On this gloomy Independence Day, everyone wondered in agony if there will ever be an end to the crises and tragedies in our country. Those of us who belong to the first generation that saw and experienced the formative phase of Pakistan and its creation as a dream of its founding fathers, were in particular, discomfited at the thought of what its founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had envisioned this country to be and where we actually stand today as a people and as a state. Pakistan’s creation was not an accident of history. The country came into being as a result of a long and relentless struggle of the Muslims of the subcontinent for a separate homeland.
Our people saw in it the promise of long-cherished freedom, democracy and prosperity. What an irony that a country, which on its birth was considered a ‘20th-century miracle’, and which was created entirely through a democratic and constitutional struggle, should still be struggling for genuine democracy, social justice and equal rights for all. We are seeing things repeatedly being done in the name of democracy that are no more than a mockery of the very ideals that inspired the vision of the Quaid’s Pakistan. Alas! The Quaid did not live long to personally steer Pakistan to be what he thought would be “one of the greatest nations of the world”.
Less than a month before his death, the Quaid addressed his last message to the nation on August 14, 1948, in which he reminded his people: “The foundations of your state have been laid and it is now for you to build, and build as quickly and as well as you can.” On his own part, to quote Richard Symons, “in accomplishing the task he had taken upon on the morrow of Pakistan’s birth, Jinnah had worked himself to death, but had contributed more than any other man to Pakistan’s survival.” His successors neither had the will nor capacity to build the state of Pakistan. The real Pakistan disappeared within less than a quarter of a century. Within the first year of our independence, the Quaid had presciently foreseen the coming events. Political ineptitude was writ large on the country’s horizon. He was disillusioned with the scarcity of calibre and character in the country’s political hierarchy. His worries were not unwarranted. After his early demise, we have had had a long miscellany of opportunistic and corrupt rulers, who never inspired hope for a democratic state that could guarantee socio-economic justice and fair administration to all Pakistani citizens. They just could not cope with the challenges of freedom inherent in our geopolitical and structural fault lines.
During the last year of his life, the Quaid addressed almost every segment of society, including legislators, the armed forces, civil servants, educationists, students, the business community, workers, lawyers and the public, providing guidelines on every aspect of national life for “building up Pakistan into a modern and democratic state based on the Islamic concept of equality, fraternity and social justice”. Had the Quaid lived longer, he would have only been embarrassed to see how miserably we, as a nation, have failed to live up to his vision of Pakistan. On our part, we are not even ashamed of what we have done to his Pakistan.
On this independence anniversary, instead of fighting among ourselves, we should have been doing some soul-searching, howsoever agonising it may have been. We have a full generation’s lifetime behind us to look upon ourselves and see what we have done to our country. It is a hazy and tainted picture. We see a mutilated and disjointed nation. We see a mastless country, looted and plundered by its own people, debilitated spiritually and left with no dignity and national pride. Its rulers have kept the people hostage to their personal whims while exploiting them through deceitful promises.
Our problem is that the overbearing feudal, tribal and elitist power structure in Pakistan has been too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change take place as this doesn’t suit the elite. They make amendments to the Constitution for self-serving reasons only. The country is still without a political system that responds to the needs of an ethnically and linguistically diverse population. Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, they have always succumbed to narrowly-based, self-serving temptations.
The elite rejected the popular will freely expressed in the December 1970 elections, and instead of exploring political remedies to the resultant crisis, went along with a military solution. We are currently going through another self-made crisis. In every respect, it is a deja vu scenario. Our independent statehood is a woeful tale of traumatic experiences that perhaps, no other country in the world has experienced. Frequent political breakdowns, followed by long spells of military rule disabled our institutional framework unleashing a culture of political instability, societal chaos and disintegration, violence and extremism, endemic corruption, and general aversion to the rule of law.
No doubt, we have survived these crises but at what cost? We learnt no lessons from our history and are repeating the same mistakes. It is time, we as a nation, realised that our survival as an independent state is predicated on our ability, not only to preserve and safeguard the country’s independence and territorial integrity, but also to get rid of the present anachronistic system based on power and privilege, outmoded social and political structures and an elitist-led status quo. This change is long overdue.
To avert the vicious cycle of known tragedies, we need a serious and purposeful national effort, involving a holistic review of our governmental system and a parallel discourse among major political stakeholders and key civil society segments, including the media and lawyer community to explore and evolve a national remedial and recovery plan before it is too late.
As a country and as a nation, at this critical phase in our history, we cannot just leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of a few elitist privileged families that keep themselves in power through deceit, money and force. We can’t even innocently continue to believe that everything will be all right, magically or providentially. With our dismal record in democratic tradition, we are now on a crucial trial of our history to determine how we restore the Quaid’s legacy in Pakistan. Not by force or violence, and certainly not by usurping fundamental freedoms that our Quaid always fought for.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2014.
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