The decade of the seventies was tumultuous for the republic. The eastern wing, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, became Bangladesh, while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) the most popular leader of the Western part assumed control of what remained of Quaid’s Pakistan. The establishment was bruised and cornered. In August 1973, in addition to the unanimously agreed constitution, major reforms were undertaken to rebuild the country with the participation of the masses. The right to travel was granted.
In the United States, one of the oldest constitutional democracies of the world, such rights of the citizens were enshrined two centuries ago. It is the only country where people can leave the country at will, no exit stamps are needed. In the communist bloc and the establishment-controlled former colonial states, free travel was not allowed. Taking advantage of this liberal travel policy, thousands of Pakistanis left the country in search of greener pastures all over the world. It is this prosperous expatriate community that sustains the country with its foreign exchange returns.
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The shaky pillars of democracy in Pakistan
Unfortunately, the periods of freedom for the people of Pakistan have been limited. In the first decade (1947 to 1958) there was a struggle to establish the rule of law and constitution, which was hijacked with martial law in October 1958. The second democratic honeymoon was also short-lived (1971 to 1977).
Perhaps with the exception of the Prime Minister (PM), there is no one willing to fight for our liberation from colonial leftovers. Most civilian institutions have become non-functional. The judiciary, which once provided relief to the common man, is now overwhelmed with cases of executive abuses.
Transparency and accountability are non-existent with rampant corruption at all levels. While ground realities remain grim, government departments like the Board of Revenue (BOR) Punjab are printing front-page advertisements in praise of their performance which is nowhere to be seen or felt by the public; it is indeed like sprinkling salt over open wounds. The PM has rightly stalled all promotions in the senior bureaucracy without public inputs though such a feedback mechanism does not exist.
I once visited the passport office with my father. He operated through Butt Sahib who sold forms and then helped in their submission. In those days, this was a common sight outside most government departments like Post Offices, etc, where facilitators were available. While handing over the forms he said, “Malik sahib can you imagine if passport reforms had been carried out in the fifties how many Pakistanis would have availed the facility and then contributed in nation-building by earning and sending foreign exchange?”
We were both baffled by his remarks. A modest man sitting on the footpath knew the way forward but our rulers did not.
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Then came the 1965 war. It was the first day in school of class 7 for me when Lahore was attacked. Till then, we were made to believe that India would never cross the international borders and that the skirmishes would be contained to the disputed territory of Kashmir but they did and we were caught unprepared.
It was the gallantry of our junior officers and highly trained Air Force that saved the day. Comrade Hanif Ramay, an activist who then rose to be the finest Chief Minister of Punjab, prepared a team of young volunteers who wanted to participate in the defense of the motherland.
Lessons learned from the war
They arrived outside the gate of the Governor’s House on the Mall. Amir Muhammad Khan received them and lauded their spirit. They were then sent to Changa Manga forest for training before active duty on the border. They were camped there till the war ended and then asked to get lost as they were no longer needed. The state had no interest in the youth who were trained and willing to fight for their freedom and then ultimately shatter colonial controls.
The war proved to be the beginning of the end for the first usurper who had shied away from liberating Kashmir during the 1962 Indo-China war and then indulged in an ill-planned adventure in 1965.
Our Bengali brethren who had formally started the freedom movement by launching the All India Muslim League in 1906 were the first to challenge the hegemony of the state despite gaining independence in August 1947. There were nationalist movements in the smaller confederating units as well, but state cohesion still existed. Finally, the eastern wing went their own way and Bangladesh emerged on the world’s map.
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Surrounded by mafia groups, the PM is walking a fine line. For any meaningful change, the assumptions have to be reliable. Today, despite an institutional collapse the people of Pakistan have been kept as hostages of a corrupt-to-the-core state apparatus. While jails are crowded with poor, helpless people, the real criminals go around scot-free in limousines both at home and abroad.
The writer is an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com.The article has been republished and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.