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August 14, 2009
Pakistan celebrates, reflects on independence day

Girls celebrate Independence Day in Pakistan.

On Friday, Pakistanis celebrated the country’s 62nd anniversary of independence from British rule, waving flags and singing songs. Security was on high alert in the conflict-torn nation.

Also on Friday, President Asif Zardari announced reforms that will allow political activities in Pakistan’s tribal areas, hoping to draw the lawless region closer to mainstream politics.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Bilal Qureshi describes the changes Pakistan has gone through since gaining independence in 1947.

People in Pakistan are celebrating Independence Day on 14 August. Pakistani flags are flying all over the country, national anthem is playing in every car, every shop, and on every television channel. The overall atmosphere in Pakistan is very patriotic and celebratory.

Good, this is what independence should be all about!

But, there is one question worth asking and exploring at this moment in Pakistan’s history. Why are Pakistanis celebrating this day with so much enthusiasm?

Anyone familiar with Pakistan’s history will definitely agree with me when I suggest that 47’s Pakistan was much better then 2009’s Pakistan. Back in 47, despite awful circumstances, people believed in the country, people believed that the worst was over and now the new country will be a land of opportunities, justice, peace and progress, not only for Muslims, but for everyone living within the boundaries of this brand new country, Pakistan. However, events proved to be totally different and we now know that hoping for the best doesn’t necessarily mean anything, unless people responsible for steering the nation towards stability are serious and honest and Pakistan is a textbook case of classical leadership failure. In fact, not only Pakistan’s leaders failed the country, but the masses too failed to understand what was going in Pakistan. So, what we have today is a country that is on the verge of economic, social and political collapse because of our collective negligence.

Today, when people in Pakistan celebrate Independence, they don’t really understand that the country was supposed to build on what the Brits left behind. Listening to a journalist who has covered Afghanistan for years, I was amazed by his observation and it is worth repeating here. The journalist said (and I am paraphrasing) that industrial revolution (modernity in other words) completely bypassed Afghanistan because Afghanistan was never occupied by the British, and Afghanistan is stuck in 18th century. There is no reliable road network, there is no railway system, and there is nothing modern in Afghanistan even though the Western countries have been pumping billions of dollars in aid since 9/11. One reason for this backwardness is that the country never really progressed with the world when the world was changing in the last two centuries. Obviously, I am not suggesting that occupation by a colonial power is the only way to become modern, of course not. However, I am suggesting that if anyone looks at Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries that went through the experience of British presence, and compare their infrastructure to Afghanistan, one cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that Afghanistan really was at least two centuries behind when it is compared to rest of the world. So, going back to what I stated earlier, Pakistanis had everything when the British left — a superior and comprehensive road and railway network, an effective administrative set up to govern, a unique and modern postal service that helped people communicate with other and many other services that are still in use today. So, the country had almost everything that was required to start fresh and it was up to the subsequent leaders of the country to make Pakistan a country of hope and opportunities. Regretfully, Pakistan’s journey from 1947 to 2009 is a journey betrayal, failure, denial, greed and division. In all honesty, there is hardly anything in Pakistan that can be a source of pride for any serious Pakistani.

Yes, despite all the bad things that have happened, people of Pakistan deserve to celebrate independence, sure. However, it is also equally important to be realistic and we must look at Pakistan’s balance sheet for the last 6 decades. More importantly, the country should ask: what have we gained after independence? Are we really free? Are we really independent from foreign influence? Are we really self sufficient in any area? Do we have control over our destiny? Do we make our own decisions? Are all Pakistanis equal or is there a different standard for Muslim Pakistanis and another standard for non-Muslim Pakistanis?  (By the way, the recent violence against non-Muslims in Gojara, Punjab is hardly a sign of peace or progress in Pakistan. )

Despite terrible odds, the optimist in me believes that the country still has a chance to come out of this mess, if only the people in the country get united, demand equality, justice and honesty from their leaders, stop pointing fingers towards other countries for our own failure, stop looking for a ‘invisible foreign hand’ behind every failure, and realistically look for solutions to Pakistan’s problems. There is always a way out when it comes to problems and challenges. There is always an answer for every question. All we need is a sincere effort! And I believe that Pakistanis are, at the very least, fully capable of making a sincere effort!

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The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user kash_if under a Creative Commons license.

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