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August 12, 2020

Blood and freedom

Opinion

August 12, 2020

Amid a raging bloodbath targeting Muslim homes across East Punjab in the days following independence of Pakistan in 1947, a military jeep ground to a halt outside a village in a suburb of Ambala.

Out jumped a young army doctor to hurriedly join a funeral gathering – ‘namaaz e janaza’ (prayer for the departed) – after recognizing mourners from his neighborhood standing besides a corpse shrouded in a traditional white robe. As the ‘namaz’ concluded, the young doctor – a captain – suddenly became the center of attraction.

With mourner after mourner tearfully hugging him, the young man shockingly learnt that the gathering was meant to offer the last rites of his own father, martyred by a mob just hours earlier. This account, repeated periodically as I grew up, related to my late father who traveled back from his duty station in the Middle East just in time to bury his father. Half of the family's members were ‘martyred’ in targeted attacks while the rest crossed over to Pakistan.

As Pakistan celebrates its 73rd independence day on Friday (August 14), popular memories may not be fresh from the early migrants who sacrificed not just their worldly belongings in opting for their newly created country. Many paid a heavy price in blood and lived with the anguish and pain for their remaining years.

For many Pakistanis of today without any connection to the tragedies surrounding the first immigrants to the country, the cost eventually incurred for the creation of Pakistan remains beyond their imagination. Tragic accounts of the earliest migrants powerfully highlight exactly why the creation of Pakistan must never be taken lightly.

At the time of the country’s creation, many doubted its ability to survive for long as an independent state. Looking at the assets that Pakistan inherited from a carved up India as its share in 1947, there was little room for optimism.

Accounts from how the business of the state was carried out in 1947 stand in sharp contrast to the many wasteful realities of Pakistan’s governance systems of today. In Lahore and Karachi, the two main large cities inherited by Pakistan, civil servants worked tirelessly under the scorching sun using thorns pulled from nearby trees to stitch together official files. Metallic clips were an unaffordable luxury.

And, while Pakistan successfully emerged from the shock of its creation, the future was hardly easy. In the seven plus decades since the creation of Pakistan, the country has paid a heavy price for its existence before rising back repeatedly following the ashes of tragedy.

From the pressure of a continuing military standoff with India and the physical separation of East Pakistan in 1971, to the many natural calamities notably the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan and Kashmir, there has been no shortage of monumental challenges.

In contrast however stands the equally powerful reality of Pakistan's endurance, notably becoming the Islamic world’s only country armed with nuclear weapons – bearing testimony to the tireless work of its scientists, engineers and official decision-makers. It is a powerful reality that has helped Pakistan establish a credible defence, an especially notable achievement in a tough neighborhood.

But the continuing pitfalls surrounding Pakistan remain unending. Going forward with an overwhelmingly young population, the country’s future is set to face challenges unless a robust economic revival becomes the anchor for a more prosperous outlook. Reaching that objective remains both tough and achievable.

By contrast to other parts of the Islamic world, Pakistan remains a more open society – a reality that bears testimony to its unique resilience. Notwithstanding a push for a partial or full censorship of the truth under different regimes, Pakistanis have yearned to keep themselves informed through mechanisms ranging from the BBC’s Urdu service in yesteryears to the full scale of social media today.

For the future, Pakistan’s best hope lies in remaining inspired by its history of resilience and survival to aim for better times ahead. More than seven decades after Pakistan’s creation, the sharp contrast between the events of 1947 and today offers an illustrative lesson.

The early migrants to Pakistan included many who later became pioneers in the consolidation of their newly created motherland. Their contributions and those of many more have led to what Pakistan has become – a country that can not be wished away. In brief, Pakistan’s journey since its creation must only qualify as nothing short of a miracle.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

Email: [email protected]