The tragedy of Pakistan is that barely 13 months after it achieved its hard-fought independence it lost the only visionary leader it has ever had. Jinnah passed away on September 11, 1948. This turned out to be Pakistan’s 9/11 from which it has never recovered
S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he students listened attentively as Jinnah’s voice reverberated through the packed-to-capacity Strachey Hall of the Aligarh Muslim University on February 5, 1938: “What the Muslim League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish games are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulvis and maulanas.”
In that same speech he reminded his young audience that they had been liberated from “the clutches of the British government, the Congress, the reactionaries and so-called Muslims.” It was up to them to craft a society in which men and women would have equal social and political rights. This must have been at the back of his mind when, a little more than a year later on April 12, 1939, he first propounded the two-nation theory: “I make no secret of the fact that Muslims and Hindus are two nations.”
The idea came into its own with the emergence of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. The newly independent country was baptised in blood, turmoil and the biggest ever population upheaval in human history. The number of people who lost their lives at the time of partition will never be known and the figure ranges from between 800,000 to almost two million.
In this surge of unrestrained barbarity an estimated 15 million terrified civilians are said to have fled to either side of the Pakistan-India international boundary that had been hastily demarcated by the Radcliffe Commission.
It is against this backdrop of trauma and tragedy, of feats of heroism as well as savagery, and, above all, of the will and determination of a people to be free, that the independence anniversary of the country ought to be commemorated rather than ‘celebrated’. It should be an occasion for thanksgiving, prayer and remembrance. There is no other way to honour those who sacrificed so much for the birth of Pakistan.
But instead, the government has lined up month-long festivities which commenced on August 1. Not a word has been said till now about the martyrs of 1947, nor about our soldiers who are fighting for the survival of the country against terrorist groups entrenched in the tribal regions.
The motivating impulse behind these callously thoughtless celebrations is the diversion of public attention from Imran Khan’s million-man extravaganza in Islamabad on Independence Day as well as from Tahirul Qadri’s venomous rhetoric threatening revolution. The firebrand Canadian cleric, who has been served notices for tax evasion, was booked on Wednesday for incitement to violence. The undeniable truth is that Nawaz Sharif and the PML-leadership are quivering like leaves on trees at the onset of a furious monsoon storm.
The gimmickry conjured up by the prime minister and his henchmen include an unprecedented August 14 military parade (which is always held on March 23, never on Independence Day) and the hoisting of the biggest ever national flag. This accomplishment will be preserved in the encasement of print in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Mian Nawaz Sharif is one of those rare men who is not only a thrice elected prime minister but is also well on the way towards establishing yet another world record. He could become the only head of government to be unceremoniously hounded out of office three times in spite of a comfortable parliamentary majority on each of these occasions. The publishers of the Guinness Book would be well advised to headquarter themselves in Islamabad.
The ability of the ruling PML-N of springing surprises on the unsuspecting people of Pakistan is phenomenal. For the first time in Pakistan’s short but crisis-saturated history, an elected government has handed over the security of the federal capital to the army under Article 245 of the constitution. This provision of the basic of law has been invoked before by previous governments, and, on at least two of these occasions the consequences were disastrous.
The first was in 1977 when the mercurial Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called in the army to quell the Pakistan National Alliance agitations in Lahore and Karachi against alleged election fraud. But the turbulence did not subside and eventually swept Bhutto, after a sham trial, to the hangman’s noose at the gibbet. The shame of that judicial murder of an elected prime minister will forever haunt Pakistan.
Twenty-one years later Nawaz Sharif invoked Article 245 to deal with the disturbances in Karachi. The outcome was again entirely counterproductive. But unfortunately the wisdom that comes with experience has eluded Nawaz. He has learnt nothing from the past.
There is no reason for entrusting the security of Islamabad to the army. For the last several weeks the federal capital has been as peaceful and tranquil as an ‘undiscovered tomb’. The justification advanced by the government for this senseless decision is based on intelligence reports about the likelihood of terrorist attacks in retaliation to the ongoing military onslaught in North Waziristan.
Independence Day this year marks exactly two months since the commencement of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. On June 15 the Inter Services Public Relations announced: “On the directions of the Government, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency…As always the armed forces of Pakistan will not hesitate in rendering any sacrifice for the motherland.” This was not an empty pledge.
Several soldiers have fallen in combat as the war rages on. Many more have been grievously wounded. Death is a terrible price to pay, but the officers and men at the battlefront are undaunted. They need the full-fledged support of the entire nation.
But they have been badly let down by the power-obsessed political leadership both in government as well as the opposition. Article 243 of the constitution clearly entrusts the federal government with the “control and command” of the entire military setup and then goes on to add “the supreme command of the armed forces shall vest in the president.”
Never before in the history of warfare has a supreme commander of any military establishment been so utterly remote from his troops. Not once has the president, the prime minister, or, for that matter any other political leader visited the soldiers in the frontlines or the families of those who have been killed.
President Obama has traversed half way across the world to be with US forces in Afghanistan. David Cameron has also not failed to visit British troops fighting against the Taliban in battlegrounds more than 5,000 miles away from their homes. But the leadership of Pakistan has yet to travel approximately a hundred miles to spend an hour or two with our soldiers some of whom may never again return to their loved ones.
In February this year a young man in uniform serving in North Waziristan sent me an email. In the last few days I have read and re-read his letter which said: “Let me assure you that within the army there is not one iota of doubt regarding the righteousness of our cause. What I fear the most is that the gains we have made by sacrificing so much will be lost if we lose the war of narratives…Up till now the so-called representatives of the people have failed miserably in properly executing the most critical manoeuvre of this war.”
The fears of the soldier were not unfounded. The tragedy of Pakistan is that barely 13 months after it achieved its hard-fought independence it lost the only visionary leader it has ever had. The Quaid-e-Azam passed away on September 11, 1948. This turned out to be Pakistan’s 9/11 from which it has never recovered.
The New York Times said it all in its obituary on Jinnah two days after his death: “It is not clear who will replace him, or, indeed, if he can be replaced at all.” Seldom has any newspaper prediction been so devastatingly accurate.–Courtesy The News International
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