A tale of 75 years

August 14, 2022

Many Pakistanis do not realise that there is a difference between being independent and not colonised

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“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is

freedom from fear.”


Azadi can be described in English in several ways, such as independence, freedom and liberation etc. These English renderings of azadi have subtly different connotations. Independence is defined as “condition of a person, nation, country or state in which residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government and usually sovereignty, over its territory. The opposite of independence is the status of a dependent territory.” Although a person features in this definition of independence, the phenomenon is generally concerned with a nation, a state or a country.

During the second half of the 20th Century there was a decolonisation wave. Several colonies gained the right to independence through certain documents, such as the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. How far these rights apply to all people has been a moot point.

Pakistanis celebrate their independence on August 14 with an extra-ordinary zeal, but are Pakistanis independent in the real sense of the phrase? Independence is bliss because those who have it are not subject to control by others. It is self-governing. Independent entities are not affiliated to larger, controlling units. Are we not subject to control by others? Many will answer this query in the negative. At best we can say that we are no longer colonised. However, the assertion that nobody exercises control over us would be hard to prove.

For 75 years, Pakistanis have been celebrating their Independence Day, not realising that there is a difference between being independent and not colonised. The first and the foremost condition for independence is for a state to direct all its energies to evolving administrative and legal structures that are subservient to the collective will and interests of its people alone.

In the early years of Pakistan, the elite seemed eager to receive an assurance of American protection. Chaudhry Zafarullah, Malik Ghulam Muhammad, Chaudhary Muhammad Ali and Iskander Mirza couldn’t see Pakistan surviving and sustaining itself unless America took it under its wing.

At first the US didn’t heed Pakistan’s requests. However, the ruling elite kept on trying assiduously to woo America and eventually succeeded. Pakistan’s entry into the SEATO and the CENTO was an outcome of this sense of insecurity, harboured mainly by the elite. There should be a comprehensive investigation into how we benefitted from these pacts and treaties and in what ways we suffered on their account. I am sure, the findings will be an eye-opener for many.

Freedom gives humans their basic right to express their opinions and to speak freely about any matter without government restraint. It’s important because it allows for change in a society and the exchange of ideas.

The little dividends to accrue for playing the second fiddle to the US were limited to the elite. The same can be said about the proxy wars that Pakistan fought for it. The bottom line is that Pakistan has been dependent on foreign resources, the biggest chuck of which is controlled by America.

In terms of the definition of independence that is in wide circulation, we are a dependent, neo-colonial polity, held hostage by its tiny elite. Such a polity can’t formulate and pursue independent policies and is unable to guarantee freedom for its people.

We now turn our gaze to ‘freedom.’ It is an inalienable right of a citizen in a free state. Freedom is the most fundamental attribute of a citizen. The freedom to speak, act, assemble and hold opinions are what make a person - adami according to critic Hasan Askari, an insan. In going through that transition, one embarks on a journey where one’s true (latent) potential can be realised. A simple description of freedom is “the quality or state of being free: such as a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. c) the quality or state of being exempt or released - usually from something onerous.

Freedom gives humans their basic right to express their opinions and to speak freely about any matter without government restraint. It’s important because it allows for change in a society and the exchange of ideas. We should take care not to exercise the rights and freedoms granted to us by our constitution, in an unrestrained manner so as to infringe on the rights of other people.

In a socially hierarchical polity freedom becomes a hollow expression. To guard freedoms, the state has to have a robust system of justice that is sadly compromised in Pakistan. Governance has thus gone down the drain. In such a situation, freedom is reduced to a quixotic aspiration.

The eagle is a personification of freedom. More than any other symbol, it is the sight of this bird that represents total freedom. But eagles are not to be found in our landscape. I wonder why Iqbal kept on exhorting Muslims to be like a shaheen. The bird is conspicuously absent from both our lives and our consciousness.

In philosophy and religion, freedom is sometimes associated with having a free will and being without undue or unjust constraints, such as enslavement. It is an idea closely tied with the concept of negative liberty. Charles Taylor resolves one of the issues that separate the positive and negative theories of freedom first distinguished in Isaiah Berlin’s seminal essay, Two Concepts of Liberty.

He uses the words freedom and liberty interchangeably. Taylor says it as undeniable that there are two such families of conceptions of political freedom. Negative liberty is a concept that is often used in political philosophy. It is the idea that freedom means being able to do what you want, without any external obstacles. This concept has been criticised for being too simplistic and not considering the importance of individual self-realisation. Positive liberty is the ability to fulfill one’s purposes.

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. He can be reached at tahir.kamranbnu.edu.pk

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