Regular users of social media will have heard the following joke. It goes something like this. A King was on his travels when he saw a merchant selling a donkey for an exorbitant amount. The next day, the King came upon the same merchant selling the same donkey for the same price. He found himself asking what was so special about his particular beast of burden. The merchant, for his part, quickly concocted a story about how a pious man, if he sits on the donkey, can see before his eyes a holy place of worship. To test the veracity of this, the King requested his wazir to do the needful. Once the latter was perched atop the donkey, he closed his eyes. After a while, the words “mashallah” burst from his lips as he confirmed that he could, indeed, see the holy place of worship before him. Fast-forward to present day Pakistan and there are some lessons to be learned from the above parable. Namely, that those who voted for PTI in the recent elections can clearly see the positive developments that party supremo, and now Prime Minister, Imran Khan had pledged. However, those who did not support him at the ballot-box remain blind to this promised sea of revolutionary change. It is hard to forget that sorry sight of a boy, with what looked like a bag of books on his shoulders, destroying a vehicle during the recent unrest in the country. And while many may link this act of violence to the acquittal of Aasia Bibi — I, as an academic, see things a little differently. And I respond by posing the following questions. Firstly, what gave this student the excuse to participate in such a wanton act of destruction? Secondly, what prevented him from differentiating between a protest for a specific cause and common-or-garden vandalism. Did he not fear arrest and the impact on his future? The fact of the matter is that the young generation are fed up with a poorly functioning economy. This, I believe, explains why so many girls are excelling in education: boys have simply given up and are looking beyond academia. If, against this grim economic backdrop, a radicalised politician succeeds in misguiding the masses in the name of Islam – then the country risks spiralling towards the abyss. It is therefore incumbent on the Centre to avoid policies that negatively impact the most vulnerable classes Growing income inequality, a dearth of opportunities, continued suspicion about young Pakistanis, a lack of basic infrastructure and resources, unequal access to education, as well as the fragile security situation are combining to push this generation towards the path of radicalisation. Admittedly, PM Khan has vowed to create some 10 million jobs for the young men and women of this country. Yet the growing rate of inflation tells a different story. And it is one of simple maths. Meaning that if single-income households do not have the means to provide for everyone — then children destined for school and beyond will likely fall through the education net. Such income-induced frustration is also partly behind increased violence, sectarianism and ethno-religious strife. Thus Pashtuns resent Urdu speakers as they assume that they ‘steal’ all managerial posts. Urdu speakers, for their part, feel the same way towards the Sindhis given that the latter bag the majority of provincial government jobs. And then both Sind his and Urdu speakers believe that the Punjabis have a monopoly on all federal positions. While Punjabis do not like anyone else; meaning those who accuse them of benefiting from an inequitable system. We may therefore conclude that income inequality along with rising inflation is unpicking the social fabric that everyone was so proud of when Pakistan came into being. The current set-up, much like those of the past, is keen to take the begging bowl to so-called friendly nations. But it is these loans that are pushing up the price of medicine, foot, fuel and housing. I have noticed the effect of this first-hand; whereby university-level students are dropping out to become drivers, either for companies such as Uber or local schools. Or else they find work in sales and marketing. Yet while this helps to meet income shortfalls — it also succeeds in robbing them of the intelligent creativity, not to mention enthusiasm, required to pursue degree programmes in in fields as diverse as computer science, medicine, engineering, and business and economics. Regardless of how extreme it may look, therefore, the Saudi model designed to recover money plundered from the national exchequer is perhaps the most effective. I, for one, hope that the Khan government recovers looted wealth — whether by hook or by crook. After all, those who are culpable spared no thought for the rule of law as they went about their securing their ill-gotten gains; while effectively robbing from the poor. Yet instead, the new regime has responded by further burdening the middle-class. My family consumes in excess of 300 units of energy every month. That we are able to do this is because we have worked hard over the years. It does not mean that we are wealthy and should incur the additional charges of an ill-advised price hike. Rising costs are pushing numerous products beyond the reach of middle-income citizens like myself; as we collectively plunge into the lower-middle-class bracket. Thus the Centre is punishing those whom it has pledged to protect. Steven Pearlstein of The Washington Post puts it best when he says: “rising income inequality has also changed the attitudes and behaviour of . . . voters, sowing resentment, fanning prejudice and eroding the sense of shared values, shared purpose and shared destiny that once held the country together”. This may well explain why we are in the grip of a mob mentality that sees young educated men engaging in violence. Ditto when it comes to the explosion of the so-called dharna culture. If, therefore, against this grim backdrop, a radicalised politician succeeds in misguiding the masses in the name of Islam — then the country risks spiralling towards the abyss. It is necessarily incumbent on the Centre to avoid policies that negatively impact the most vulnerable classes. For any government of the day is tasked with improving living standards; not the opposite. This is sadly not the case in today’s Pakistan. And if this is not remedied at the earliest then it will become almost impossible to deal with increased radicalisation. The author is an Assistant Professor Published in Daily Times, November 6th 2018.