Musings on the Independence Day

By Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Pakistan is all set to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of its independence on this 14th of August, 2009. While this is time to celebrate the establishment of a free and independent country with the traditional fervour and extend gratitude to Allah Almighty for His greatest favour in the form of this country, it is also high time we as a nation introspected ourselves with a reformatory mindset. The comparison of our collective national conduct with the ideals, which characterized the freedom struggle, is helpful in identifying the grey areas and resetting our direction.

It is good to see our country back on democratic path after a long period of dictatorship, a fact which was out of sync with what the founding fathers of this country envisaged. The establishment of Pakistan was the direct outcome of a democratic struggle under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is unfortunate that Pakistan has been led by the military dictators for larger part of its life. The Quaid-e-Azam, in his numerous statements and speeches, made it clear that Pakistan would be a democratic polity based on Islamic principles of social justice, equality and brotherhood. This was an open rebuke to liberal and religious extremists who wanted to put their respective versions on the new state. While the liberals thought Pakistan to be a democratic country based on the Westminster tradition without having anything to do with religion, the extremists wanted to impose a theocratic and conservative interpretation of religion where the Mullahs would have divine right to rule.

Both of these extreme positions were in clash with the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan. He could not have imagined Pakistan to be a Western-style democracy because doing so could have rendered Islam irrelevant to the demands of the contemporary age. At the same time, the Quaid did not want the newly established country to have a theocratic order because it could have negated Jinnah’s ideals with graver implications for multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society that Pakistan was.

While the return of democracy is something to feel good about, this represents the beginning of a long drawn-out journey. Being the citizens of this country, we are duty-bound to protect democracy and work for reform in the system. The long-term solution of all problems, this country is faced with, lies in having democratic structures and processes. It is through empowerment of common man and his inclusion in the decision-making that would strengthen our federation and make democratic institutions stronger and sustainable. As long as masses remain indifferent or do not have any stake in the democracy as agent of change, we would continue to remain condemned to musical chairs between so-called democrats and military dictators.

If we go by the history of this nation, the fact comes home that much of our troubles owe themselves to the lack of state institutions. The political system has been so structured that powers were concentrated in the ruling elite, both military and civilian included, which did not allow devolution of powers and its distribution among the institutions. This also explains the strains our federation is suffering from with full-blown active insurgency raging in the restive province of Balochistan. Had we acted upon the Constitution and allowed provincial autonomy to the provinces with the Centre retaining only a few subjects, we would not have seen this day. Judiciary sold its independence to the executive in 1954 and has been playing subservient role until 2007 when a lawyers-led movement was able to get the independent judiciary restored.

In the same manner, the role of parliament is not praiseworthy either. Over the decades, it has held itself hostage to the powerful executive ready to do the bidding of the rulers. The passage of the 15th amendment bill also known as Shariat Bill by the National Assembly within minutes without following the set procedure during the tenure of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says it all. It is a different matter that the bill could not be presented in the Senate for want of required number of votes. Similarly, the last parliament had the gall to elect President Musharraf while he was still donning uniform by contravening all legal, political and moral values. It is pathetic that we have not been to develop a single institution which is credible and enjoys public support. Our long-term survival lies in building up institutions, which cater to the public demands and aspirations in a proactive manner.

Pakistan faces the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in its worst form. This is not merely a simple law and order problem warranting administrative response as some people would have us believe. Extremists and terrorists are targeting state and its symbols and want to replace them with their version of a state. They seek to replace the inclusive Ideology of Pakistan with exclusivist version of puritanical Islam with no space for any competing ideology and viewpoint. This is a clear case of ‘battle for hearts and minds’. We can only win this war if we make conscious efforts to change mindsets of people coupled with establishment of good governance. Pakistan was created as a welfare state in accordance with the golden principles of Islam for giving better life to all and sundry without any discrimination.

I am of the considered view that our resort to the Ideology of Pakistan as enunciated by the Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Muhammad Iqbal, which can provide sovereign remedy to the scourge of terrorism and extremism. This year’s Independence Day should be celebrated with the determination to implement the ideals of the Quaid-e-Azam in letter and spirit.