Hassan Sabir

All great nations have one thing in common: a set of principles and values that, when put together, form their national identity – a bond that holds people together irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity or social status.

Seven decades on from independence, Pakistan is yet to discover its national identity. And as a result, it is devoid of the bond that can unify a population that has been torn apart by social, economic, political and ethnic divides (apart from cricket, of course!). However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in 1947, Pakistan did have an identity that its populace identified with as well as a political leadership that stood for the same set of values and principles that had led to Pakistan’s creation. Jinnah’s vision for an Islamic welfare state built on the ideals of social justice and equality resonated with the Muslims of the subcontinent. Rich and poor, landlord and peasant, Shia and Sunni, all rallied behind Jinnah’s leadership.

Fast forward to 2016 and the population whose guiding principle was, and is, the slogan of “Unity, Faith and Discipline” has neither. Pakistan is as divided, if not more, than it was united in the times of Jinnah. His dream of an Islamic welfare state built on the ideals of social justice and inequality remains just that – a dream. The question, then, is why? And how?

How could a vision that once unified millions fade into obscurity in the way Jinnah’s has and instead be replaced by a heavily adulterated narrative built not only on bigotry and intolerance (take a look at our far-right) but also one that chooses to ignore the rampant economic inequality that has fractured Pakistani society more than any terrorist ever could. Why is it that the Pakistani society of 2016 resembles the feudalistic and aristocratic pre-Revolution society 18th century France more than it does a modern day welfare state?

The answer is simple: it’s because Pakistan post-Jinnah has been ruled and continues to be ruled by a 1% that has consolidated its power and wealth through means very similar to those employed by the French aristocracy. Jinnah warned us about these Sharifs and Zardaris who’ve built political and business empires by shamelessly exploiting the poor.

“I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, which is so wicked and which makes them so selfish that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lessons of Islam.”

- Muhammad Ali Jinnah

It typifies our failure as a nation that these “waderas” and “jageerdars” continue to flourish at the expense of the masses through a system that is as vicious and wicked as it was six decades ago. Generation after generation of Pakistanis have suffered and have seen their progress and that of the country as a whole stymied while the political elite tighten their vice-like grip on the nation’s wealth. Jinnah’s words are almost prophetic in the sense that, if left to their own devices, these self-interested, corrupt, money-driven buffoons who call themselves leaders will continue in the same vein for the very reason that Jinnah identified: this exploitation has gone into their blood. Asif and Nawaz might go but the Sharifs and the Bhuttos are going nowhere. Unless of course, Pakistanis stop with their resigned indifference when it comes to how this country is run.

Seventy years on and still no clean drinking water for millions, no healthcare system that treats the poor as it does the rich, no access to even a half-decent education for millions of boys and girls, no electricity and no equality before the law. It is no wonder, then, that we are a resilient nation. A population that can make do without so much for so long is bound to be resilient.

In being resilient, however, they have also been silent. And this silence has gnawed away at our identity as Pakistanis. And this inequality that I keep on harping about has only accelerated that degeneration. The poor, and there are too many of them, watch in silence as the prime minister flies off to London every now and again for medical checkups, not placing his faith in the healthcare system that his government controls. They watch as the elite send their children to private schools that they can’t afford while their own children attend derelict public schools.

Today’s elite is a lot like Imperialist Britain in that sense. For them, Pakistan is a source of wealth and nothing more. They have taken everything from the poor – their rights, their chance at making something of their lives, their children’s futures. And, in return, they have given this country nothing. In doing all of this, they have distorted Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan because that very vision collided with their own personal interests. And if there’s one thing we should know by now, it’s that Pakistan’s equivalent of the top 1% care about nothing more than their own interests. Contrast today’s Pakistan to these words,

“It is not our purpose to make the rich richer and to accelerate the process of accumulation in the hands of a few individuals. We should aim at levelling up the general standard of living amongst the masses, our ideal should not be capitalistic but Islamic and the welfare of the people as a whole should be kept constantly in mind.”

- Muhammad Ali Jinnah

This is not a democracy. This is not a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. You need only look at the lives of the people to figure that bit out. Instead, it’s a government for, of and by the elite and it always has been.

Pakistan will become a true democracy the day the rich and the poor are equal - not in terms of wealth, but in terms of their treatment by the state. It will become a democracy when the rich and poor both have access to the same health facilities. The day the poor have access to a water supply that quenches their thirst instead of killing them. It will become a democracy when a poor man’s child will have access to an education that gives him/her the opportunity to dream the same way a rich man’s child can.

We owe it to them and their sacrifice to do away with our indifference and silence and put a stop to this sham of a democracy and this sham of a leadership which has preyed on the inequality that they, themselves, have created. If we don’t, we will reach a point where there will be nothing left to loot and no identity left to salvage. Doing away with this decades-old inequality will go a long way in salvaging what it truly means to be a Pakistani.