Independence Day, and the celebration of it, remains preserved in the same spirit despite changing years. The green and white flag starts flying from countless buildings and the people in them don the same colours. A nationwide holiday, that is spend in listening to anthems of hope and unity, and the promise of a better life ahead.

What also remains the same is the introspection that necessarily follows; how far have we detached from our colonial past, how the nation rates in the global community, and what lessons we have learned from the past.

Most people will agree, life in Pakistan is hard, unpredictable, and full of danger – as life is in most of the vast developing world. Yet, most would also agree that slowly but steadily, the nation is heading in the right direction. Compared to the past Independence Days, this 14th August will rise on cautious optimism – a rare sentiment in Pakistan.

For decades Pakistan has struggled with religious extremism, terrorism, militancy, and worst – an unwillingness to deal with it. However, the past year has seen a highly encouraging narrative emerge. Terrorist outfits are finally being targeted, and their sympathisers – even the progressive ones – have retreated into the backdrop. There exists a concrete ideal that associates nationalism with an aversion of religious extremism. Despite this crackdown, loopholes still exist. Punjabi groups and certain sectarian groups escape government attention, while powerful madrassa boards defy attempts at reformation. Yet we must recognise that a virtually unanimous opinion against religious extremism was unthinkable a year ago.

Of course, any mention of the men in boots must include discussion of their other, extracurricular, activities. Relative to Pakistan’s long history of military administration, the civil military imbalance is as tilted as ever. The only difference being that instead of being in the driver seat, the military is giving directions from the back seat, with Nawaz Shariff – the nervous man at the helm – doing the rest of the driving himself. Yet, even this arrangement is far cry from shackles of only a few years ago. The first democratic handover between governments in the history on the nation is in good shape. For the first time the public is learning that is can punish a party for poor performance with the power of its voice; as witnessed by the demise of Pakistan People’s Party. The departments, starting with the ECP and LEAs, are facing reform calls. The nascent democracy, given time, is slowly growing into its own. The most telling fact is that despite the imbalance, a coup is the least likely possibility at the present time.

Coupled with some prudent economic policies, in the shape of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and several energy projects, signals for a more prosperous time ahead – assuming the work is completed on time.

While cautious optimism may be the national outlook for 69th year of independence, the same cannot be said for the regional front. Pakistan and India’s independence saga is shared, and their coming time linked together. Despite this, both nations remain at odds, fuelling the malaise, directly and indirectly, in each other. At the moment, a normalised relationship seems distant – perhaps in the spirit of the same days of independence, we can change that too.