Hitting seventy

And bearing its scars

 

 

 

In modern times, with the great strides made in medicine, seventy can hardly be termed a ripe old age in the life of individuals, with more and more now crossing the eighties and nineties mark, despite the wear and tear and depreciation of the human machine

 

 

 

It is that time of year again, the two weeks leading up to August 14, when the whole country seems inundated with the green and white colours of the national flag, the print media runs special editions and features on the occasion, while the television channels compete intensely in turning Independence Day into an Eid-like festive, joyous and carefree affair, replete with patriotic songs, talk shows bursting with pious platitudes and the constant refrain of the national anthem. Houses and streets are decked out with flags of all sizes, most vehicles and especially the two-wheeler driven by the average, common folk are seldom without one or two, despite their cost denting the precious monthly budget a bit.

It is also that time of year when the faded and grainy videos from 1947 are displayed again, of trains, buses and bullock carts carrying multitudes of bare-bodied people with nothing to declare as their possessions except the hope of a brighter future in the newborn country for which they had sacrificed (hundreds of thousands, literally) their former hearth and homes, and the few cassettes of the thin man with such farsightedness, a razor sharp mind and granite will, clad in an elegant sherwani, reassuring and promising the migrants of the justness of his cause.

In modern times, with the great strides made in medicine, seventy can hardly be termed a ripe old age in the life of individuals, with more and more now crossing the eighties and nineties mark, despite the wear and tear and depreciation of the human machine. But in the life of a nation, seven decades are merely a blur, especially when we consider that there are countries around that have been in existence for centuries and in some cases, even millennia, and have seen zeniths and nadirs in the course of their history. A mere seven decades are insufficient to pass any profound judgement, especially, in our case, because apart from the problems of mass dislocation and haphazard settlement of the migrant citizens in an unknown land, the new country was cash-strapped and acutely lacking in skilled human material and infrastructure. It had to start literally from scratch, from ground zero.

To cut straight to the nitty-gritty, though the freshness and vigour are still around at seventy, wrinkles and creases and some scars in the body-politic and social fabric are apparent to any neutral observer. These were caused first and foremost by an unfortunate paucity of nationalist-minded leadership almost throughout our short history. In the early years, intrigues by power hungry elites made a mockery of the political system, unduly delayed the adoption of a Constitution and led to the emergence of the three ambitious men on horseback, aided by the judiciary, one of whose number was at the helm when the country was dismembered in 1971 while another was responsible for the judicial murder in 1979 of the populist Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto, whom he had overthrown in a coup. These two traumatic events, and the shocking assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 were responsible for completely shattering national self-belief and eroding people’s confidence and morale.

But the colonial Raj-minded bureaucrats and some of the back-door politicians groomed and patronised by the military, including ethnic and militant jihadist elements, also played an infamous role in putting the country off the straight and narrow constitutionalist path. The murderous tin pot ‘Quaid’ of Karachi, the ‘last will and testament’ leader who politically decapitated the PPP and the dynastic businessman-politician too have played havoc with national institutions and the exchequer during their careers.

Major issues plaguing Pakistan such as terrorism, energy crisis, poverty, unemployment, minority rights, inadequate medical and educational facilities, lack of water reservoirs, climate change impact are callously ignored in the elites’ jostling for power, their bottomless greed and corruption, and petty personal squabbles. The common man, despite all his trials and tribulations, remains firmly committed to the country, as is evident from the simple, sincere manner in which he celebrates August 14. The nation’s defence has been made impregnable so that no external enemy can dare threaten the sanctity of our borders. However, it is the enemy within, those openly hostile and seditious, Fifth Columnists, mercantile media columnists who sow confusion, corrupt politicians who habitually flay pivotal state institutions, individuals with an open-secret foreign agenda and most importantly, the national leaders who are elected to ‘raise the wretched than to rise’, but repeatedly betray the illiterate and credulous voters’ trust. Machiavelli long ago stated that when countries reach a nadir, only a person of the calibre of the founder of the nation can restore order, unity and greatness. How right ‘Old Nick’ was, for today what we miss most are the Quaid-e-Azam’s universally acknowledged qualities of principled personal integrity and intellectual honesty, now unfortunately rarities in our ‘overnight rags to riches’ political and social systems.

 



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