Everything about you matters to me. There is absolutely nothing about you that evokes in me even a hint of apathy. Your positives exhilarate me. Your negatives depress me. Your happiness elates me. Your pain makes me cry. Your achievements are my pride. Your failures are my dejection. Everything about you is personal.
My country, my homeland, mera watan, my Pakistan.
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Today you turn 73. In terms of a country’s chronological reality, you are still young. The green and white of your flag flutters on every official building; on every second house; on every TV screen; on millions of Twitter timelines; in the hands of children and young people; on doors of shops; on shiny SUVs, dull hued mid-range cars, silencer-less motorbikes, creaky bicycles; on handles of roadside food carts.
Your flag flutters in the heart of every Pakistani.
The two-colours of your flag represent every Pakistani, irrespective of their faith, ideology, ethnicity, caste, creed, or colour.
Efforts, overt and covert, are a constant in your history to use the green and white of your flag to create divisions in a Muslim-majority country between Muslims, those who are not allowed to call themselves Muslims, and people belonging to other religions and faiths, classified as minorities. Much harm is done to your essence, to your fundamental truth of being a Muslim country that is for all. Many lives are damaged or destroyed in the name of a religion that preaches tolerance of dissent, acceptance of opposites, kindness for all, and forgiveness as one of its guiding principles.
So many lives are marked with the fear of persecution based on religious beliefs, sensibilities and practices in their own homeland that was created on the promise of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed–that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Do you, my beloved Pakistan, weep for those of your own people who are forced to live like pariahs within your borders? Is there a longing within you to hug the persecuted and the hunted tight to assure them of their categorical citizenship, their absolute protection, their uncontested right to everything that you offer?
But then you look within, reassured that despite much that could have been and should have been and would have been and must be done differently there is much you have also given without even being asked. Silver linings that are so resplendent of your generosity of spirit they remain unparalleled in their magnificence. You opened your arms to millions of Afghan refugees, giving them a sense of security and home when they were forced to leave their own, devastated, bereft.
In every part of you, while kindness in its myriad splendid forms abounds, a shadow also follows the lives of the marginalised, the vulnerable, the physically weak, the poor, the underprivileged, the women, the children, the transgender. You promised in your constitution equality of all, justice for everyone. Countless are stories of suppression and oppression and cruelty and violence and discrimination stemming from societal and institutionalised arrogance and entitlement.
Does your heart break, my beloved Pakistan, each time a child is raped or killed; a female beaten or raped or killed or all of that; a poor person, of any age, humiliated, beaten, tortured, and killed; a transgender gang raped and video-taped before being left to die? Do you utter a prayer every day for your people to be humane, to be kind, to not cause anyone pain?
My beloved Pakistan, so many of your people are wonderful, in their humanity, in their worldly affairs, in their spiritual endeavours. The splendour of their intentions is seen in the way they unite to help people in personal or collective need, in their tiny acts of charity, in their larger-than-life philanthropic work. In its own way, all that good acts as a modifier for all that is dark and twisted.
In some places it fails. Do you ever wonder why people, despite being mostly religious and God-fearing, do many things that are forbidden by their religion? Do you bemoan their lies, dishonesty, malice, pettiness, narrow-mindedness, small-heartedness?
Do you ever lament, my beloved Pakistan, despite clear instructions in our religion, in all religions, to do the opposite, so many of your people unleash cruelty on animals? Kindness to animals is neither difficult nor time-consuming, but on your land it comes with an unwritten caveat: why bother about animals when millions of humans live worse than animals? Do you feel a sense of silent happiness when you see your people who are just kind to all–human and animal?
In your 70-plus years of existence on the globe, much has been done for enhancement of your constitutional ethos. Much has also been done to convolute it. The battle for hegemony corroded your constitutional integrity, yet you stood firm in your resolve for undiluted democracy in Pakistan. Military coups and disqualification of elected prime ministers through various means tried to weaken your resolve, but you never gave up on your vision of seeing yourself as a true democratic power. Not one elected prime minister succeeded in completing their full term, but you never ceded to the idea of autocracy for yourself.
The day an elected prime minister leaves their seat on the day of the announcement of the next elections, taking place as scheduled, happening at the end of a five-year governmental term, would that be the moment you have that rare smile of satisfaction on your beautiful face, my beloved Pakistan?
Unlimited was and is your potential. At times, your progress, your development, your prosperity seemed to be in a sprint. For years, all you had was millimetres of uncomfortable growth. But never for a moment you stopped moving–inching onward, faltering, stumbling, getting up again, marching ahead–you kept moving.
Not everyone but many people in power believe in the mantra of sab chalta hai (anything goes). Corruption was, is and will continue to be the scourge that gnaws on your very foundations. From micro to macro, from minor to major, from the lowest to the top, allegations of real and imagined corruption haunt every edifice of your being: governmental, bureaucratic, business, judicial, military. While the military claim to have a solid system of institutional accountability, your other institutions either manage to fool all available mechanisms of accountability, or in some cases, become an apparatus for systematic witch hunts. You want fair accountability of all. It remains an elusive dream.
My beloved Pakistan, do words of Jinnah haunt your sleepless nights? “…bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand.”
Remember what else Mohammad Ali Jinnah, your founder, said in his first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947? “The first and the foremost thing that I would like to emphasise is this: remember that you are now a Sovereign Legislative body and you have got all the powers. It therefore places on you the gravest responsibility as to how you should take your decisions.”
My beloved Pakistan, do you ever whisper to yourself that your ruling elite has let you down in the context of establishment of the writ of state in the truest sense, allegiance to the constitution, excellent governance, prioritisation of the national over personal, country before self? I do not have the courage to eavesdrop on your private agony, but for you my dua is from the heart.
May the present government be the best of your personal aspirations.
May the one after this one be even better.
May all your governments, when you turn 173, 573, 773, be more than your biggest aspirations.
My beloved Pakistan, may you be the best of your dreams–beautiful, peaceful, kind, fair, equal, progressive, prosperous, vibrant, and very, very happy.
Happy, birthday, my love.
May the year ahead be all you wish it to be and more.