If there is collective global consensus on one thing it is that 2016 was an abysmal year. The events of this are expected to have long-term consequences and there are already calls from those who keep an eye on historical event patterns that the world is headed towards a repeat of past atrocities. For Pakistan, it has been no different and we have our own multitude of losses to lament. December offers up a good opportunity to do so, not just because it is the last month of the year but also because December 25 is the Quaid’s birthday. His vision for Pakistan is still the yardstick against which we can measure our country’s progress and this is a comparison in which the reality falls short of expectations in a woefully predictable manner every year.
Quotes from his speeches are everywhere, used to sprinkle a nice garnish of nationalism on any argument. Whether to point out that we are indeed following in Jinnah’s footsteps or to lament our disregard for his vision, his words serve as material for journalists, politicians, military men and intellectuals. By their very ubiquity Jinnah’s opinions have stopped mattering in Pakistan’s present landscape even though fragmented parts of them are well known to every Pakistani who has ever cracked open a textbook or flipped through local channels on national holidays. Take for example his stance on minorities. During events hosted for intercommunal harmony, our leaders favourite pastime is to quote Jinnah from the speeches in which he envisioned this country being a safe space for all people in which everyone would have an equal right to practise their faith. Yet the impunity with which rights of religious minorities are infringed upon shows that this idealistic version of Pakistani society is still far from our grasp. The fact that Christmas and Jinnah’s birthday happen to fall on the same date is less a cause for celebration and more a reason for pondering on the meaning of the word ‘irony’. 2016 has been no different when it comes to minorities’ persecution in Pakistan. The killer of Salman Taseer was hailed as a martyr after being hanged for murdering a man for speaking out in favour of a Christian woman who is still languishing in prison. Meanwhile, an Ahmadi place of worship was only recently attacked by a mob. There have been countless instances of hate crimes ranging from targeted killing to mob attacks and spewing hate speech on TV where Pakistanis have shown complete disregard for Jinnah’s words.
In other indicators of social inequality, the same position holds true. Even though key pieces of legislation were passed for protection of women, utmost efforts were made by conservative segments of society to have these laws repealed or changed. In Jinnah’s Pakistan women were supposed to stand next to men. In the real Pakistan, there were arguments in 2016 about whether husbands have a right to ‘lightly beat’ their wives and the legality of child marriage. Unfortunately it is not just women, children and minorities who got the short end of the stick in 2016. The scourge of polio is still alive and well despite the best efforts of many brave healthcare workers, who continue with their task despite the possibility of being attacked and killed. Our government spent the year embroiled in duking it out with the opposition and our courts dithered over key decisions. We also engaged in yet more skirmishes with India and our government continued to insist that the country is no longer a safe haven to terrorists despite their being a multitude of terrorist incidents. At the end of 2016, Jinnah’s Pakistan this country is not and given the lack of regard for most ordinary citizens’ lives, neither is it the Pakistan of most Pakistanis.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2016.