This year the nation observed the Defence & Martyrs Day all over the country with unprecedented zeal and solemnity. It was indeed an occasion for acknowledging the supreme sacrifices given by our martyrs and sharing with their families their sense of pride and fortitude. But this was also an occasion to look back and do some real soul-searching to determine what we as a nation have done individually and collectively to live up to the supreme cause our martyrs laid their lives for.
I attended the ceremony at Yadgar-e-Shuhada in Lahore where thousands of people sat spellbound for hours listening to the tales of heroism and witnessing the rejuvenation of a new spirit that we as a nation need so badly. The tales of supreme sacrifices in the cause of Pakistan took me back subconsciously to the fateful train journey that my family undertook in 1947 leaving behind, like millions of others, their hearths and homes, their landed properties and their ancestral history of thousands of years to submerge into a new larger national identity. No sacrifice then was greater than freedom.
No wonder, for my family, as indeed for millions of others, it was a momentous decision to opt for the newly-independent state we so proudly called Pakistan. Memories of many gory moments and painful experiences from those days are still seared into my mind. I cannot forget the moments when our train after crossing into Pakistan steamed into Harbanspura Station with everyone on the train crying with joy and raising spontaneous slogans “Allah-o-Akbar” and “Pakistan Zindabad.” Tears of joy filled every eye at the end of that journey.
Here on the Shuhada Day this year, while feeling a similar soul-jerking ambience all around, I asked myself what has gone wrong with us as a nation. Where is that larger national identity that the Quaid had left for us in the form of Pakistan? Those millions of Muslims who left their ancestral identity in India did not migrate to the ethnic and linguistic entities now called Punjab, Sindh, Frontier or Balochistan. They migrated to a newly-independent Muslim state to be able to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from fear, want, hunger, disease, illiteracy, corruption, violence, oppression and injustice. Where is that state of Pakistan? We are still looking for it.
Indeed, the emergence of Pakistan on the map of the world as an independent state on 14 August 1947 was the finest hour of our history. It was with a sense of supreme satisfaction at the fulfilment of his mission that Quaid-e-Azam told the nation in his last message on 14 August 1948: “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.” Had the Father of the Nation 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.
Unsure of our future, we continue to grope in the dark with one crisis after another and have yet to figure out a sense of common purpose and unity for ourselves as a nation.
Within the first year of our independence, which woefully happened to be the last of his life, Quaid-e-Azam had presciently foreseen the coming events. He was disillusioned with the scarcity of calibre and character in the country’s political hierarchy which was to manage the newly — independent Pakistan. Political ineptitude was writ large on the country’s horizon. Quaid’s worries were not unwarranted. Since then, politics in Pakistan has remained hostage to the elite classes which have been inimical to the promotion of genuine nationhood in the country.
Unlike India’s Congress Party, the Muslim League, Pakistan’s founding party was almost wholly dominated by a few feudal families, whom the British had patronized before partition and were powerful enough to retain control over national affairs through the bureaucracy and the armed forces. Even after Muslim League’s disintegration, the same elitist oligarchy with different faces at different times under different political flags has remained in power with the help of civil bureaucracy which in fact has been wielding the real authority.
As “elected” leaders, they never inspired hope for a democratic state that could provide socio-economic justice, rule of law and fair administration to all Pakistani citizens. The curse of terrorism that we are fighting today is itself the product of successive leadership failures. With frequent political breakdowns, the people started welcoming military take-overs in one form or the other. The scene today is no different with a non-performing government itself looking towards the military to do things that it has failed to deliver as its basic governmental mandate.
The problem is that the overbearing elitist power structure in Pakistan is too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change or reform take place. It doesn’t suit them. They make amendments to the Constitution for self-serving reasons only. In any unequal, parochially defined set up, no method of governance can work. Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, our rulers have made provincial setups as their virtual kingdoms that they rule in the decadent Mughal style.
No government has ever attempted to correct the systemic anachronisms in our federal structure or to redress provincial grievances. As a newly–independent nation, we just could not cope with the challenges of freedom inherent in our geo-political and structural fault lines. Language became our first bête noire. The real Pakistan disappeared with its dismemberment in 1971. And yet, we took no lesson from our mistakes. We are still possessedby the same ghosts in the name of religion, culture, language and ethnicity.
We have divided ourselves on sectarian and ethnic grounds.
The country has still not been able to evolve a political system that could respond to the challenges of an ethnically and linguistically diverse population. There is a strong underlying resentment in smaller provinces against what is seen as continued “Punjabi dominance” and inequitable distribution of power and resources. The overbearing visibility and involvement of the chief minister of Punjab in matters of national importance to the exclusion of his other counterparts is just one testimony to our unequal governmental setup.
Looking at the systems of other developed and developing countries, we find ourselves a unique example of a federation with almost no parallel anywhere in the world. In any unequal set up, no method of governance will work. It is a system designed for paralysis which we are already experiencing. The need for drastic change in our present anachronistic setup is urgent to get rid of the same old usurpers of the country’s politics, outmoded social and political structures and elitist-led status quo in our country.
Given pathetic performance in our political conduct and discipline since independence, we, like most developing countries, are also not yet fit for the parliamentary system. Britain struggled for centuries to reach its current parliamentary status. For us, it would be too long and too arduous a journey to be indefinitely chasing illusory goals. Temperamentally, we are a ‘presidential’ nation. It is time we abandoned the system that we have never been able to practice, and explored an adult franchise-based ‘presidential system’ suitably designed for and tailored to Pakistan’s needs.
Unsure of our future, we continue to grope in the dark with one crisis after another and have yet to figure out a sense of common purpose and unity for ourselves as a nation. To avert the vicious cycle of known tragedies and to foster a sense of unity, which is also critical to national security, we need a serious and purposeful national debate involving a holistic review of our entire governmental system.
We need genuine political, economic, judicial, educational, administrative and land reforms in the country. Changing faces will not do, nor will elections under the present system make any difference. The system itself must change. Reason, not self-serving emotion, should be our yardstick. We must move beyond cosmetic measures.