I have just returned after seeing the full dress rehearsal of the Joint Services Pakistan Day Parade in the Federal Capital. Millions of my fellow citizens will be witnessing the real event with their own eyes or through their television screens, as this piece comes out in print. I have no words to describe the parade as the spectacle is awesome and inspiring, but as I looked about me I was overwhelmed by the palpable surge of patriotism and emotion around me, like an omen that Pakistan was destined to grow – that Jinnah’s vision may yet be fulfilled.

A few feet away from me sat a white haired gentleman, flanked by what were perhaps his children and grandchildren. He was immaculately dressed, but what made him stand out was the row of medals on the lapel of his coat. A closer look at the crowd revealed other old soldiers similarly adorned. I could see pride and nostalgia, as columns of troops marched past the stands and on one discreet occasion spotted some of them dabbing their eyes. I am sure that if rules and discipline had allowed them, they would have run the security gauntlet and joined the march past to relive their past.

These were not the only tears I saw that day, for my eye caught many a spectator surreptitiously trying to clear their emotion clouded vision as the commandoes trotted past them, tanks dipped their guns in salute or air force assets flew overhead with a sound like thunder – loud enough to send a message to our enemies that the defenders of our internal and external frontiers were alert and ready.

An interesting part of the parade were the floats. Traditionally (and tradition is something to be respected), these are supposed to depict the federating units, showcasing their respective history and culture. Everything went well until the arrival of the Punjab float. This moving exhibit was nothing short of a political propaganda platform for the ruling party and included, amongst other things, a large video screen that frequently featured the Chief Minister of the province. I peered at the crowd around me as the clapping was replaced by angry mutterings and adverse comments. I heard a voice from behind me say that if he had the power, he would remove the float from the parade till such time that all political stuff was removed from it. When I asked one of the parade management people about it, I was informed that the Armed Forces had no control over float designs.

As I sat amongst friends late in the evening, someone mentioned the sharp contrast between the traffic arrangements and management by the armed forces, adding that if the heavy rush was handled (or more appropriately mishandled) by police, there would have been gridlocks of gigantic proportions. The difference between the two institutions was there for all to see. The sloppily attired policemen were lounging around in the background, while the alert servicemen in their businesslike combat uniforms and weapons, firmly yet courteously kept traffic flowing.

I came away from the event with mixed feelings. There was satisfaction that our security was in good hands coupled with elation at how the nation resonated with their armed forces. There were also flashes of concern at our national character, one aspect of which was reflected in the way that people tried to violate instructions and carry cell phones into the venue, notwithstanding the fact that they were detected and ‘ticked off’ in no uncertain terms.

To my generation, which has been raised on tales of how we got our independence, it is clear that it was the passing of the Pakistan Resolution in 1940 that set the stage for creation of our homeland. It would therefore be in the fitness of things that the nation celebrates March 23 as a ‘jashn’ much like (and in the same spirit that) we celebrate Independence Day each year. All said and done, the entire experience was not only spirit lifting, but reinforced the belief that our security was in excellent hands.