Unbearable lightness of being

The constitution of 56 is no longer with us but even so, it changed the country’s status from a dominion to a republic

Farrukh Khan Pitafi March 23, 2024
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and policy commentator. Follow his WhatsApp channel ‘Farrukh K Pitafi’ for the latest updates


Diwaar kya giri meray khasta makan ki

Logon ne mere sehn mein rastay bana liye

(The wall of my ruined house barely crumbled

And people made pathways through my courtyard)

Apart from its pageantry, every year, Pakistan Day offers a unique opportunity to reflect, take stock, rearrange and reorganise. It is also called Pakistan Resolution Day. The resolution still stands. It is also known as Republic Day because the 1956 constitution came into effect on this day, too. The constitution of 56 is no longer with us, but even so, it changed the country’s status from a dominion to a republic. The Republic still stands. Yeah, sort of. So, all those who resent calling it by that name do not matter.

I do not know if you have noticed that each passing year we celebrate this day with grimmer and grimmer realities poking fun at us. We do not give up (which is good). Some even say acknowledging the corrosion that has set in may only encourage it. But denial is not a river in Pakistan. The grim realities are there whether you like it or not.

Grim reality number one: only a couple of days ago, people watched with considerable nerves as the transparency and legitimacy of the country’s recent elections were debated in a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives. Once upon a time, a joint session of the US Congress had given a standing ovation to Pakistan’s then-Prime Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, as a symbol of democracy and hope eternal. Now, a visibly sceptical subcommittee questioned an assistant secretary of state on his alleged involvement in a plot to depose an ageing ex-premier, whose supporters refuse to see any non-religious political party as a legitimate force. It was they who had necessitated this hearing. Only they shouted angrily when the mid-career office bearer denied the conspiracy theories. They behaved as if he was the governor-general of Pakistan. It was them alone who cheered and clapped as one lawmaker after another criticised the state apparatus of Pakistan. All this is done by your own beloved citizens abroad and in the diaspora. And this is the most dramatic bit. All done by a party which was treated as the divine saviours by our permanent state only until two years ago. Yeah, the same ones who were teaching us how to be free of foreign interference only until recently. Ms Bhutto addressed the joint meeting of the Congress in 1989. This is 2024. Look how the mighty have fallen.

Grim reality number two: the country just concluded a staff-level agreement with the IMF to unlock the last tranche of the standby arrangement, which the prime minister heroically clinched during his previous government on the last day of a prematurely dying extended fund facility. If things progress smoothly, the country may be able to get into another extended fund facility. Naturally, the talk of fiscal belt-tightening and financial discipline is all the rage right now. Looking at the circular debt in the power and gas sectors and bearing in mind the twin deficits, it is a known-known that we still have to make many tough decisions. That means neither the inflation (nay, stagflation) nor the interest rates will come down soon enough. Meaning the cost-of-living crisis will continue, and so will unemployment. Now, I am sure this comes as a shock to you, but the common man on the street has been facing these harsh realities for the past seven years. Every time there are fresh pledges to stabilise the country’s macroeconomics, the country’s working/salaried class winces because they are the likely target practice. And make no mistakes. The country’s rich are seldom affected by these changes. There is a renewed emphasis on providing the poor with as many BISP-like lifelines as possible. It is the class in the middle which is squeezed harder and harder every day.

Mujhay kia burra tha marna agar ek bar hota

(What harm would it have been to me if I had to die only once)

Grim reality number three: a few days ago, after warning the Afghan government repeatedly for years, Pakistan finally took action against terror hideouts in Afghanistan. It goes without saying that only until recently, Pakistani authorities had all but wiped out terror outfits and were facing a receding terror threat. But then, in the blind celebration of the Afghan Taliban in Kabul, the then-ruling elite lowered its guard and brought the demons back in. I have a theory of why we repeatedly develop a blindspot for the religious spot, but the powers that be refuse to see it again and again. In fact, so great was the lure of the Afghan Taliban’s takeover that when I opposed it on air, a retired three-star, a former defence secretary, and a PTI member (same man, in case you are confused) accused me of working for Ashraf Ghani. For Ashraf Ghani!

Kisay wakeel karein, kis se munsafi chahein

(To whom does one turn for protection, from whom does one expect justice?)

Grim reality number four: only two years ago, one-third of the country’s territory came under water due to historic flooding. Pakistan is among the nations most vulnerable to the climate crisis. The government showed outstanding leadership and initiative on the climate issue. And between then and now, a lot had to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change. But since, in their infinite wisdom, some amenders of the constitution had decided to install a caretaker government between two elected tenures, not much was done. We are told it all comes down to money. No money, no action. So naturally, we have to remain exposed to the risk of a similar, if not bigger, catastrophe until money finds its way to our coffers.

Grim reality number five: the country finally voted in a new government after an unprecedentedly prolonged caretaker set-up. This, as is obvious, is a first at a time when the constitution is still in force. Do you know why no one is making a great deal of it? Because we all are complicit. To a friend, our constitution is like a military academy. Parts of it keep passing out. I am sure he stole this line from Douglas Adams. But you know no one cares? So why should we? Resolutions, laws and constitutions are just pieces of paper, remember?

Anyways, happy Pakistan Resolution Day, happy adoption of 1956 Constitution Day and happy Republic Day! May you have many better ones!

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2024.

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