Congratulations on Pakistan Independence Day – celebrating the young state and an old culture!

It is a day when all Pakistanis should feel proud and confident about the land and the people, the unity and diversity of the past and the present, looking forward to a bright future. As a matter of fact, Pakistanis are doing well and live mostly peacefully together, often in spite of difficulties and material shortages in many fields. Most of Pakistan’s sunny days are yet to come. What else would we expect in a land of kind and clever people, of strong believers, of farmers and practical businessmen and women, of young people full of innovative ideas and energy! The term nation-building means that we must focus more on what is positive and can unite everyone, and that also means that sub-groups and minorities must be given space and encouragement because there is strength in diversity and divergence of opinions. A healthy democracy must accept the richness of diversity as part of the glue that binds all people in the country together.    

Independence Day is held to commemorating the birth of Pakistan on14/15 August 1947 when the British Empire had to let go of it crown colony of India. The independent Muslim state of Pakistan was created to include East Pakistan, presently Bangladesh, and West Pakistan, which is today’s Pakistan, needless to say. Pakistan is a large country with a population of close to 200 million people, ranking the world’s sixth most populous one. The green colour in the flag, with the new moon and the star symbolizes the Muslim basis; yet, the white section in the flag symbolizes the religious minorities, the Christians, Hindus and others. Following the difficult independence struggle, many Muslims left the territory of today’s India to settle in Pakistan. However, most Muslims could not move and remained where they lived; hence, today, the Muslim population in India is almost as large as that of Pakistan.

The largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia, followed by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Two thirds of the world’s Muslims live in South and South East Asia; twenty percent live in Arab countries. But Islam stretches wider, to include Iran, the Middle East, Turkey, Egypt and other countries in North and Central Africa. There are more Muslims in China than in Lebanon; and more in the United Kingdom than in Syria. Due to recent migration, there are today large groups of Muslims in Europe and North America, although as percentages of the total populations the Muslims are relatively few. France has the highest percentage in Europe but less than a tenth; in my home country Norway, there are about three percent, with the Pakistani immigrants forming the single largest group.

Religion was important when Pakistan was created, and it remains important today in defining the land. The full name of the country is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which in Urdu and Persian means the ‘land of the pure’. But the role of religion mustn’t be made more important than it was meant to be. It must be realized that Pakistan is a diverse country ethnically, linguistically and in other ways, with a federal government uniting the four provinces, the federally administered tribal and northern areas of FATA and FANA, and the Pakistani administered part Kashmir.  It has the fourth largest standing army in the world, and has fought three wars with India, its larger neighbour to the east, with which it shares colonial history. Pakistan is the only Muslim country with nuclear-weapons. In foreign politics it cooperates closely with its neighbours, including China, and that linkage is likely to grow closer; and it also cooperates with the West, especially the United States of America in the current time of ‘war on terror’. Pakistan is also a founding member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Pakistan is a developing country, with a GDP per capital of some USD 3,100 per capita. The economic growth rate is lower than that of many other countries and it has high inflation. Pakistan has a high population growth rate. The textile industry is essential to Pakistan’s economy and it has the third largest spinning capacity is Asia. Agriculture and horticulture are essential to employment and earn foreign currency from export. Some 7 million Pakistanis work abroad or have immigrated to other countries, and the money they send home is valuable to the country’s economy.

Pakistan has made its mark in sports, culture, fashion and many other fields. In mountaineering, it is currently Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Ali who make headlines after having climbed Mount Everest in May 2013, and in July 2014, they could celebrate that they had reached the summits if the seven highest peaks on seven continents. Pakistan has in the last decade done well in higher education, but performs poorly in primary education for all.

One may suggest that Pakistanis are good traders and managers, but less experienced in many scientific fields. The civil service has many excellent staff and departments, and is better than popular local and foreign opinions have it, yet, corruption is also a problem. Politically, the country has suffered from a dominant role of the military, which in principle should have no role in politics. The democratic tradition and culture are yet to develop, at all levels from top to bottom in society, including at local government levels and in institutions.

I would like to emphasize that there is a need for developing systems and procedures for how to debate political issues, and that also includes finding ways for how to proceed when there is disagreement, and how to express alternative and opposing views. I find the current ‘public demagogues’ of Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir ul Qadri to go outside acceptable forms of how to organize debates, especially when it happens on or about 14 August,  a time which should be a neutral celebration when all ‘swords or words are be kept in their holsters’.

Obviously, I also find it wrong to use violence to settle other moral, cultural, religious and other disagreements. We may not agree with each other all the time; indeed we shouldn’t if we live in dynamic societies. But we must find ways of living together in the new multi-cultural, multi-political, multi-ideological, multi-religious and diverse world and time. We must give room, space and encouragement to all, even those we disagree with. That is actually the way most Pakistanis are at bottom of their heart. Let us express that in public, too, more often than we do, not only today on this year’s Independence Day, but every day. Then we would truly contribute to peaceful nation-building. n


    The writer is a senior Norwegian social

    scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.