On the 23rd of March, 1940, a small group of Muslim political leaders gathered in a field, at the feet of Badshahi Masjid, to announce a historic resolution, which formed the basis for our independent nation state. Each year, we celebrate this occasion as ‘Pakistan Day’, in order renew the promise of our forefathers, who had endeavoured to create a ‘land of the pure’, free from persecution, corruption, elitist dominance and all forms of militancy.
However, over the past 77 years, we have seen this dream fumble and crack. We have seen persecution continuing to plague our minorities, corruption running rampant, a new set of dynastic elites capturing all political power, and militancy creating havoc across our land. And so, on this Pakistan Day, it is pertinent to pause for a moment and take stock of where we are today, and what direction we wish to take hereon.
For a relatively young nation, with almost 200 million citizens, Pakistan has had more than her share of plights and pitfalls. Despite the abundance of natural resources, we have acute power shortages; despite being one of the largest food-producers in the world, we have children dying of hunger; despite a constitutional democratic paradigm, we have entrenched political dynasties; despite following the religion of ‘peace’, we have kill and perpetrate barbarities in its name.
A nuanced glance at our national journey would reveals that most (if not all) of Pakistan’s problems have originated out of institutional turf-wars. Soon after the creation of our nation State, the then bureaucratic enterprise, led by Mr. Iskander Mirza, expanded its domain to capture political power. Unfortunately, during those nascent years, no real effort was made to write a new Constitution, or to empower institutions over individuals. Eventually, within a few years, bureaucracy lost this power struggle to the military, and General Ayub Khan was sworn in as the President, with a pliant judiciary validating this khaki abrogation of democratic and political power.
In the decades that followed, political elites reorganised themselves in a bid to regain political power from the military establishment. This movement, led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was short lived (in West Pakistan). Alongside Russian troops invading Afghanistan, the military boots of General Zia-ul-Haq marched into the power corridors of Pakistan, and soon found alliance with power-hungry Punjabi elites (read: Nawaz Sharif), who were all too eager to assemble under the shade of a ruthless dictator. Soon, under this abdominal dispensation, Pakistan saw an influx of Aghan refugees and militants, who brought with themselves opiate concoctions and Russian-made AK-47s. During these years, as religion became the new mantra of the State, Pakistan amended its Constitution and the laws to make space for the Mullahs in this Military-Mullah alliance. Hudood Ordinance was introduced. Section 295-C was made into a sword, as opposed to a shield. And once again, a subservient judiciary validated these actions.
With a plane crash over Bhawalpur, on 17th August, 1988, the checkered decade of Nawaz Sharif – Benazir democracy was ushered in; a decade that continues to serve testament to the petty nature of our partisan bickering. During the 1990s, the two main political parties concerned themselves (entirely!) with creating personal dynasties and pulling the other down, resulting in each party assuming power twice, and neither completing their constitutional tenure. As a result, during this decade, no real efforts were made to stem the wave of Islamic militancy, sectarian violence, provincial conflicts, or the ever-growing myriad of financial corruption.
At the turn of the century, General Musharraf abrogated power in Pakistan (again, validated by a pliant judiciary, which incidentally included Iftikhar Chaudhary). Simultaneously, as twin towers came crashing down in New York, Afghanistan was turned into a battleground once again. In the decade that followed, Pakistan was engulfed with the flames of a new war against terror, with bearded militants crawling out of every nook and corner of our country. Almost instantaneously, Islam became synonymous with terrorism, and Pakistan became the ‘eye of the storm’ in this global battle against extremism. No one had any real time to fight financial corruption, or tackle other issues of national importance, while innocent children were being blown up in city centers across Pakistan. And so, while the world focused its lens on terrorism in Pakistan, the financial corruption and dynastic tendencies of the ruling elite remained unchecked, gaining strength and encouragement in the shadows.
Finally, in 2008, democracy returned to our land. And this time, in the wake of the fabled Lawyers’ Movement, democracy had a rejuvenated judiciary at its side, led by a tainted man who was proclaimed king in the land of the blind. This judiciary, notwithstanding its internal scandals (of a prodigal son) focused its efforts on combating mega-corruption scandals and targeting political elites (of only one political party). Also, during this time, a new military leadership, led by the herculean General Raheel Sharif, parted ways with its past legacy of distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants, and instead decided to focus its efforts on combating terrorism in all its forms.
As a result of this painful journey spanning almost eight decades, Pakistan today has two basic national problems: 1) fighting militancy, and 2) eradicating corruption from our political elite. The first of these (fighting militancy) has resulted in palpable gains, owing primarily to military efforts in Zarb-e-Azb, and now Radd-ul-Fassad. The second (corrupt political elite) however, have not yet been delivered a tangible blow. And the entire nation has its gaze fixed on the honourable Supreme Court in this regard.
Without commenting on the merits of the Panama Leaks case (just yet), it must be said that this case is not a contest between PML-N and PTI. It is not a battle of nerves between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. It is not simply verbal jousting between Sheikh Rasheed and Daniyal Aziz. It is a case that strikes at the very heart of who we are as a people, and who we wish to become as a nation. Away from legal minutia, the real questions before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan is whether the political elites, who have ruled (and plundered?) this nation for almost three decades, will be brought to answer the altar of our Constitution? Will a man who lives in a house spread over thousands of acres, and presides over a family with billions in off-shore assets, be allowed to continue feigning that he is a modest individual who pays a small tax token to our national exchequer? Will institutions such as NAB, FIA, FBR and the State Bank, be allowed to continue operating as personal servants to one ruling family? Is the shield of a million-dollar legal team really more potent than the strength of our laws? Are the Israelites really powerless against the might of Pharaoh? Or, instead, will mighty Goliath be made to fall at the feet of a puny David?
In the days to come, we will have an answer to these questions. And irrespective of what the answer is, the people of Pakistan will continue to live their lives in the hope of a better future – one that is free from all forms of militancy, and from corruption.
But as we celebrate Pakistan Day, this week, awaiting a verdict from the apex court, once cannot help but pray that pith of substance of ‘justice’ outweighs the procedure and technicalities of law. Ameen.