M Zafar K Safdar
The nation today is celebrating 70th Independence Day with due reverence and paying its tribute to the memory of the country’s founder Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan owes its creation to the leadership and vision of that singular man of thought and action. By “Unity, Faith and Discipline”, he converted Muslim nation into a dynamic force which swept the sub-continent and altered the destinies of a human race by lying the foundation of the second biggest Muslim state, an achievement without parallel in the annals of civilization.
Whatever little time he had after independence, the Quaid tried hard to run the affairs of Pakistan, to pass on this commitment as his legacy to the leadership and citizens of the new nation. Mr. Jinnah was something more than Quaid-i-Azam, supreme head of the state, to the people who followed him: he was more than even the architect of the Islamic nation he personally called into being. He commanded their imagination as well as their confidence. In the face of difficulties which might have overwhelmed him, it was given to him to fulfill the hope foreshadowed in the inspired vision of the great Iqbal by creating for the Muslims of India a homeland where the old glory of Islam could grow afresh into a modern state, worthy of its place in community of nations. Unfortunately, we have betrayed that legacy time and again.
With his unusual powers of persuasion, luminous exposition, searching arguments, and sound judgment, the Quaid was able to win the battle for Pakistan. His ability for counter-argument was on display even at the formal ceremony on August 14, 1947. When Lord Mountbatten made a speech to the Constituent Assembly in which he offered the example of Akbar the Great as the model of a tolerant Muslim ruler to Pakistan. The Quaid, however, was equal to the task. In his reply to the speech, he immediately presented an alternative model; that of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). “The tolerance and goodwill that the great emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago…,” Quaid thundered back.
It is easy to forget the unsettled and confused circumstances in which Pakistan was born, and to cavil at some of the decisions made when the Quaid was governor-general. But his personal incorruptibility and his belief in the supremacy of the will of the people were never in doubt. Throughout his career as a politician and as a legislator, his dedication to the rule of law and constitutionalism was unswerving. In the short span of seven decades, we have made a mockery of these values.
Democracy is often confusing business, but it appears even more so in our circumstances because the structures that support it — the constitution, parliament, the judiciary — have been systematically weakened. If the generals are guilty of repeatedly blocking the political process, the politicians too are guilty for treating their own electorates with contempt and of flagrant abuse of office. There is no doubt that the Quaid wanted to see the country move ahead and prosper in all fields of life. “The first duty of the government is to maintain law and order… The second thing that occurs to me is… Bribery and corruption. That really is a poison” he said in his speech on 11 Aug 1947. And today, the poison Quaid has referred to has spread like cancer. That is the greatest dis-service one can do to the Father of the nation, and we, as a nation, do it every single day. Indeed, we have so weakened the Quaid’s ideals that some people question whether they are any longer relevant as a frame of reference. But it would be a grievous mistake if we fell into the error of seeking to compromise further on his faith in democracy as the only course for Pakistan to follow. With our repeated deviations from universally accepted principles, we are often spoken of as an anachronism in today’s world moving towards political and social emancipation.
Today a national consensus is needed, based on the precepts of our founding fathers and the experience of the past 70 years, on the direction in which we want to travel. We need to even overhaul the constitution if needed to empower the people of Pakistan and its federating units. Regrettably, provincial autonomy has fallen victim to political rhetoric even after the 18th constitutional amendment. How else can one explain the absence of a serious debate on the issue? In fact, even those shouting the loudest about provincial autonomy have failed to come up with a clause by clause analysis of the Basic Law and present a realistic scheme of division of power. Pakistan can move towards stability and consolidation if the constituent units are given a strong stake in its strength and vitality. This means not only economic development in backward provinces and regions but also a proper devolution of powers from the centre downwards.
For the people at large, democracy essentially means a proper sense of participation at all levels of government, federal, provincial and local. There is neither freedom from want for millions living in urban slums and the less developed regions nor would freedom for the creative urges of the people to find expression that lend dynamism to the country.
It is no pleasure, year after year, to repeat a litany of failure. We must squarely confront the challenge of discovering our political direction and identity if we want the times to come to be more purposeful and productive. Do we want to be a democratic, disciplined, accommodating and legitimate country or do we want to turn ourselves into a society with a garrison mentality — unable to give people the freedom to exercise their choice freely and without restriction? This question needs to be asked today by as many of us as have not lost all confidence in the future of Pakistan as a vibrant and developed country.
–The writer, Ph.D in Political Science, is a civil servant based in Islamabad.
M Zafar K Safdar