is programme associate with the Asia Program at the Washington, DC-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is responsible for research, programming, and publications on South Asia. Much of his work has focused on resource shortages in Pakistan. He was th...
Prospects for youth-led movements for political change in Pakistan
Michael Kugelman, 16 January 2012
This policy brief assesses the potential for two types of youth-led political change movements in Pakistan. One is an Arab Spring-like campaign, fuelled by demands for better governance and new leadership. The other is a religious movement akin to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which seeks to transform Pakistan into a rigid Islamic state. The brief discusses the presence in Pakistan of several factors that suggest the possibility of the emergence of an Arab Spring-type movement. These include economic problems; corruption; a young, rapidly urbanising and disillusioned population; youth-galvanising incidents; and, in Imran Khan, a charismatic political figure capable of channelling mass sentiment into political change.
Pakistan is too fractured, unstable and invested in the status quo to launch a mass change movement, and talk of an Arab Spring is misguided in a nation that already experienced mass protests in 2007. Moreover, religion is too divided and polarised, and religious leadership too lacking in charisma and appeal to produce such a movement. Notwithstanding, there are several reasons why Pakistan could witness a religiously rooted revolution. These include Pakistanis’ intense religiosity and the growing influence in Pakistan of an Islamist political party that seeks to install caliphates in Muslim countries.
Even without youth-led mass change movements, urbanisation and political devolution ensure that Pakistan will undergo major transformations. While emphasising that Pakistan must take ultimate responsibility over issues of youth engagement, the brief offers several recommendations for how Europe can help Pakistani young people engage peacefully in the country’s inevitable process of change. These include funding vocational skills certification programmes, financing incentives to keep children in school, supporting civic education courses and sponsoring interfaith dialogue conferences.