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'Pakistan's youth is frustrated, discontented with political leadership'

December 19, 2011 12:52 IST

Moeed Yusuf, South Asia advisor at the United States Institute of Peace and one of the rising stars among South Asia policy wonks in the country, who has done extensive field research on the youth of Pakistan, has said they are virulently anti-extremist.
 
He said that 67.1 percent of the Pakistani population is below the age of 30 and "So, wherever this particular demographic decides to take Pakistan, is going to be the destiny of this country."
 
"It is still a highly conservative generation that is coming up, not to be confused with extremism. But it is acutely aware of its sects and ethnicity, which may or may not change from the older Pakistan," he said.
 
He said, "In terms of politics, it is increasingly frustrated, discontented with the political leadership, be it in the current government or whoever has been ruling them in the past."
 
Yusuf said the youth of Pakistan were "very impatient for change" and while "they do support democracy more than not, there is no real philosophical commitment to democracy as being the only system available to them to go with."
 
But he said, "The most interesting aspect that I found over and over again even in my anecdotal evidence of talking to people across Pakistan of this generation: they are frustrated, they are willing to criticise, but none of them are willing to touch politics because it is dirty business."
 
"So, the obvious question is, you want change, you want positive change, (but) you are not willing to change anything yourself, and so you go back to the same leadership."
 
Yusuf said, "This is an unresolved paradox for Pakistan," and added, "with the current mindset, the mindset is anti-extremist, and terrorism is not popular, contrary to what many would believe, but at the same time, avidly anti-US as well, and the two co-exist and will continue to exist."
 
He predicted that the narrative of the "extreme right will continue, getting conflated with anti-Americanism and this imperialism that is being imposed upon the region and Muslims in Pakistan."
 
"So that conflation, the trajectory then is anti-extremism, anti-US at the same time," he said, "And, if you translate it into what it means for the Pakistan-US relationship, you go from crisis to crisis."
 
Yusuf drew the analogy of "terrible spouses who don't want to get divorced for all the childcare costs attached to it, but you basically go from a fight to the next one."
 
Meanwhile, with regard to the Pakistani educational system, Yusuf said, 'It is very comparable to the rest of South Asia -- which is to say, it is terrible.'
 
He acknowledged, "There is an obvious conservative bias, but that is what you will see across the region for the most part."
 
"Where we miss the point is talking about education in isolation," Yusuf argued, and said, "The context is more important and the context -- where the young Pakistani generation is now coming up in -- is not conducive to tolerance."
 
He said, "It is becoming more and more intolerant," but reiterated that he did not believe "it is becoming extremist in the sense that we use the term, but it is certainly becoming more intolerant and polarized."

Aziz Haniffa Washington, DC