from the youth would better enable them to identify problem areas and come up with practical and serviceable solutions for them.  In times like these it is crucial to hold discussions around matters concerning the future of the nation of 216.6 million people, especially the 64% of it labelled as the youth.