“We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State”, 11th of August 1947. Those were the words that echoed Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s strong foundational vision and direction for a tolerant, peaceful and prosperous nation.
Most Pakistanis celebrate Independence Day as the birth of a nation state. However, it is a time for us to come together to acknowledge and celebrate those great men and women who sacrificed their blood, treasure and sacred honour to construct a powerful country from a land that barely inherited any infrastructural facilities to run the state. It’s time for us to really reflect on what we have collectively achieved and commit to making Pakistan a better place for the future.
The potential for a country to exist as a sovereign state is a direct result of how well its leadership is able to capitalise on its geo-strategic location, human resources and economic strength. It’s therefore not wrong to say that the geography of Pakistan has been the most consequential factor in shaping its history.
During the 1950’s, as the clash of Marxist and Liberalist ideologies intensified worldwide, Pakistan quickly decided to support the West. The conflict began to fully bloom during the Afghan War in the late 1970’s, marking a turning point in international politics. However, it presented direct challenges to the security of Pakistan, forcing it to emerge as a front-line state and a key square in the game. The United States and Pakistan, already enjoying a strong strategic alliance received great mutual benefits. Pakistan became America’s protégé, as the principle channel through which assistance was provided to the American forces and Afghan resistance.
In leveraging from this opportunistic partnership and hostile neighbouring intrigues, the benefits Pakistan accrued were substantial. The country remained under pressure to constantly fortify and develop its military capabilities with parallel benefits to the economic sector through international development assistance. Today Pakistan is a recognisable military power ranking 11th in the world in its strength, surpassing countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany.
On the contrary, if Pakistan had not heavily invested into the military sector to preserve its security and autonomy from rivalling neighbours, the country would have had great potential to strengthen its economy. However, its performance in the world does not paint an exceedingly grim picture as it falls under the bracket of Middle-income earning countries according to the World Bank (2014), placing it well ahead of other nation states. Although the issue of distribution of income and wealth remains substantial. Pakistan’s sheer ability to preserve itself and withstand numerous foreign pressures, terrorism and insurgencies exemplifies its success in the survival of the fittest narrative which has so far remained successful in a highly militarised region.
Simultaneously, it becomes crucial to identify the painful consequences of the Cold War and its impact on Pakistan’s societal character. The most direct result of the war was the inevitable disposal of approximately 3 million Afghan refugees onto our soil presenting entirely new security threats. This lead to great economic burden, social tensions in ethnically divided areas, environmental degradation, illicit human and drug trafficking and potential terrorist sleeper cells amenable to exploitation by vested and hostile interests. Thus, it is important to realise that we hail from a nation that was met with significant burdens and trials from its very emergence.
Although given a strong foundation in terms of a clear vision and direction by its founding fathers, it was not long after its inception that the cracks in the facade of national unity and lost confidence in the system became apparent, suggesting deeper lines of social and political cleavage which allowed vested interests to exploit their way into the very fabrics of our society. The lack of leadership, ownership and practicality resulted in the eminence of a modern day internal strife as individuals paved their separate ways to configure a country that only suited them.
The governing bodies and elites forever perfectly fitted the definition of a kleptocracy characterised by remarkable greed and corruption. As the elite became increasingly interested in aligning with foreign agendas, their lack of interest in the local population’s aspirations became increasingly apparent. As a result of our inability to define our national identity, it is not a surprise that issues such as educational divide, rise in informal economies, institutional corruption, decaying law and order, sectarian violence, terrorism and dissention have become a common place.
Unless we intend to embark on a journey of social and political rectification, we may soon struggle to keep our heads above the water. At this critical juncture, we must create a new social contract grounded in a clear and widely shared set of values that will reflect our national aspirations, emphasising educational, institutional, elimination of corruption, health and job creation related reforms.
Each individual is defined by his/her actions and what they strive to accomplish for the society as a whole. Pakistan’s future depends on its youth because they have the power to create a transformative social change. It is not enough for us to simply make ends meet and live out our young lives. We need to be accountable and take ownership of a country to whom we owe our very own souls. If the system has failed us, we must realise that one day we will be making it and it is our passion and commitment to rebuild this place we call home, that will bring us all out of this nightmare.
In truth, we have all shamelessly forgotten the meaning of inclusive patriotism. We have all forgotten that today, if we are able to enjoy any amount of pride and respect on this earth, it is because we belong to a homeland that has faced immense challenges from the very beginning but has risen to the occasion and fought against them boldly. As a nation we have remained strong and resilient in the face of each hardship because we have the courage to survive, sacrifice and stand against the toughest threats of our time. Our pivotal role as a front line state in the global war against terrorism has remained successful and for this reason we are a regional force to be reckoned with. Let us also not forget that our country continues to produce the finest professionals in the world. These are the reasons why I stand tall and proud when I hear our anthem and our glorious flag snaps in the wind. Long live the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.