“On 23rd March, 1940, a group of valiant and fiercely determined individuals gathered at Manto Park, Lahore, and resolved to give their fellow countrymen a new homeland.” This is the lead line of a soul-jerking ad I happened to go through in a newspaper of a renowned media group inviting ideas from its readers on what in their view our country now needs to put Pakistan back on the road to progress. The ad’s operative line said: “It’s time for a new resolution”. If one is not mistaken, the motivation behind this unique ad is the anguished common desire for ‘a new Pakistan.’ The question that promptly albeit painfully comes to mind is what after all is wrong with the Quaid’s Pakistan?
To start with, other than the sufferings of any newly-independent state, there was nothing wrong with the Quaid’s Pakistan when it emerged on the map of the world as an independent state on 14th August 1947. If anything, it was the finest hour of our history. Our people saw in it the promise of long-cherished freedom, democracy and prosperity. 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 14th 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”. Alas!
Quaid-e-Azam did not get to know us well.
Had he lived longer, the Quaid would have only been embarrassed to see how miserably we as a nation and indeed our successive rulers have failed to live up to his vision of Pakistan, and to protect and preserve our national unity and sovereign independence. 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 are distressed over the thought of what Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned this country to be and where we actually stand today as a nation and as a state. Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam and democracy but has lived without the essence of both.
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 no more than a bunch of self-serving, feudalist and elitist politicians who were to manage the newly independent Pakistan. Political ineptitude was writ large on the country’s horizon. Quaid’s worries were not unwarranted. With his early demise, there was no one to steer Pakistan to be what the Quaid had aspired will be “one of the greatest nations of the world.”
After the Quaid, it was left without any sense of direction and in a state of political bankruptcy and moral aridity. It started cutting itself into pieces, losing within less than quarter of a century not only its own half but also the very rationale that inspired its founding fathers to struggle for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent. Islam no longer remained the unifying force in an ethnically and linguistically diverse state. Parochialism became the creed of its opportunistic politics which rooted itself in systemic aberrations and normative perversities. Islamic values found no role in the country’s body politic beyond anodyne constitutional clauses that no one cares to enforce.
A country, which was considered “twentieth century miracle” of a state and which was fought and won entirely through democratic and constitutional struggle now itself struggles haplessly for genuine democracy and constitutional primacy. Its leaders never inspired hope for a welfare state that could guarantee socioeconomic justice, rule of law and fair administration to its citizens. They just could not cope with the challenges of freedom inherent in our geopolitical and structural fault lines. Language became our first bête noire. The real Pakistan disappeared with its tragic dismemberment, and whatever was left has been converted into a pillage ground, if not spoils of power.
We took no lesson from our mistakes and remain possessed by the same ghosts in the name of religion, culture, language and ethnicity. Millions of those Muslims who left their ancestral identity in India to submerge into a larger national identity did not migrate to the ethnic and linguistic entities called Punjab, Sindh, Frontier (KPK) or Balochistan. They migrated to a newly-independent Muslim state called Pakistan, and are still looking for it. What an irony that we are still not decided on some of the vital questions related to our statehood. No government has ever attempted to correct the systemic anachronisms in our truncated federal structure or to redress provincial grievances.
No wonder, we have yet to define a cohesive national identity and evolve a sound and stable political system for its ethnically and linguistically diverse population. Pakistan is known to have over twenty languages and nearly 300 distinct dialects. This diversity contributed to chronic regional tensions and provincial disharmony. There is a strong underlying resentment in the smaller provinces against what is seen as continued ‘Punjabi dominance’ and inequitable distribution of power and resources. Our Constitution does not provide solutions to the genuine concerns on the inequality of the size of provinces and lopsided sharing of political and economic power.
The problem is that the overbearing elitist power structure in Pakistan is too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change or reform takes place. It doesn’t suit them. They remain inimical to any change in the privilege-based status quo in the country. They have always resisted reform in the country which they fear will erode their vested power and influence base. They make constitutional amendments for self-serving reasons only. Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, our rulers have made provincial set-ups as their virtual kingdoms that they rule in the decadent hereditary Mughal style.
Today, we surely need to look back and do some soul-searching. Looking into the mirror, we find a hazy and tainted picture. We see a mutilated and disjointed nation, and a mastless country, looted and plundered by its own rulers, debilitated spiritually and left with no dignity, sense of unity and national pride. No other country is familiar with the practice of treating the privileged ones above law and forgiving as a matter of rule the elite loan-defaulters and the highly placed looters and plunderers of the national exchequer.
To make things even worse, in recent years, the so-called liberal elites and pseudo-intellectuals in our society have been wilfully distorting our history, misleading the youth that Pakistan’s birth was only ‘an accident of history’ and that the India-Pakistan border is no more than an artificial ‘thin’ line, drawn on paper. They are sadly mistaken and need a tutorial in history to know that Pakistan is not an accident of history. The artificial ‘thin line’ that they want to erase is not just a line on paper; it is a border of an independent state drawn in blood. Our armed forces are protecting this border with great resolve and determination.
This year again, we observed the anniversary of the Pakistan Resolution only as a commemorative ritual with no relevance to the spirit that had imbued the Indian Muslims’ demand for a separate homeland of their own to be able to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from fear, want, hunger, disease, oppression and injustice. This perhaps is an occasion for self-indictment. As a country and as a nation, at this critical juncture in our history, we cannot leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of our systemic aberrations.
We can’t even innocently continue to believe that everything will be alright, magically or providentially. To avert the vicious cycle of known tragedies, 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.