Is The State Of Pakistan Independent Or A Usurper Of Independence?
It’s that time of the year again when we celebrate the independence of our country. In addition to the cheesy patriotic fervour displayed on national media, one also regularly sees a spate of articles and TV programs about how Pakistan represents a dream gone sour, a promise unfulfilled and a betrayal of hope. Some lament that we continue to remain slaves mentally or physically despite the token independence attained seven decades ago.
There is not much reflection, however, on the effects of an autonomous state’s dealings with the world outside its borders on its citizens’ experience of freedom. How the former compromises the latter is a subject that merits some thought. The manner in which the state of Pakistan has conducted its affairs with the world has resulted in severe external restrictions on its citizens to travel outside borders. Now the reality is that even for the most joyless places on earth, one sees the name of Pakistan in the list of countries whose citizens are subject to entry restrictions. But that’s not an issue to concern the masses, who have to deal with myriad problems in their daily lives, resulting from the failure of the “independent” state in meeting its basic obligations towards its citizens.
Generations have been raised on isolationist-glory dreams peddled by uber-nationalist charlatans from amongst politicians and analysts. Now every person in the street is an expert on fifth-generation warfare and knows the ins and outs of secret conspiracies hatched against Pakistan by the leading agencies of the world. All of this generates support for a state that is obsessed by its security and a military that is fattened at the cost of public welfare, in order that, as they say, we can sleep in peace at night. National independence, that came to be defined by the defence of national borders, expanded in scope to demarcate and uphold ideological frontiers as well. Civil rights and personal freedoms became unimportant casualties in the pursuit of this dogma of independence.
Many years ago, in Pakistan, when I was nearing the end of my studies, the trend for fresh graduates to find employment abroad was on the rise. Most of my seniors landed jobs in the Middle East, and some went to the UK or the US. The decline of Pakistani economy was about to start after some years of aid-funded growth. The economies of Gulf countries were booming at the time, creating a job pipeline for fresh finance graduates from countries like Pakistan. I ended up in the Middle East as well. One day, I met an old friend and as our conversation turned to the whereabouts of our former colleagues in Pakistan, I reflected on the gains and losses of the decision to leave home and move abroad.
My friend said that those of our colleagues who had gone to the UK have breached their loyalty to the homeland by settling in a country which had once colonized Pakistan, and from which we had obtained independence after a prolonged struggle involving many sacrifices. While I would leave the analysis of those struggles and sacrifices to another day, what struck with me uncomfortably was that theory of loyalty and I kept pondering over the flaw in that argument.
Growing up in Pakistan, the message one receives during national holidays is to be grateful for being born in a free country. Had there been no Pakistan, we would have had no identity. It used to sound like our sheer existence as living creatures depended on the existence of Pakistan. The stories of how Muslims suffered discrimination in United India at the hands of Hindu majority and could not practice their religion freely were often narrated in classrooms and on TV as the rationale for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. To think of Indian Muslims who continued to live in those supposedly subhuman conditions, by opting not to come to Pakistan, invoked feelings of pity.
With time, however, one also realised that the very same discriminatory conditions, getting rid of which was the primary justification for the creation of Pakistan, survived and thrived in the country. The only difference was the change in roles and identities of the majority and minorities. Religion-based nationalism creates the perception that loyalties are essentially based on faith, rather than culture, language or centuries of living together. Therefore, it became natural to question the loyalties of religious and ethnic minorities, who may share aspects of their identity with other countries. This happened in a country, where funnily, the very person credited with its founding belonged to a minority sect.
The spread of social media opened avenues for interaction with people from around the world. For someone with a narrow worldview, that can mean an assault on the ideas one has grown up with. I found myself energetically defending the ideas I had learned through years of indoctrination on social media forums. This was in the first decade of this century, before the incumbent Hindu nationalist government started unleashing its clearly anti-Muslim agenda.
The expectation was that every Indian Muslim would have a soft corner for Pakistan. The reality was that I found them as much patriotic to their country as anyone could be. This discovery seemed irreconcilable with the idea of Pakistan, which was created to provide safer and better environment for the Muslim minority of India to flourish in their material and religious lives. To the contrary, Indian Muslims I interacted with insisted that they lived happily in their own country and displayed no signs of willingness to join us in our better and purer country.
Having experienced more freedom outside of my ‘free’ country to say and do things as I wish, I started to question what the independence of my country achieved if it didn’t make us feel ‘free’. For what is independence if not access to equal rights and free expression through speech and action, without fearing the wrath of anyone who is offended. The irony is colossal for this country, that was created essentially to protect the rights of a minority, because here the wrath of the majority has been institutionalised through the constitution as well as state policies.
As for my friend who criticized our colleagues who moved to the UK as less loyal to Pakistan, I only realized that for many of my countrymen, independence is more about the religion and ethnicity of whoever rules us, than the freedom we get to exercise in our actions and choices. If the majority of a country’s citizens, of their own free will, approve of state’s infringement of individual’s freedoms and curtailment of minorities’ rights, what would we call such a state? Independent or a usurper of independence?