Independence days, or similar occasions, for nations around the world are events dominated by fireworks, colourful parades and other demonstrations of festivity. As we go into August 14 this year, we wish we could say the same about our country. Sadly, we cannot. While there have been some attempts at various levels to organise celebrations that befit the day, overall, the environment is fraught with tension and political uncertainty. The events planned for today have made certain of this, with the government’s extremely ham-handed and incompetent handling of the situation simply adding to the uncomfortable environment of anxiety and a general sense of trepidation.
Peaceful assembly in the form of gatherings or processions is a democratic right and it must be protected. We must also keep in mind that it is vital that our nascent democracy not be derailed. Our experience shows that such derailments in the past have only led us into deeper and deeper trouble. The failure to keep democracy running smoothly is one of the reasons we face so many problems today, with deep social and political divides cutting across the face of our nation. There is no better time than Independence Day to think about all these factors, to recall the vision the founders of the nation had for it and to consider why we have strayed so far from it. Problems that exist need to be resolved within the constitutional framework and any deviation from this would be a disaster.
There have been some grievous mistakes committed in the recent past on the part of the authorities. That is why, it is important that on the occasion of August 14, we keep in mind that this is a time for all democratic political forces to find some common ground. Political unity is something we urgently need. This does not necessarily mean agreement on issues, but merely, a higher level of tolerance and a readiness to work together for the sake of the people all political leaders say they wish to serve. A mature democracy is about listening, accepting and making compromises so that, no matter what, the democratic system does not lose its dignity. What we need right now is for all democratic forces to serve the interests of the people, given their pressing need for basic amenities and stability, so that there can be economic progress, as well as the general sense of calm that people need. Only this calm can allow days like August 14 to be celebrated with true joy.
There are also a whole set of other problems, which stare us in the face right now. Our country is currently at war. In North Waziristan and other tribal areas, a conflict continues between militants and the military. Over a million people have fled North Waziristan. They will spend this Independence Day far away from their homes, not sure when they will be able to return or in what condition they will find the houses they left behind. We must, of course, hope the operation succeeds. But at the same time, we must also consider what more we can do to assist people made homeless by it through no fault of their own. We must not sit back and watch them suffer in silence.
August 14 is also a time to give some thought as to why we lag so far behind in many spheres of life: education, healthcare, basic rights for people, etc. Only when we put our mind to addressing these issues will we move forward at greater pace and reach a point in time when we are able to celebrate Independence Day as an occasion that brings everyone in the country together. When this happens, fireworks can be released into the skies, songs of happiness sung and a true celebratory spirit created, demonstrating that as a nation we have gained what it takes to move forward as one, rather than to be battling one another on so many different fronts. Through constant conflict and confrontation, we will only drive our country deeper into trouble.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2014.
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