Perhaps, because these are the last 10 days of Ramazan, exactly the time of our independence in 1947, and they are meant for reflection, soul-searching and seeking forgiveness, one views our approaching birthday of independence in the same light.

What did we gain and lose in 65 years, what were our highs and lows and, most importantly, what could we have done better or different. The last 65 years establish the fact that the concept of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent was, indeed, a beneficial and good idea. But the benefits were not spread equally across the country. There are still places in Pakistan where, as one saw in the aftermath of the 2010 floods, life remains exactly as it was in 1947. Had we taken the road envisaged by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that of equal opportunity, merit and inclusiveness, we would be standing at a very different destination in our national lives.

There are many individual Pakistanis, who have displayed brilliance and integrity and brought laurels for their country, but the bulk of our institutions have not arrested their nosedives. The health, education, energy, Railways, PIA and sports sectors all come to mind. We are, probably, one of the few countries whose past is better than their present!

Our nuclear capabilities have not been able to ensure a dignified living for the common man. The progress made in certain areas like the electronic media, fashion and textiles, and some other industries are all results of private enterprises. The indicators of almost every illiterate person holding a mobile phone is no indicator of progress, just availability of cheap and competitive technology.

The short-sighted and selfish policies of both the democratically-elected and forceful usurpers of power in this country have led to this stalemate. Although a charming and a soft-spoken person, it was the tenure of Ziaul Haq as Pakistan’s all powerful dictator from 1977 to 1988 that sowed the seeds of the warped version of religion, which has become a malignant cancer. The saplings he planted just to prolong his tenure have become full-grown demons, who nobody wants to or can take on. His 24th death anniversary this month reminds us of him and his legacy.

Twenty four years is almost a quarter of a century and the problems he gave us have multiplied scores of time and have created so many fissures. The beautiful Islam that the Sufis of the subcontinent preached and practiced, that of being good to all humanity, is nowhere visible anymore.

It was not too long ago that so many of the romantic dramas filmed were based on Muslim households. The leading men wore sherwanis and were genteel and sophisticated, and the women alluring and mysterious despite the hijab. Anything but violence could be associated with these stories of yore. Compare that to the image of religion that the militants propagate or adhere to.

The people of this country are desperate for a change, even as they celebrate this Independence Day. They don’t know who will do it or how it will happen, but as Faiz penned in September 1968:

”Aatey aatey yun hi dum bhar ko ruki ho gi bahar,

Jaatey jaatey yun hi pal bhar ko khizaan tehri hai.”

“Pal bhar” has stretched to 65 years and something has to give. As one views the likes of Ayala Khan and Sheikh Rashid around PTI’s new entrants or allies, one wonders about who will bring the change. Only one thing is certain: that things have to turn a whole 180 degrees around to start getting better.

We have to go back to Iqbal and Jinnah. As Quaid-i-Azam said about his vision for Pakistan and I quote: “We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in rights, dignity and self-respect. Consequently, we have a special and very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake. Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.” Until we accept and realise Jinnah’s vision, there can be no way forward!

It is pointless being excited about another candle on Pakistan’s birthday cake. We have to resolve that when the 66th birthday rolls along next year things will be looking very different to us and the world too will be reviewing the way it has to handle Pakistan anew. Celebrations only then will really be in order.

Postscript: While the holy month slows down everything considerably and productive hours at work are few and far between. The whole month is spent in praying, atoning and waiting for Iftar. There are some elements, however, who have taken on a faster speed and have taken advantage of most people being zombie-like in this month. They, the media reports, are the dacoits and the thugs, who have broken their previous records of activity in this month. In the last week, there were as many as 25 cases of daring daylight gunpoint robberies in the city of Lahore. Innocent men waiting in the cars for their wives, who have stepped into a store, are easy targets as are women sitting alone. The culture of fear is causing panic and even shopping for Eid has lost its lustre. As somebody remarked so poignantly the other day that “happiness and happy moments are becoming far too elusive for most Pakistanis.”

    The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.