August 12, 2010

Pakistan - Quaid-e-Azm blushes

August 14 is Pakistan's independence day. The run up to independence day in Pakistan looks pretty much like anywhere else, flags hawked on every street corner and patriotic songs on the radio. But in a country commentators seem to love to describe as "nearly failing", independence is fragile enough to force Pakistanis to give more thought to what their country means than those dozing after a BBQ in more stable countries.

Independence days are usually occasions for chest thumping jingoism, a few military parades and plastic cut out opportunities to feel, and exhibit, some collective pride. Having spent most of my working life in the Middle East and Africa, I was expecting the flags, but also politicians making unrealistic promises, maybe some military show casing on television. And if I'm honest with myself, I was expecting a level of xenophobic self-congratulation pitched exactly inversely proportional to the nation's level of confidence. So, considering that the country is flooded, people think the president is a joke, bombs have killed thousands and Karachi, the commercial hub, is busy driving itself into the waiting arms of sectarian/ethnic conflict, I was expecting lots of laughable bravado.

Instead, so far at least, I've come across little military triumphantalism but quite a lot of reflection on where Pakistan is today compared to the vision of its founders.

Yesterday, The News - an English-language daily - printed a speech by Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah to Pakistan's first law makers. The newspaper didn't print any accompanying explanation, the editors decided to let it speak for itself. Allow me to highlight the parts that caught my attention:

"The first observation that I would like to make is this: You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.

"The second thing that occurs to me is this: One of the biggest curses from which India [Pakistan was three days away from foundation] is suffering - I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think, our condition is much worse - is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand...

"...a legacy which has been passed on to us. Along with many other things, good and bad, has arrived this great evil - the evil of nepotism and jobbery. This evil must be crushed relentlessly. I want to make it quite clear that I shall never tolerate any kind of jobbery, nepotism or any influence directly or indirectly brought to bear upon me.

"Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State."

"Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."

Quaid-e-Azm, or great leader as Jinnah became known, finished his short address with his message:

"I have received a message from the United States of America addressed to me. It reads:

I have the honour to communicate to you, in Your Excellency's capacity as President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, the following message which I have just received from the Secretary of State of the United States:

On the occasion of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly for Pakistan, I extend to you and to the members of the Assembly, the best wishes of the Government and the people of the United States for the successful conclusion of the great work you are about to undertake."

In case it wasn't obvious enough how far Pakistan is from Jinnah's dream, the very fact that this post did not appear on AM yesterday is testament to the failure of the heirs of the men and women Jinnah addressed that day 63 years ago.

The News is part of Geo media group. The group's tv news channel has been attacking the government with much relish over the president's much criticised visit to Europe during the floods. Over the weekend, while the president was in Birmingham, the UK's second city, a man either tried or succeeded (depending on which reports you read) to throw shoes at Zardari. TV channels in Pakistan which reported the incident were taken off the air.

From the Guardian's blog: "GEO TV and ARY News had just aired the story on Sunday when their broadcasts were blocked, sparking widespread protests on either side of the issue.

When some cable operators refused to obey the ban, gunmen fired at their staff and offices. The offices of two cable operators in Karachi were set ablaze by pro-Zardari activists when operators refused to shut down transmissions of feeds from GEO TV and ARY News.

Newspapers that carried the story, such as Jang and The News were burned."

It seems the party's supporters weren't satisfied with burning a few issues. The News website was down yesterday.

While incidents such as this sound depressingly familiar to me, i know there is more to Pakistan than a police state gone wrong. But to the man who made it his life's work to establish the country, that would just not be good enough.

So, in the run up to this indepedence day, a Pakistani flag hangs from our balcony in support of Jinnah's dream.