As the first few days of August pass by and the customary roadside stalls selling Pakistan flags of every size imaginable pop up, there is a melancholy in the air. You notice it in the way that people meet each other, the slumped shoulders of the less privileged, the sheer exasperation of the middle class that always suffers the most. This year as Pakistan’s 76th birthday creeps up, its citizens sit in silent dread, knowing full well that the bell has finally tolled for them, that things will never change.
‘Azadi Mubarak’ glares down at us from jumbo-sized billboards and TV channels. Advertisements of housing societies, multi nationals all wishing the country ‘Happy Independence Day’, ordering us to be grateful – just be grateful without expecting anything else in return. Meanwhile our current government led by coalition partners PML- N and PPP, flag bearers of the ‘Charter of Democracy,’ have been busy serving the country up until the last days of their government.
Hurriedly passing bills that seek to curtail, monitor, and penalize public discourse, they also tried to provide legal cover to enforced disappearances. Our mighty ‘democratic’ politicians have in the past ten days amended the Army Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the last feather in their cap, an amendment to the draconian Blasphemy laws widening its scope and increasing the punishment from three years to life imprisonment, “which will not be less than ten years.”
In the past sixteen months this government has inflicted more damage to the principles of democracy and freedom than those before it. From defending their decision to allow intelligence agencies to help vet bureaucrats and then conduct military trials of civilians involved in the vandalism that took place on May 9. The PDM government has in all respects, capitulated what little power the Parliament did have. So, when we talk about ‘Azadi Mubarak’, is this what we imagine?
Pakistani citizens watch in horror as their country is crippled economically and their already limited set of freedoms is taken away. They find themselves staring into an abyss, clambering for boats, containers, and planes. anything that will take them away from the chaos that is Pakistan right now. The number that has been oft-repeated, 800,000 highly skilled professionals have left Pakistan for greener pastures.
Meanwhile the billboards, this time bathed in green, asking you to remember the glory that was this country the promise it offered and to stay back. Some billboards are electronic and show scenes from 9th May when buildings were vandalized asking you to never forget, but all you can think of when you see these electric billboards is how expensive the rate of electricity is ( Rs.29.78 per unit).
It is hard to think who came first, the corrupt politician or the power-hungry serviceman. Like the proverbial chicken or the egg, this question has plagued us for decades. After thinking long and hard, I have concluded that it really does not matter. Like a bad Marvel Comics movie, we are prisoners of a loop, the only problem, this is not a movie. As a new wave of terrorism raises its ugly head, we realize that we are on our own. Our elected representatives are too busy in trying to obliterate that one thorn on their side come what may. Squabbling amongst each other in order to protect their own families and ensure their futures.
Just a few days back Bilalwal Bhutto declared, how his elders are making it very difficult for him and Maryam Nawaz Sharif to conduct their politics. This rather tone-deaf declaration made it clear where the priorities of family led ‘democratic’ parties rested. Our leaders and their blatant disregard for rule of law and democratic principles have rendered this country irrelevant on the global stage.
On August 14, it is important to introspect. Pakistan offered us dignity, opportunity, and freedom. What have we done in exchange? We celebrated every time democratically elected governments were brought down. We looked the other way when our country was split into two, when the will of fellow citizens was ignored. We allowed those wielding the most power to makes us proxies of foreign wars, to destroy an entire generation by teaching them nothing but hatred. We allowed corrupt governments to push elections forward to undermine our fundamental rights as citizens, our right to vote. When we did go to the polls we voted based on loyalty, personality and biraadri.
Azadi, freedom, is a two-way street. It is not enough to just be grateful that we live in a country of our own, we must uphold our end of the bargain. So, whenever we do get our day in court, Election Day, do not vote out of spite or anger or any misguided sense of fealty. Vote for who you think will work hard to solve your problems to restore dignity to this beleaguered country. Don’t vote for the sake of an individual, vote for the one who is capable. Take part in local body elections, vote for who you think will do a good job in improving your immediate surroundings. Show the political and non-political actors that you are waiting for your day and that you will be relevant. That is what Azadi really is.