The 66th Independence Day has passed us by, laden with the usual rhetoric and platitudes, the hoisting of flags and change of guards, the decoration of buildings and the noisy celebration on the streets. The outpouring of flag-waving patriotic fervour on the social media and the skin-deep discussions on television channels were, as usual, devoid of any meaningful reflection on the dilemma of our dependence after so many years of independence.

I don’t mean to be a vehicle of pessimism. I could focus on our progress and glorify the baby steps we have taken towards becoming a truly independent nation. But given the challenging situation we are faced with, such a tribute would amount to singing a lullaby to a baby crying for milk. I’d much rather bring our attention to the endless supply of milk within our reach that is turning sour because we insist on ignoring it, singing useless and needless lullabies that might sound good to our decadent ears but do nothing for the baby in distress.

It is incredible how our intelligentsia and leadership continue to beat about the bush when they address the problems besetting the nation. The experts dissect the minute details of the crises of governance and economy. They talk about social degeneration and the worrying trends of extremism and militancy. Like frogs in a deep well, they make noises about the polluted water they swim in, oblivious to the toxic rubbish being thrown in from above. They talk about the State of Pakistan as if it is an island on another planet, unaffected by the rising tides of imperialism imperilling the earth.

Whenever someone tries to bring to the discussion the obvious and insidious involvement of powerful international interests bent upon defining the trajectory of our development to a decidedly sorry end, a pet response is expected to close the topic: we can’t blame others for our woes and must set our own house in order. There are also other corollaries to go with it: every state does whatever it can to promote its national interest, so we can’t blame the powerful for imposing their agendas, we can’t take their money and not do what they tell us, and other similar amoral pronouncements with which they’d like to bury their heads in sand.

Obviously, these are not edicts out of scripture and there is much that is absolutely devious about denying the impact of the brutal imperial attacks on our state and society. The process of putting things on the right track might be the responsibility of our leaders, but certainly, it cannot begin until we see the problem curled like a poisonous snake at the root of the rot. How can we cure any disease without proper diagnosis? Besides, what kind of an intellectual or leader would present amoral justifications for the crimes of powerful international forces that are turning the lives of our people to hell and plundering the bounty of our land?

Enslavement of the mind is the most effective way to enslave people and, unfortunately, those responsible for putting together a national narrative are busy peddling a slavish self-image for an entire nation for petty personal benefits, interlocked as they are with imperial interests. They talk about their hardworking and patient fellow citizens in derogatory terms and belittle the treasure of resources bestowed upon their land. They think we should go down on our knees and kiss the hands of those who come to loot and kill us. They say we should be grateful for their small mercies.

They convince us of our weakness and say we do not have the capacity to resist the imperialist onslaught. They tell us we should not object to drones killing innocent civilians, including women and children, because those who send the drones are very powerful and lend us money. They say we must listen to the advice of discredited and thoroughly exposed international financial institutions like the IMF because we cannot run our economy without them. They see the entire spectrum of donor-driven NGOs with their carefully designed discourse boosting all sorts of fragmented identities to pave the way for divide-and-rule, as our saviours.

Have you ever wondered why we don’t hear any serious questioning of the “war on terror” framework from the mouths of these so-called intellectuals and leaders? Isn’t it strange that along with our leadership of every hue, our experts on economy never bother to see the gaping holes in the neo-liberal mantra of privatisation and a convoluted concept of free trade that is free only to the extent of forcing us to open up our markets to whoever the powerful wish, without any reciprocal access to the markets that they carefully protect?

Isn’t it a crying shame that our so-called intellectuals and leaders don’t have the courage to denounce the imperial project in the Middle East? That there is a deafening silence when it comes to the systematic destruction of a peaceful Syria at the hands of the champions of democracy and human rights? Why they don’t talk about the roots of sectarian violence that have been uncovered in the process as deplorable instruments of sowing chaos and regime change? Don’t they see the same strategy at work in the land they speak for?

Nothing in our country will get better unless we address the underlying cause of our various troubles. Those leading our opinions and our nation could keep spinning deceptive yarns about this or that problem, analysing them to bits and suggesting solutions that refuse to see beyond their empire-sanctioned cocoons, but that would solve nothing. They might pledge their loyalty to the country and express devotion to the welfare of the people, crying crocodile tears for the common man and how his struggle for survival is getting harder, but those will remain words without meaning or conviction.

Without an independent perspective that defines and guide us, we will continue to be little more than tools in the hands of those busy setting the planet on fire. If you ask me, we are yet to embark upon our journey to any meaningful independence.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.