The truth is that the ‘new year’ has no astronomical significance attached to it.  None.  It merely marks and celebrates an arbitrary point on the Earth’s elliptical journey around the Sun; a journey that neither started on the 1st of January, nor experiences a revival on the said date.

The striking of midnight on the 31st of December, therefore, has no other purpose than to serve as a fictitious gong for us mortal beings, so that that we can record the chronicles of humankind against the silent backdrop of boundless eternity.

Year after year, we find an occasion to celebrate and to contemplate, to remember and to resolve, to plan and to pray, about the road that has lead us to our present, and the path that we must travel hereon.  We make personal resolutions, mutual promises, and collective oaths; all with the aim of spending a more fulfilling and purposeful life. We fall short in fulfilling these resolutions, only to renew our resolve at the start of the following year.

In fidelity to this spirit, it is important to take this moment and reflect upon the happenings of this past year, in Pakistan, and set course for (at least) the next twelve months.

The year 2015, in Pakistan, dawned under the devastating shadow of the unprecedented tragedy of Army Public School (APS), Peshawar.  In that moment, there was no occasion to celebrate the dawn of new year, or to recount any of the other (marginal) achievements made in the preceding twelve months.  The dharna had been brought to an abrupt end, without a resolution of the outstanding political and electoral differences; our economy continued to struggle under the collapsing weight of mounting foreign debt; and the system of justice continued to suffer from age-old issues that have corroded public confidence in the promise of constitutionalism.  But, having buried over 140 blood-stained school-uniforms, nothing else seemed to be of significance.  A grief-stricken nation, which had lost faith in the ability of inept politicians and ineffective courts to counter the surge of terrorism, translated its desperate pain into (abhorrently) creating the military courts (through passing of the 21st Constitutional Amendment along with amendments in the Army Act, 1952), as possibly the only effective ‘legal’ counter-punch against militancy.  To supplement this effort, operation Zarb-e-Azb was expanded, the National Action Plan (and its 20 points) were strengthened, and the National Internal Security Policy 2014 – 2018 (NISP) was recalibrated, as a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

In the months that followed, we all prayed for this strategy to work. For the most part, we all held our breath in the hope that Zarb-e-Azb would yield further success, and that the military courts will finally ‘convict’ (whatever that might mean in terms of khaki justice) the terrorist suspects. 

And it worked, at least in terms of immediate results.  As the Pakistan Army made advances in the operation Zarb-e-Azb, we saw a corresponding decline the frequency of terrorist activities across the country.  Furthermore, as (known) terrorists were sent to the gallows by military courts, a sense of national catharsis and vindication started to set-in; finally, we became a country that knows how to punch back.  

But, upon careful reading, one would observe that most (if not all) of these are tales of military success.  Curiously, the civilian State and judicial structure is absent from these tales of heroism in the face of national crisis.  And this, notwithstanding all the excuses, is a shattering realization.

Keeping aside the overarching challenges of economy, energy, education, and healthcare (none of which are any closer to being resolved), over the past year, sadly, we have passed no meaningful legislation for the protection of minorities in Pakistan.  Despite frequent and horrific episodes of persecution (e.g. Jospeh Colony, and the lynch of Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi, etc.), our legislative and executive branches have remained wholly impotent in enacting and implementing protection of religious minorities.  Blasphemy law is still as nefariously drafted. Bigoted ideology still dominates a large fraction of our national discourse.  Muharram processions are still a target in our land.  Members of banned outfits continue to mobilize under the banner of religious sectarianism.  And Mumtaz Qadri continues to be a hero to millions, who freely profess their bloodstained affection in rural and urban centers of Pakistan.  All, with an eerie measure of insolence and impunity.

On the judicial front, despite a change of leadership at the honorable Supreme Court as well as (some of the) provincial High Courts, no purposeful reforms have been introduced, this year, for an overhauling of our judicial culture and process. Distressingly, majority of the Supreme Court (with notable exceptions) finally gave in to the seductive temptation of a ‘Basic Structure’ to the Constitution, which can now serve as an unwritten touchstone for invalidating democratically enacted constitutional provisions.   Separately, during this year, the process of appointment of superior judiciary continues to take place in a non-transparent manner.  The ‘quality’ of fresh appointees (I bite my tongue!), has done nothing to infuse confidence in the ability of our judiciary to broaden the frontiers of our jurisprudence.  In fact, on the few instances when select members of the judiciary were audacious enough to attempt evolving the empire of rights, they were chastised for their valor; thus teaching a lasting lesson to all others – that conservatism, in pursuit of justice, is a virtue!

Disposal of cases at the district courts continue to suffer from inordinate delay and backlog.  The Anti-Terrorism Courts have seen no meaningful reform, in terms of witness and judge protection programs.  Our judicial philosophy and evidentiary standards of a bygone era (which resist the infusion of modern-day techniques such as CCTV footage and DNA testing) have seen no evolution in letter or spirit.  And as a result, the conviction rates (of terrorism suspects), through our civilian judicial structure, continue to lag far behind international trends.

The year 2015 was an atypical year; it was geared almost entirely towards enacting emergency (khaki) measures, in the wake of APS Peshawar.  But these temporary measures, by definition, are meant to be fleeting in nature; a stopgap arrangement till such time that the civilian structure prepares itself to take on the national challenges.  However, sadly, while enjoying the momentary fruits of military success, we have failed (thus far) in enacting reforms that might prepare our civilian institutions for the lasting and decisive battle against extremism in this land.

There might still be an opportunity to catch-up on lost time.  If only all of us, together, could make it our collective 2016 New Year’s resolution.