Independence Day has rolled around once again, with green-and-white flags going up on streets and on rooftops. But what does this day mean to us; what does it symbolise and how do we think about it? These are all questions we need to consider and indeed, find answers to. This is especially important given the way in which we have come to ‘celebrate’ August 14.
While in other nations, fireworks, colourful parades and cultural performances mark national days, ours seems to have turned into an occasion when cacophony and mayhem reign. In larger cities, cars and motorbikes fill streets, blaring horns or racing past without silencers, for no apparent reason. Acts of hooliganism are not uncommon and most families prefer to stay indoors rather than face the mob madness. Yes, programmes featuring national songs do take place, but scenes on the streets seem to dominate the day. Security fears mean fewer public events are held on the day, and in many ways, this in a microcosm, reflects our situation as a nation within which law and order has collapsed, discipline broken down and confusion allowed to take over.
Looking at things with a wider lens, this state of affairs is reflected at many levels. As a nation, we face an acute security threat, stemming from within. It has, over the years, proved impossible for us to tackle militancy in all its different manifestations. We also confront problems as a federation, with nationalist violence having torn Balochistan apart. It also simmers in other places in the country.
Chaos has brought our commercial hub, Karachi, to its knees, the economy is in shambles, unemployment runs high, our democracy is still not entirely stable and for years we have been plagued by weak and inept governance. In addition, growing intolerance and extremism have altered the contours of society over the decades, our sovereignty is shadowed, regional tensions linger on and ideological disputes divide us bitterly as a nation. In terms of social statistics, on literacy, on healthcare and on access to basic rights for people, we stand well towards the bottom of the global list of nations. We have also lost respect as a country and as a consequence, become increasingly isolated in the international community as a land associated strongly with extremism and violence. This is damaging to all of us in many different ways.
Each of these problems is grave; each one is difficult to solve. But combined, they create a crisis so deep that it leaves us wondering if any solution is possible. But the fact also is that we really have no choice but to come up with solutions. We have to save our country from the mayhem into which it has been plunged and on this Independence Day, we should be thinking of ways to achieve this.
A brighter future can be built only if we demonstrate a readiness to accept that a multitude of problems exist and that to solve them, all Pakistanis need to construct a true sense of unity. This means doing away with hatred and discrimination based on ethnicity, belief and all other factors; accepting all citizens as equal regardless of factors such as religion or gender and working jointly to create a nation where hope and opportunity exist for each and every citizen.
That hope has currently died in too many places: in shanty towns, in rural areas where people live in virtual serfdom and in homes where bodies of those felled by terrorists have been brought. This darkness has to be dispelled.
The political leadership has a role to play, but so do we as citizens, so that the green-and-white flag representing our nation can wave with greater pride each time it is hoisted to the top of flag posts in our own country, as well as in other capitals of the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2013.
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