“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 advertisement in this very newspaper, inviting ideas from its readers on what 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 common desire for ‘a new Pakistan’. The question that promptly, albeit painfully, comes to mind is what is wrong with Quaid’s Pakistan?
Other than the sufferings of any newly-independent state, there was nothing wrong with the Quaid’s Pakistan when it emerged as an independent state on August 14, 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 said to 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.” Alas, Quaid-e-Azam did not know us well enough.
Had he lived longer, the Quaid would have been embarrassed to see how miserably we as a nation, and 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 generation that experienced the formative phase of Pakistan and its creation are distressed about the disparity between what Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned for this country to and where we stand today as a nation. 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 foresaw the coming events. He was disillusioned with the scarcity of calibre and character in the country’s political hierarchy, which comprised a bunch of self-serving, feudalist and elitist politicians. Political ineptitude was writ large on the country’s horizon. The Quaid’s worries were not unwarranted. With his early demise, there was no one to make Pakistan what the Quaid had wanted to become “one of the greatest nations of the world”.
After the Quaid, we were left without any sense of direction and in a state of political bankruptcy and moral aridity. Within less than quarter of a century, Pakistan lost not only half of itself, 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. Islamic values had no role in the country’s body politic, beyond anodyne constitutional clauses that no one cared to enforce.
A country that was considered a “twentieth century miracle” and which had been won entirely through a democratic and constitutional struggle now struggles haplessly for genuine democracy and constitutional primacy. Its leaders do not inspire 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 battle-ground for power.
We learnt no lessons from our mistakes and remain plagued by the same ghosts of religion, culture, language and ethnicity. We have still not decided 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 political system for the ethnically and linguistically diverse population. Pakistan is known for having over twenty languages and nearly 300 distinct dialects. This diversity has contributed to chronic regional tensions and provincial disharmony.
There is strong resentment in the smaller provinces against what is seen as continued ‘Punjabi dominance’ and the inequitable distribution of power and resources. Our constitution does not provide solutions to the genuine concerns about the inequality of the sizes of the provinces and the 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 take place. Those in power remain inimical to any change in the privilege-based status quo of the country. They have always resisted reform, which they fear will erode their influence.
They make constitutional amendments for self-serving reasons. Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, our rulers have made the provincial setups their virtual kingdoms. The curse of terrorism that we are fighting today is itself the product of governance failures. With frequent political breakdowns, the people started welcoming military takeovers in one form or the other. The non-performing governments look to the military to fulfil their mandate.
Today, we need to look back and do some soul-searching. Looking into the mirror, we see a hazy and tainted picture. We see a mutilated and disjointed nation: a mast-less country, looted and plundered by its own rulers, debilitated spiritually and left with no dignity, sense of unity or national pride. In no other country are the privileged ones above the law.
This year, again, we observe the anniversary of the Pakistan Resolution only as a ritual, and with no relevance to the Indian Muslims’ demand for a separate homeland, in which to live their lives and to raise their children with dignity – free from fear, want, hunger, disease, oppression and injustice. Perhaps, this is an occasion for self-indictment. As a nation, at this critical juncture in our history, we cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of our systemic aberrations.
We cannot continue to believe that everything will magically be all right. To break this vicious cycle, we need a serious and purposeful national debate about our entire governmental system. We need genuine political, economic, judicial, educational and administrative reforms.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.