Since its inception, Pakistan has witnessed multiple forms of government; weaved out of either democratic or authoritarian fabric. The decade of democracy (2008-2018) was considered as a triumph of democracy followed by another successful democratic transition in 2018. Yet over the course of past seven decades, Pakistan has not been able to strengthen its democracy. Why are we unable to consolidate democratic values, over such a long period?
As Abraham Lincoln stated “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Are people justly represented in Pakistan? According to 2017 census data, the total population of Pakistan exceeds 200 million, of which 63 percent comprises youth. According to UNFPA, 58.5 million are 20 - 24 years old while 69 million are under the age of 15. In Pakistan, the youth is defined within the age of 15-29 years. At the age of 18, every citizen is eligible to vote and at 25 can contest elections. The census data portrays, that a huge number of voters in the upcoming elections would be young women and men.
Whether Pakistani youth possess civic sense and competence? According to Gallup, the participation of youth in the political process has decreased over the years. The reasons for such low turnout ranges from lack of information and knowledge about the electoral process, civic responsibilities, high cost of travelling to the respective constituencies and the murkiness of the political system. The recent political tumult in the country depicts, if youth is not sufficiently educated about civic responsibilities, it would further weaken the democratic culture of Pakistan.
Is youth equipped with tools of critical thinking or merely gusts of information and communication technologies set trends and incites their political activism. On one hand, the information age, revolutionized by social media calls for digital literacy. The excessive influx of the information at times, even blanks the sane minds-let alone incognizant youth. On the other hand, to distinguish information, that is authentic and matters most, merely comes with lucidity of politico-philosophical sense.
In age of global citizenship, inclusion rather exclusion of young women and men can lead a country towards sustainable growth and development. The United Nations Agenda for 2030 considers youth as the key players of change. There are twenty targets out of six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that address youth. The Sustainable Development Goal no. 4 pertains to “Quality Education”. The mandate of this goal, specifically its target 4.7emphasizes issues such as human rights, gender equality, cultural diversity and culture of peace and non-violence.
Deplorably, the concept of civic education barely exists in Pakistan. In any nation building, its youth plays an indispensable role. Civic education enables politico-philosophical sense of youth, that helps them to learn and develop intellectual tools, to engage in constructive political, social and cultural activities. Therefore, stakeholders in power corridors, political entities in particular, must engage with youth, as they would navigate the course of a country in years to come.
It is pertinent to overcome social deficit of civil competence. Hence, civic education should be introduced as a separate subject in schools at all levels. Secondly, all political parties through their “Youth Fora’s/wings” should take on young their members to evolve their civic competency. For instance, their voice should be heard within the rank and file and participation in decision making process should be encouraged. Thirdly, the government should devise institutional mechanisms for capacity building. It can initiate effective consultations with socio-political scientists, members of civil society, including national and international partners and by setting short and long-term targets. Furthermore, trainings, seminars at different levels (local, district and division) and technology-driven policies for students and young professionals should be devised to strengthen democracy. Last but not least, the provincial governments of four provinces should legislate the bill for mandatory Civic Education in respective provinces. In addition, National Civic Education Commission Act 2018 should be implemented in its spirit. As Friedrich Ebert said “Democracy needs Democrats”, and a country where more than half of the total population is young can produce sufficient democrats. However, it can only happen by fostering the framework of civic education in Pakistan.
Edited by: Sidra Saeed, Programme Advisor, FES-Pakisan
Contributed by: Muhammad Murtaza Ali, Intern FES-Pakistan
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.