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Us, at 75
On Pakistan's 75th birthday


At the age of 75, we deserve better.

On this anniversary year, our country has for its 13th president (an ominous number) a partisan political nominee who behaves less like the symbol of the Federation than a dentist searching for political cavities. Four years into the office, the president has suddenly become aware of the corrosive gap between the political parties. He has offered to mediate between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PTI Chairman Imran Khan “for the sake of the country”. He has forgotten the over 30 other equally fractious political parties (not including ​​Independents).   

He has also declared his ’endeavour to reduce tensions between the two leaders and make the environment feasible for early elections’, ignoring the fact that there is a present lawfully elected assembly in place which intends (squalls notwithstanding) to complete its term. Why​ ​install a fresh assembly when the last one has not been ​removed​, or to put ​it ​in terms the president would understand, how can a new tooth be rooted when the previous one has not been extracted?

Our country celebrates its 31st prime minister – Mian Shehbaz Sharif, an Aaron to his brother Nawaz Sharif. Shehbaz fulfils the Quranic description of Aaron/Harun - a "believing servant", one who was "guided", and among the "victors". In the absence of his brother, he has led their PML-N assisted to a pyrrhic victory in the national assembly, and then defeat in the subsequent provincial bye-elections.  He is discovering that it was easier to unite discontents against a common foe than to hold them together and make them work towards a common purpose. That objective cannot be the disqualification of former PM Imran Khan. Should they succeed in doing so, Shehbaz Sharif and his allies will understand better the taunt of the defeated Cavalier nobleman in the English Civil war, when he surrendered to Cromwell’s Roundheads: ‘Now that you have done with us, go fight amongst yourselves.’

Perhaps the most telling instance of national disunity over this 75th anniversary of our independence were the events over the holiday weekend. On 13th August, the PTI - denied venues in Islamabad - held a rally in the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore. The authorities removed the expensive Astroturf and left the 45,000 seats to the mercy of PTI’s Haqeeqi Azadi jalsa. National flags put up en route in anticipation of 14th August were removed and replaced by PTI flags. The jalsa yielded nothing more combustible than vocal fireworks by the PTI leader and his acolytes, except for a surprising announcement by the Punjab Chief Minister Ch. Pervaiz Elahi that Imran Khan and the Establishment were on the same page. That a PML-Q CM should have made the announcement was less startling than Imran Khan’s ensuing silence.

The following day, the 14th August, should have been a demonstration of national unity when all political factions – surrendering their weapons at the gate – could have appeared together before the nation. Instead, each showed that he or she was above the country.

No nation can survive which disrespects its national flag as PTI supporters did on 13th August or dishonours its National Day as leaders did by their absence. The public has little enough to celebrate every day, assailed as it is by rising prices, high utility bills, power cuts, floods, shortages of medicines, etc. Why have we stopped celebrating Independence in cities other than Islamabad? Where are the floats, the processions, the bands playing uplifting music that should be thronging the streets of cities, towns and villages to remind every Pakistani everywhere that we are part of the same nation?

We are 75 years old, and we are yet to have a National Orchestra or a National Dance Academy? The last I recall was the dance troupe sponsored by PIA in the late 1960s. We have yet to make music and dance part of our daily lives. Some schools do so at their peril; others prefer the silence of the philistines.

Come to think of it, every achievement that Pakistanis can be proud of – whether it is mountain climbing, javelin throwing, weightlifting, or winning Oscars - is the reward of individual effort. Pakistanis achieve whatever they do, not because of state patronage, but despite it.

Our leaders would be well advised to come down from their gilded rostrums and to assuage the public’s needs. Rhetoric does not fill stomachs, nor does a vacuous assurance that politicians and the establishment are on the same page. The only pages that matter are our Constitution and our statutes.  Misread those, and you can look forward to short-lived anarchy.

I will not be there to celebrate Pakistan’s centenary in 2047. Over 300 million Pakistanis will. Hopefully, they will not have to witness more instances of such absentee nationalism.                                          



[DAWN, 18 Aug 2022] 





18 August 2022
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