Whatever striking feats that Pakistan as a state has achieved over the past 66 years, and they have been many, some of them against heavy odds, they must all be recalled today to prepare us for the terrible battle that faces us this historic day. For the masses, the story of Pakistan has remained an epic tale of want, suffering and ignorance, at the hands of a string of inept rulers, who have been adept at duping them with the promise of rivers of milk and honey. And when military dictators grabbed power, staying there for half the period of independence, the hard-pressed people took them as their deliverers, only to find them worse than the civilians who ruled them in the name of democracy and their welfare.

As a result, values, across the board have become a casualty. Today's Pakistan is synonymous with an extremist bent of mind. This is most glaringly visible in the rampaging terrorism the world witnesses day in and day out, and has overpowered the centuries-old tradition of tolerance, giving the world a much-vaunted chance of pointing a finger at Pakistan as a struggling state. The death and destruction it causes compounds the citizens’ misery that pressures of rampant corruption, agonising insecurity and skyrocketing prices inflict on them. It affords a fertile ground to the fissiparous elements, as in Balochistan, to exploit the situation.

Such changes are no surprise, given an economy in doldrums, electricity unavailable, water once abundant and now scarce -- straitened circumstances have meant an amplification of our already existing societal problems.

As even friends shy away from our company, enemies and outsiders feel encouraged to cast an evil eye.

Salvation lies in all of us, rulers and the ruled, to rededicate ourselves to the service of the nation, adhering to the principles that underlay the creation of Pakistan. Only then will we inspire the respect of the comity of nations. And our first priority must be to set our own house in order. Only with a strong, prosperous Pakistan, can we fight for the ideals we hold dear.

Our government, military, judiciary, indeed all pillars of the state must be solemnly aware of the expectations that the people of Pakistan have of them. They must remember their vows and respect the constitutional bounds of their positions, all the while working earnestly to implement one rule for all in Pakistan, to protect the weak and fight for the oppressed. It is a time of uncomfortable self-criticism, but it is also a time of opportunity. We have had many successes in the past, but if we are to see any successes in the future, we must defeat extremism and intolerance within ourselves. All it takes is a decision to do so.