The crisis that has been fomenting after the revelations in the Panama Papers reached its apogee on July 28 when the five-member bench of the Supreme Court, in a momentous decision, disqualified Nawaz Sharif – the 18th prime minister of Pakistan – from holding any public office.
It has been a long and arduous period of political uncertainty, which unfortunately continues even after the smooth election of veteran Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the new man at the Prime Minister House. But the country’s political scenario remains dangerously fluid as the third-time deposed former premier Sharif continues to verbally attack the judiciary for cutting short his rule and is trying to mobilise public opinion in his favour. The rising political temperature will further stoke mistrust and intensify tension within State institutions.
Dark clouds are amassing over the political landscape as Pakistan celebrates its 70th Independence Day on August 14. This will cast a shadow over the celebrations. Independence, translated into Urdu is Azaadi. Freedom. But are we truly free and independent? Or do we remain shackled to our convoluted past? Pakistan is growing increasingly insular and xenophobic. Extremism, continuously manifested by a multitude of acts ranging from terrorist bombings to the orders of a village council to rape a girl in revenge, shows that we are hideously bound to archaic philosophies in the latter example and trapped by the new age of terrorism. Are we truly free and independent, or are we living as hostages in our own land?
Are we free from prejudice and bigotry, or are we slipping away from the values espoused by the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Are we free to explore new thoughts, new technologies, creative endeavours, cutting-edge research and thought provoking discourse, or are we ready to attack anyone who attempts to shake up the system?
We are in danger of subsuming ourselves in practices and philosophies that are alien to this land and its people. Consider, for example, our culture of respecting shrines and dargahs. Yet these venerable institutions are being targeted by a philosophy that is not indigenous to our heritage. On the other end of the spectrum, we are allowing ourselves to be chained to an alien culture from across the border. Conditioned by watching Indian films and television, are we not allowing a cultural invasion to take over our own heritage and values?
There is much to be proud of in Pakistan and we, at Narratives, are proud to be Pakistanis. The only thing that has held us back from being an educated, developed society is the failure of successive political and military governments to lead us to the growth and prosperity that should have been a natural consequence for our nation and our people. Instead, we remain imprisoned by endemic corruption at all levels of society. For every rupee stolen from the national coffers, is a project not built. For every rupee diverted towards foreign bank accounts, is a promise not fulfilled.
It is time we truly seek Azaadi. Total freedom to break away from moribund traditions and dated attitudes. It is time we freely exercise our right to choose and elect a political leadership that is committed to this country, rather than leaders whose children are foreign citizens and who stash money in overseas bank accounts and purchase properties overseas rather than investing in their own country. It is time we voted for leaders on the basis of their past performance rather than on ties of clans and ‘biradaris.’
The most serious blow to our independence has been the accumulation of formidable international debt by our political leadership, especially during the tenure of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Our independence has been compromised by making us slaves to the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions. And slaves have never been allowed to think freely for themselves. Nor do slaves gain anything from their slavery. Our political masters have flourished while we have suffered and continue to groan under the weight of loans that can only be repaid by crippling ordinary Pakistanis.
This Independence Day, perhaps we should think about our future not in terms of five year governments and political squabbles but towards a grander vision of who we want to be. Proud citizens of a flourishing nation. It is not an impossible dream. It can be a reality if we choose wisely. Happy Independence Day.