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Little concern for Pakistani youth

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Every society tends to ignore its more troublesome characteristics. Most often, they are taken for granted because their recognition would be painful for those who want to maintain the status quo. There is nothing surprising, then, if the rulers in this country show little concern when their actions subject the citizens to the greatest psychological strains.

This indifference is usually disguised by a kind of rhetoric, which prevents real understanding of the situation. Against this background, let us look at the problems of the youth in Pakistan. From different platforms (official as well non-official), young men and women are told that they live in a God-given country, achieved in the name of Islam after sacrificing thousands of lives in a long struggle against the infidels.

Having been reminded of this fact, they are called upon to sacrifice their lives for the defence of the ideological frontiers of the state. From these quarters, efforts are being made to convince the youth that because of the great sacrifices of their elders, they live amidst unprecedented new opportunities that could have never come their way in an undivided India. The purpose of all this is very clear: to leave the youth with the illusory conviction that the mere fact of achieving independence is sufficient to prevent them from thinking what happened in this country after 1947.

Knowing fully well the emptiness of such sermonising, the youth draws its own conclusions about the social realities on the basis of its daily experiences. However, in shaping the overall behaviour of the youth, political oppression of the past five decades has played a most significant role. A Pakistani, hardly 40 years old has, in such a short period of his life, witnessed two horrible wars, three martial laws and one military-dominated civil rule, which continued from 1999 to 2007, the murder of three prime ministers, political torture of the crudest form, mass imprisonment, victimisations of people in the name of religion, sectarian and ethnic clashes, muzzling of Press and Judiciary by the executive and, most painful of all, public and political hangings. All this has inculcated in him the deepest sense of cynicism. Cynicism is the key word to explain the general attitude of our youth towards life. For them the only reality of life is an endless struggle for adjustment with a system based on oppression, inequality and injustice. Their cynicism is, thus, totally justified.

To have grown up in families where unquestionable obedience to parents (authority) is expected, money and power are the most cherished values, caste and creed have been very important issues and sect and ethnic affiliations are considered a sacred theme. The young people have seen at least one thing: the obvious contradiction between the principles and practice of elders. This has led to what can be termed as institutionalisation of hypocrisy. The gap between values and actual practice is accepted as a fundamental truth of life. The Pakistani youth faces a number of problems like unemployment, deteriorating academic standards, political violence on campuses, pressures of a rigid family system and alienation. But like other sections of society, the youth, too, is divided: some of them are defenders of the present system; others oppose it and aspire for a change.

The youth’s revolt or organised opposition against the established system, as we have witnessed in the West during the 1960s, is almost non-existent in our society. But, of course, it is understandable that in our peculiar political conditions it has been very difficult to organise students and other young people as an effective political force. Nobody, except the religious, obscurantist groups, has tried to use their potential for bringing about a change in society, although they displayed their strength and importance during the campaign against the Ayub government. That was a spontaneous reaction, not a planned one.

In our present-day reality, the most disturbing aspect of the youth’s behaviour is the growing use of narcotics, especially heroin. This phenomenon cannot be viewed in isolation from the existing socio-political and economic realities. The concern shown by official quarters always tends to ignore the relationship between drug abuse and the existing social pressures. The end result is the exaggeration, misconception and misunderstanding of the entire problem. Instead of looking into the factors behind drug addiction, the authorities are busy showing their concern over the rapid increase in the number of addicts every year.

Many years back, on the New Year’s Eve, Mahir Ali, a journalist friend wrote: “Nineteen eighty-four is here. And the people have a choice. If they have no raison d’etre, why don’t they smoke heroin instead? The same is true, I think, in 2010. Who is responsible for the heroinisation of Pakistan? Thank God, the authorities have failed to see any foreign hand in this entirely self-created problem.

A country-wide survey on drug addiction, carried out in 2009, estimates the rate of drug addiction in the country at over 15 per cent among the youth. In 1995, the total number of addicts in the country was 3.01 million, which has now risen to over 5 million. According to a conservative estimate, the rate of increase is 40,000 per year. The most disturbing fact revealed by the survey is the growing number of heroin addicts in the country, with the average age of users falling below 24. According to an estimate, there are over 2 million heroin addicts in Pakistan at the moment.

A survey of 10 colleges and two universities of Lahore, conducted by us, has shown some horrible facts related to drug abuse among students. According to the survey, the majority of students surveyed (67%) reported using one or more drugs. This and many other surveys clearly show the rising number of young drug addicts in the country. A number of research studies done in Western countries associated drug experimentation with the failure of the education system to address the needs of the young for personal identity, self-esteem and social competence.

The important question is: how much is drug use related to our value system? In our society the growth of drug use among the youth is a manifestation of non-conformity and a quest for self- expression in a social set-up which has little to offer them. They are victims of the authoritarian attitudes of parents and teachers, are resentful of social restraints and above all, suffer from lack of love and affection. Then, nobody is willing to understand their problems sympathetically.

Rejection of the unfortunate addict, juvenile delinquent and dissident young person is an easy escape from collective responsibility. Those who control the existing institutions and matter in the land must realise that the young people detest the prevailing set-up because they observe and know how much cruelty and stupidity contribute to the strengthening of this oppressive system. These young people no longer want to be a part of this oppression and cruelty. A majority of them have no alternative.

(The writers, visiting professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences, specialise in studying narco-terrorism and global heroin economy. They are co-authors of internationally acclaimed books, Pakistan: From Hash to Heroin and its sequel Pakistan: From Drug-trap to Debt-trap)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2010

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