While the seat of power in Pakistan still remains mostly in the hands of few dynasties, which take turns in having their go in assuming control, democracies around the world more than a century old and firmly rooted, are welcoming young leaders to pump fresh blood in already robust systems.
New Zealander Jacinda Arden, who at 37 will be the world’s youngest female leader and has only recently formed a government, pledges to be a progressive leader, saying that she would build a “fairer, better” version of her country. She plans to tackle climate change and improve equality for women in the workplace and at home. Incidentally, when Arden took over her party three months ago rather reluctantly, after having said earlier that the only way she would ever lead New Zealand’s Labour party would be if her entire caucus was hit by a bus and she was the “designated survivor”, she was drawn into a sexism row after being asked if having a baby would affect her chances of becoming the prime minister.
Two years ago when Justin Trudeau became the second youngest prime Minister of Canada at the age of 43, there were many reasons for which he gained fame. With his jaw dropping good looks he won instant popularity with his admirers ranging from the common to the royal. Trudeau quickly appointed a gender balanced cabinet with 15 male and 15 female members, because the self proclaimed feminist Prime minister at the time said, “it’s 2015”. In sharp contrast to his neighbouring head of state, he has shown much tolerance towards immigrants, relaxing laws processing their citizenship status and allowing entry of nearly 40,000 Syrian immigrants and has encouraged interfaith harmony. He vowed in his acceptance speech to bring all Canadians together and promised tax reforms, with the economic performance in his two year tenure showing an increase of 400,000 new jobs. He is however, criticised for not having done much for the indigenous Canadians.
Things are a bit tough for Trudeau ‘s French counterpart, another young leader for a country well known for its people’s revolution. Emmanuel Macron made waves not just by becoming the youngest head of state in the history of France, but his personal life also became the focus of media’s attention, with his wife being 24 years his senior and having met him as his drama teacher in high school. Pierre de Villiers, the Chief of the Defence Staff stepped down following a confrontation with Macron, with de Villiers citing the military budget cut of €850 million as the main reason for stepping down. Macron’s plan to give his wife an official role within the government came under fire with criticisms ranging from it being undemocratic to contradicting his fight against nepotism. He received criticism for commenting on issues in Africa and calling them ‘civilisational’, a remark termed racist by his critics. However, Macron supports the open-door policy toward refugees from the Middle East and Africa pursued by Angela Merkel in Germany and promotes tolerance towards immigrants and Muslims . Macron and Merkel have also agreed to draw a ‘common roadmap’ for Europe, insisting that neither was against changes in the Treaties of the European Union. He criticised Donald Trump for pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, also calling for scientists to come to France in order to work together on climate change. During Macron’s Presidency, 120,000 jobs are to be cut from the French civil service, and French companies would gain more flexibility on working hours and pay.
So which young leaders can we look up to in Pakistan? The ones who are contesting for power, perform to already existing policy frameworks and are expected to push already established agendas. Bhutto failed to deliver his promise of roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter), but nearly half a century later, his manifesto is still used to secure votes. The young politicians of Pakistan have no vision of their own, no political standing or struggle to their credit. Without their family backgrounds, they would be nobody. Apart from either defending their predecessors’ legacies or criticising their opponents’ moves, they have no issue to talk about. And issues are plenty in Pakistan. From social injustices, gender inequality, violation of human rights to economic failures, energy crisis, civil – military – judicial clashes and dismal foreign policy, there are many, many agendas which can be addressed by a promising future leader. But then promises are meant to be broken, for there are many made here yet few delivered.
This year, upon his election, 38 year-old Jagmeet Singh became the first person of a minority group to lead a Canadian federal political party on a permanent basis, while four years ago, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz became Europe’s youngest foreign minister at the age of 27. Back here in Pakistan, a seasoned and celebrated cricketer of yesteryear and relatively a new entrant in politics of the present is pinned by many as the only hope, while a former prime minister serving three incomplete terms is still wondering mujhay kiyoon nikala at his unceremonial ouster and his heir apparent seems mostly interested in avenging the ‘enemies’.
As we witness a wave of energy in foreign politics, the lull of lethargy continues to sweep over Pakistani political scene, with promising young leaders either seeking greener pastures abroad or being pushed out of the system or simply nauseating from the toxic effects of bureaucracy.
“A thousand of old man are just able to dream, but a young man is able to change the world.” –Sukarno