Almost seventy years after independence, we live at a time when the last few members of that great generation, who participated in the struggle for independence, are still alive. One such person, Fazl Hussain, an 85-year old man, lives at the Shrine of Hazrat Shah Inayat (R.A.), a stone’s throw away from the Punjab Assembly building and principle seat of the honourable Lahore High Court.
Fazl Hussain, who is now practically blind in both eyes, frequently tells the story (to anyone who would care to listen) of how he migrated to Pakistan, in August of 1947. His father was a postman in Nagpur, India. And he remembers meeting Quaid-e-Azam on three different occasions. At one of these instances, he recalls that Quaid said something to him, in English. But since Fazl cannot speak or understand English, he does not recall what Quaid had said. What he does remember, however, is that Quaid wore a pair of “shiny shoes”.
The thought of Quaid’s shiny shoes has lived with Fazl ever since. The bare-footed Fazl insists that, as a kid, he imagined that everyone in Pakistan would have such shiny shoes. And this was reason enough, in his mind, to demand an independent Muslim homeland, and then migrate to it.
Even a cursory look at Fazl, in his muddy green cloak, reveals that the dream of Pakistan has not turned out quite as he had expected. His wife died of malaria, in the 1970s, and his only son was killed in the Sunni-Shia clashes of the 1980s. Since then, Fazl has lived at the Shrine of Hazrat Shah Inayat, surviving on whatever little he gets to eat, by way of langar.
The story of Fazl, on this Independence Day, begs an answer to a multitude of questions: how did we get to this place? What step, or sequence of events, has led our journey of light into this dark alley of abyss and despair? How did we allow the menace of nepotism, of corruption, of intolerance and extremism, to become the creed of our nation? How are we, today, known, across the world, for bloodshed and fanaticism? When did the land of the pure become a land of the vile and the violent?
Why is our independence day, once again, seeped in the blood of the innocent, in Quetta? Why has a moment that held infinite promise of joy, once again been transformed into another episode of heart-wrenching grief? Why have the hypnotic tunes of milli naghmas been replaced with haunting cries of agony? Who were the people that carried out this barbaric monstrosity, and why? Can we simply blame RAW for this event, and move on? Do we share no responsibility in this regard? Did RAW act without any support from local Pakistanis? Are such events not a reflection of institutional failure within Pakistan? Despite RAW’s involvement, does out government share no responsibility in this regard?
And what have the people of Quetta, in particular, done to deserve such a squalid fate? What have the lawyers? Despite such horrific events, especially in the twenty months since APS Peshawar, why have we not developed an institutional response to mass-terrorism? Why is the National Action Plan not fully operative? Why are the civilian law enforcement institutions still suffering from capacity-building issues? Why has the National Internal Security Policy of 2014, still not been implemented in letter and spirit? How long can we fool ourselves that security and counter-terrorism is the responsibility of only our armed forces? What good is our political leadership, or the civilian institutions? Why have no heads rolled, in light of such colossal security failure? And who is responsible for this unfortunate course of our national history?
The one excuse that our civilian law enforcement institutions, and the political leadership in particular, has consistently articulated is that if someone wants to blow himself up, there is virtually nothing that can be done to stop it. That it is impossible to defend against every attack, carried out by domestic and foreign agents. And that no security agency or plan can be a 100% foolproof.
The case against our government officials is not that they should be able to prevent every possible attack, in every situation, in every town and city. The case against them is that they should at least look and act as though they are affected by the pain of the nation. That they should not arrive in a 30-vehicles cavalcade, to express remorse at the house of a child kidnapped owing to inadequate security arrangements. That they should not be surrounded by a hundred policemen when visiting the family of a terrorism victim, who could have been saved under better security arrangements.
That while a significant fraction of our population continues to sleep on the streets, or in the dark heat of load-shedding, they should not express solidarity from a well-lit thousand-acre house in Raiwand or Bani Gala. The false narrative of ‘we are doing all that we can to improve public security’ absolutely crumbles upon itself, when juxtaposed with the fact that thousands of police officials are designated solely for protection of a handful of political leaders. That denial of Panama Leaks, or obscene amounts of money stashed away in secret accounts, should not be done while living on Park Lane with gold-plated home-decor.
It is appalling to note that the total estimated wealth of the Sharif and Bhutto family, exceeds Pakistan’s total Education and Health budget. That the amount of money that Pakistan has to beg from IMF or World Bank, in order to build the Bhasha or Dasu damn, can be provided by these two families, through their private wealth alone.
Maybe our leadership believes that the on that final day of Judgment, when we are all before the seat of His eternal power, there will be some way of hoodwinking justice. That, on the day when the final gong is heard, Daniyal Aziz or Rehman Malik will once again be able to create enough noise to defend our ruling families. That a commission of some (favourite) retired judges will be constituted, on that day, to investigate the Panama leaks or the Model Town massacre.
But none of that is true.
And on that day, if not sooner, perhaps the Fazl Hussains of Pakistan will finally be able to celebrate their independence, in the shiny shoes that are rightfully theirs.
How did we allow the menace of nepotism,
of corruption, of intolerance and extremism,
to become the creed of our nation? How are we, today, known, across the world, for bloodshed and fanaticism?