A Guest Post by Majyd Aziz
August 14. A day etched deep into our souls, the souls of 170 million Pakistanis. A day to bolster our profound commitment to the achievements of the goals, aspirations, and vision of the Founding Fathers. A day to meditate, to contemplate, and to remember. Every citizen of Pakistan celebrates the day as an ultimate reminder of the struggle for Independence from the British Raj. It is on August 14 that Pakistanis forget their privileged ethnicity, their provincial affiliation, and their heart burning prejudiced sensitivities. There are no political party flags fluttering and the only colors visible are the green and white that make up the country’s proud standard.
August 14. Preparations for this memorable day begin weeks in advance. The stores and the roadside vendors are fully geared to stock and sell their patriotic wares. The electronic media has chalked out programs to highlight the day and provide dazzling entertainment for the viewers. The marketing departments of newspapers are out soliciting advertisements for the Independence Day supplements. The Press Information Department is busy digging out messages from the President and the Prime Minister from its archives that they would polish, buff, and then send to all newspapers. The motivating vision of the Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, concise and significant, is oft repeated and reminded. His remarkable words, Unity, Faith, and Discipline, are the hallmarks of a true visionary. He was absolutely sure that these three words would, a few decades down the road, ensue into a formidable nation, a unified country, and a prosperous Pakistan.
August 14. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Leader, and Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the Dreamer, are revered by every citizen, for it was they who guided the Muslims of British India to persevere, to strive, and to achieve freedom from London. Jinnah, educated at the Lincoln’s Inn, and Iqbal, with knowledge gained during his sojourn in Germany, were far-sighted and bold gentlemen. They knew that the economic, political, and social emancipation for the Indian Muslims would only be achieved in an environment where there were no shackles of slavery and no strangulation from the domination of the Hindu juggernaut. Their dream and vision culminated into freedom at midnight on August 14, 1947.
August 14. Sixty two years after Independence, Pakistan has not reached the heights Jinnah had dreamed of. A belligerent Eastern neighbor not yet reconciled to the fact that Pakistan exists and has made its presence felt globally, a wobbling North Western neighbor still suspicious of Pakistan’s role in its sovereignty, a reactionary Western neighbor mindful of the dominance of Pakistan’s Sunni majority, and the benevolent Northern neighbor who proudly acclaims Pakistan as its all-weather friend, all have in more ways than one impacted on the sustainability and survival of this Islamic nation. The past events witnessed the separation of the erstwhile East Pakistan from West Pakistan thru a diabolical and Machiavellian conspiracy hatched in Agartala, India, and tacitly supported by forces inimical to the ideals of Pakistan. Moreover, pygmy politicians joining hands with self-centered bureaucrats managed to create havoc and conspired to throttle the prosperity of the country. They waited for Jinnah and Liaquat to die and then they put their satanic game plan into action. The muddle created by them encouraged the protectors of the borders to move the troops out from the cantonments and march towards the capital. Of course, there were intermittent occasions when the façade of democracy was thrust upon the citizens, evidently with damaging ramifications.
August 14. Pakistan’s economy has had a checkered history. A centralized, regimented, and controlled economy that favored a selected few restricted the entry of enterprising entrepreneurs and those who had the urge to venture into industry. Licenses, permits, and approvals were sanctioned to the blue-eyed industrialists and this created an appalling wide gap between the so-called 22 families (a term popularized by the late Dr Mahbub ul Haq and used by him in a contemptuous manner) and those who owned SMEs. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto superbly exploited this frustration when he rallied the nation against these conglomerate moguls and which ensued into the disastrous nationalization action of the first PPP government. Although the Ayubian era was considered as the Decade of Reforms that witnessed massive industrialization, the fact remained that the 22 families savored the cream and the small industrialists resigned themselves to eating crumbs. After the takeover by the Zia-led junta, there was again a flurry of industrial activity and gradually the confidence of industrialists and businessmen was restored.
August 14. Just three days after Independence Day in 1988, Zia, whom Bhutto had appointed as Chief of the Army, incidentally on April Fool’s Day 1976, did not pay heed to the warning to stay away from mangoes. His death brought in four short-lived political governments headed twice each by supreme political rivals, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Calling each other traitors, the two fiddled with democracy and the Treasury. Pakistan became a pauper in the comity of nations and the economy was on a roller coaster ride. The golden period emerged after Musharraf came into the scene and brought his technocrat government to salvage whatever remained of the Islamic Republic. Post 9/11 brought in manna and soon the country was on the path of economic prosperity due to the foundations led in the first three years of Musharraf’s tenure. Freedom to do business. Freedom to set up industry. Freedom of the media. Telecommunication revolution. Incentives to foreign investors. The list goes on . . .
August 14. The year 2007 saw Musharraf being hijacked by his myopic advisors and the motley crowd known as PML- (Q), led by two cousins from Gujrat and supported by a banker turned pygmy politico on whom Lady Luck smiled and made him a Prime Minister. Calamitous decisions undertaken by the government resulted in the rapid downslide in the popularity of Musharraf. The arrival of Benazir and her assassination at the fag end of 2007 was the last straw that broke the back of this government. PPP, along with its allies, formed a coalition government and tried to tackle the rising inflation, the fall in exports, the increase in imports, the dependence on dole from IMF, the infrastructure shortages, the menace of terrorism and extremism, and general discontent.
August 14. The Independence Day in 2010, one hopes, could be the harbinger of a new age of economic prosperity. But Pakistan is at the mercy of the fury of nature along with human mistakes and governmental apathy. The nation is under water with over 1.5 million citizens displaced, deaths unaccountable, property and assets destroyed, families uprooted, and no control anywhere. It is worse than the Tsunami says the Secretary General of UN. The various precautionary measures taken by the government to avert this calamity have failed. As always, the government looks toward external and domestic financial support. Citizens and some foreign countries have responded. The Federal and Provincial governments announced the setting up of relief funds. However, this time the government received a rude shock. Nobody wants to donate cash to this government. The credibility and trust factor has gone with the flood. The deluge also brought high prices and shortages everywhere. This is going to be a tough Holy Month and surely a somber Independence Day. Pakistan’s prosperity has been pushed back by over five years.
August 14. The dice is loaded against the government, the stakes are high, and the avenue is full of roadblocks, potholes, and debris. The government is maneuvering to sustain thru ad hoc measures and long term planning conjured up by ignorant and foreign-returned consultants. Policies are prepared in an NGO mode rather than oozing with pragmatism. What is needed is total focus on the economy and the way to do is to take into confidence the real stakeholders, that is, the business and industrial community. This is the right approach and one that surely works. When will the government listen? The answer, as always, is blowing in the wind.
August 11, 2010