Celebrating Pakistan

                                      As Pakistan prepares to celebrate 75 years of its existence in August this year, another key anniversary today (March 23) is a powerful reminder of the country’s resilience in the face of extreme odds.

Written off by many upon its creation, Pakistan has remained a reality that has gone from strength to strength. Today’s event is additionally important as it coincides with the Islamic foreign ministers meeting in Islamabad marking a rare event in Pakistan’s history. For long-term observers, the foreign ministers’ event is a reminder of the historic 1974 summit of leaders of Islamic countries in Lahore that lifted popular morale across Pakistan following the tragic separation of the former East Pakistan province in 1971.

Today’s Pakistan resolution remembrance goes back to the day in 1940 when the All India Muslim League led by Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founding father, formally resolved in Lahore to work towards the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims, carved out of a unified India under the British Raj. Though marked by upheavals along the way ranging from natural disasters to security related challenges, Pakistan’s timeline also shows a history of repeatedly beating the odds.

Pakistan’s birth, just over seven years after the event in 1940, was nothing short of a miracle. The largely pauperized Muslim migrants who traveled to Pakistan in 1947, found themselves in a country that critics at the time felt may not survive for long. In that mass migration – one of the largest of its kind in global history – many paid a heavy price in blood, facing the brunt of armed attacks along the way.

No less of a great shock was the departure of Mr Jinnah, just a year after successfully leading the journey to create Pakistan. Eyewitness accounts of the initial weeks and months following the creation of Pakistan still recount story after story of civil servants parked under trees in Karachi, the country’s first capital, and Lahore, the second largest city, anxiously working towards creating a new state structure.

In the absence of even basic office furniture, makeshift arrangements were quickly put in place such as the use of empty wooden crates to serve as office desks. Many civil servants from the first line of migrants were forced to settle in near-squalor conditions and relied on using bicycles as their primary modes of transport.

In later years, Pakistan held on to its claim over the portion of Kashmir occupied by India and fought three major wars along with many armed skirmishes for the mountainous territory. In time, Kashmir became embedded in domestic political parlance as no less than Pakistan’s very jugular, given the reliance on the flow of river water down to the country’s heartland.

Meanwhile, the threats to Pakistan’s security came from repeated US sanctions following repeated military conflicts. This followed an earlier history of Pakistan being showered by Washington with generous military and economic aid. A powerful lesson from that history led Pakistan’s decision-makers to push for greater indigenization with indispensable help from China.

Today’s ceremonial parade in Islamabad will witness many pieces of military hardware ranging from fighter aircrafts to tanks and artillery pieces, built through Pakistan’s close partnership with China. But the main trophy – a batch of China’s J-10 C fighters known under the nom de guerre ‘Vigorous Dragon’ – will fly across the skies of Islamabad. China’s frontline fighter planes in time are meant to replace US supplied F-16s. Later this year, the expected entry of new Chinese supplied submarines and already delivered Chinese surface vessels together will further reinforce Pakistan’s maritime defence.

But sustaining Pakistan’s hard earned gains from its creation to date must also be backed by a continued push for improving the country’s political and economic outlooks. As the country’s parliament prepares to oversee a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan from Friday (March 25) onwards, Pakistan is set to witness an upcoming period of political uncertainty.

On the one hand the onus of responsibility must rest upon Pakistan’s political rivals to settle their scores quickly and decisively before moving forward to return a semblance of calm, and on the other, the future must be led by a series of economic reforms that lead to a reversal of sliding conditions from recent years.

The mismatch between Pakistan’s extremes is evident nowhere more than the powerful reality of being the Islamic world’s only country armed with nuclear weapons versus the legacy of repeated economic crises. Long ignored reforms must be anchored upon areas like clamping down hard on tax defaulters and corruption. Unless Pakistan tackles these very obvious and hard challenges urgently, the country will continue to go through periodic economic upheavals.

Today’s anniversary celebrations must become a reminder of the commitment of Pakistan’s founding fathers in laying the ground for a new country, born in extreme uncertainty just 75 years ago. Pakistan’s powerful legacy is much too precious to be forgotten.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at: farhanbokhari@gmail.com

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