“The youth have come out and become politically conscious for the first time in the history of Pakistan. This will change, for good, the fortunes of this otherwise godforsaken country. The youth turnout in the last elections was incomparable to the past.

“This new political consciousness among youth will determine the fate of this country. They are brimming with energy, a desire for change and a yearning for a better, prosperous Pakistan. This consciousness, energy and drive are nothing we have experienced ever before. The PTI not only provides that leadership to the youth but has also introduced young women and men to the political mainstream. They have altered the political landscape and have had younger people elected to the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also to the National Assembly. There is a change in the offing, a permanent change, a change for good.”

The above is what we hear day in and day out from different quarters. It is not entirely wrong as far as the increase in youth population is concerned, termed the ‘youth bulge’ in a number of developing countries including Pakistan. However, the rest of the argument about a new consciousness, a younger leadership and a new overnight change in our fate is simply wrong.

Let me take you back in history, some of it recent. The Lucknow Pact, the most important political agreement in the history of our independence before the Lahore Resolution of 1940, was made between the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League in 1916. Quaid-e-Azam was 39 at the time. More importantly, the independence movement and its offshoot in our case – the Pakistan movement – were run by the All India Muslim Students Federation and a younger leadership of both Congress and Muslim League. However, the top leadership was provided by people who were older and wiser but grew up with the movement.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was 39 when he founded the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967 and was only 42 when he became the head of the state. His power came from a vibrant and ideologically motivated students’ movement of the 1960s and the trade union movement led by people who were in their 30s and 40s. Those people had a clear understanding of global and regional history and politics.

Also look at the age of Z A Bhutto’s cabinet members at that time and the followers who flocked to his rallies and worked for his success. He was only 51 when hanged by a military dictator. He had a number of weaknesses and made incorrect decisions during his career, advertently or inadvertently. However, few would challenge his political acumen, leadership ability and a deep sense of making Pakistan strong and stable.

Benazir Bhutto started her struggle at the young age of 26. When she landed in Lahore in 1986, hundreds of thousands of people received her, most of them young. She became the first woman to become the prime minister of a Muslim-majority country at the age of 35. After a turbulent political career, full of misery and suffering, when she landed in Karachi on October 18 2007, those who received her in hundreds of thousands were mostly young women and men.

Check out the age profile of all who died in the bomb blasts on that fateful day in Karachi. When Benazir was killed after an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27 2007, she was only 54. She had some uncles from his father’s time around him but most of the people who worked with her were either younger or a little older than herself. She had a massive following among the youth, particularly in Sindh, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan. The People’s Students Federation and People’s Youth Organisation provided much-needed support to the main party all along.

Nawaz Sharif first became the prime minister of this country when he was 40. He had many young followers, voters and party members supporting him. He was a protégé of Gen Ziaul Haq but there was a right-wing youth following that he enjoyed through the Muslim Students Federation and other such outfits. Likewise, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s real backbone was and remains the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba. That is where former JI amirs, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Munawwar Hasan came from. That is where the current amir – in his late 40s – comes from.

The Mohajir Qaumi Movement, which later became the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was a party led and run by the youth. Altaf Hussain was only 30 when he founded the MQM, a party born out of a youth and students movement in urban areas of Sindh. It still has a major youth following and people they return to the assemblies in Karachi or Islamabad present a mix of younger politicians and seasoned ones. But seasoned ones like Farooq Sattar have come also grown with the party. Sattar himself was one of the youngest mayors ever of such a large metropolis when he got elected as mayor of Karachi at the age of 28.

Then there are the smaller parties of Sindhi nationalists, Baloch nationalists, Pakhtun nationalists, etc. All began with the youth and a large number of their constituents are younger people. The Awami National Party, a derivative of the National Awami Party of yesteryears, banked heavily on the Pakhtun Students Federation and Pakhtun youth who believed in equal provincial and national rights for Pakhtuns and other smaller nationalities, socialist ideology and democracy.

The incumbent chief minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik, was a student leader in the Baloch Students Organisation and then a young leader of Balochistan National Movement when he also won a seat in 1988 elections and became a provincial minister at the age of around 30. He then became a leader of the National Party that runs the Balochistan government now.

In Pakistan’s history, it has always been the youth who have participated in political movements and struggled for democratic, provincial and economic rights. The purely leftist parties never succeeded in getting parliamentary seats but politically mobilised and ideologically educated hundreds of thousands of youth and students in the history of Pakistan.

The earliest sacrifices given for establishing a just and egalitarian economic order in Pakistan were offered by the Democratic Students Federation in Karachi. The Bengali rights movement was run by youth and students in former East Pakistan. In West Pakistan, parties like the National Students Federation (all factions) and National Students Organisation played a major role until Gen Zia banned student unions. Even now, they exist and earnestly try to motivate the younger population.

The question is: why are the youth who support the PTI today seen as a new phenomenon when it has always been the youth who have participated in political movements? In one’s humble view, it is not about the youth, but really about social class. There is a new power centre that has emerged in Pakistan. This social class was always there but it has now gathered critical mass to become visible and voluble – the affluent urban (and semi-urban) educated middleclass.

The younger lot belonging to this class may get outnumbered by other segments of society but are more visible on the media and occupy our imagination as all modern institutions of state and society are dominated by their class and, therefore, they make their demands heard more forcefully. And this class is intrinsically anti-democratic, being intolerant of any differing view since all others are seen to be either captive, irrational or sold out. Being politically conservative and lacking basic knowledge of history and political processes, it seeks management solutions for political problems.

In brief, then, youth is not the right category to analyse the current political landscape of Pakistan. It is the class to which the more talked about youth of today belong.

The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.