As we celebrate Pakistan Day once again, the highlight today would be the return to the parade that takes place on Islamabad’s main boulevard. The military parade which also includes floats from different provinces and government departments, gives us a chance to exhibit our latest achievements and also to show off a slice of our military might.
After a gap of several years, we are once again holding this parade, so this time round the achievement is the parade itself, not what is on display. In the past, the parade was cancelled time and again on security concerns. One can argue that the decision to cancel the parade in the past may have been wrong, given that under the circumstances we need to celebrate our national days with fervour to reply to those who want to shut us down forever.
We have come a long way since 2001 when the war on terror started, and thrust Pakistan into the centre of it all. We have lost thousands of lives and suffered immensely – our economy has been battered, the law and order situation has deteriorated considerably and we have borne the brunt of suicide attacks, bombings and much more.
From General Musharraf’s Enlightened Moderation to Sharif’s Moderated Enlightment, we have seen it all. Corrupt leaders have come and gone. We have made merry on American and other Western aid. Much money has been used and abused. We have seen natural disasters hit our country with regularity and have learnt no lessons from each experience. Our national security paradigm has been turned upside down. And more important, we have gone backwards in terms of progress as a nation.
Our biggest issues are the lack of proper health care and education for the people. Security is a concern but we have done little to address regional dialogue. Terrorism batters us every day – attacks continue on religious as well as ethnic minorities. We continue to play games that ultimately result in our fingers getting burnt.
There are some who say that the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December was a game changer. Our biggest stakeholder has decided to take things more seriously. Many welcome this. Others are wary as they have seen it all before.
The question for all of us as Pakistanis is: where do we go from here? Is there a game plan or at least some timetable on what we want to do when. As our population balloons, we have to provide for jobs and for economic growth. So far this does not seem to be a priority.
Possibly the rise in extremism in Pakistan has a direct correlation with the rise in poverty. People were much better off twenty years ago. But corrupt leaders and ineffective governments made sure that the gap between the haves and the have-nots increased. This is a country where fathers have killed off their families because they could not provide for them. And we have still not woken up.
Our poor policing and judicial systems have meant that the guilty get off scot-free and only the poor get punished. It is no wonder then why we are where we are today. Had it not been for religion and the inclusive manner in which our society functions, possibly things would have been much worse. And they still can.
Our larger region is in turmoil and we are not in any way immune from what is coming. The role played by ISIS and other organizations in Syria, Iraq and Libya is there for all to see. From sovereign entities, Libya and Yemen have been reduced to little more than failed states.
The same forces are active in Pakistan in one form or another. We have people and entities that are sympathetic to extremists who are living in our midst. The state continues to look the other way as these groups gather in strength and consolidate. One fears for the day when these entities will overpower the state.
The problem is that there are many questions to ask and very few to give answers. The prime minister looks clueless. As has been in the past, the only progress we have seen in the country has been in Punjab province. The rest have suffered from a number of factors. Things cannot stay the way they are.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2015.