Independence Day in Retrospect

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The majority of Pakistanis  were not born when their country achieved democracy and independence and while everyone has learnt something of the past in history lessons and from what they have read, they have no personal experience of just what was so momentous and what major changes occurred on 14th August 1947.

In many ways this is positive, so long as Independence Day becomes more and more a celebration of being Pakistani and thinking about what sort of country we want Pakistan to grow into, what we want our country to be.

This does not mean, though, that our past is not important. Even if we are under 41 we did not emerge into a vacuum. We are living in a country that is a product of what our parents, and increasingly our grandparents, suffered for and strove to create.

And that suffering and striving has lessons for us today, the older generations as well as the young, when we celebrate freedom and think about how we want to grow.

Given that we cannot live in the past, we can learn from the past, the things that went right and the things that went wrong and rededicate ourselves to making the promises of independence a reality.

For the biggest single change that independence and the accompanying democracy made is that we, as a people, can choose our own future. We are not victims of circumstance; we are not under the control of those who do not wish us well. We are the owners of our land, the masters of our own destiny.

Some of that required spirit originating from the struggle for freedom itself. Pakistanis were not given freedom on a plate by colonialists who had a change of heart and let their better nature determine their new policies. And that took the mobilisation of millions. Some fought and died. But that struggle would have been impossible, and doomed to failure, if the overwhelming majority of the people had not supported the march toward independence of a new home and for the Muslims of the sub-continent in vast numbers.

We need to remember that collective enterprise, that collective struggle. Because we were human our efforts were not perfect, and there were mistakes, but as a people we won our freedom.

And that collective effort characterised that first independence day, that feeling of universal joy and that feeling that now all things were possible.

Pakistani became what can be characterised as a high-morale society, one where people could look around at what they had inherited and list what had to be changed, quickly.

So we built the schools and universities; we built the hospitals and clinics; we opened our economy at all levels to everyone.

And a lot of changes happened almost overnight simply because we wanted them to happen and were prepared to work to make them happen. That spirit is needed today.

At times over the past 74 years we have taken wrong turns; at times we have become bogged down in swamps of our own making that need to be drained.

At times we have seen too many ready to emulate our old rulers that so long as we and ours were all right the rest of the people did not really matter at all.

The one difference is that we can demand our new systems do something about it, but as in past struggles we have to play our part by refusing to be victims and in giving our support.

But what we need to remember that when we celebrate independence is that when we do take a wrong turning, we have a light that can show us we are on the wrong path, and a map that can get us back on track. And very largely we have used that illuminating beacon to move forward.

When we talk about national unity, which means unity of purpose rather than agreement on everything, when we talk about democracy and freedom, when we talk about collective efforts, we are not speaking empty phrases from a handbook. We are talking about practicalities, the very steps that won and maintained our freedom.

And when we do act together, quibbling on detail, yes, and debating major policies, of course since we all have to have our say to be part of the collective effort, we have won through. All our progress comes from that.

So this 74th Independence Day is not just a public holiday to relax but to reflect. It is a day when we should look at our free Pakistan and rededicate ourselves to each other and to our country.

We can look at those things we have done, and take pride in our achievements, and look at what we have failed to do, work our why, and then resolve to overcome. We have won far worse battles than we are fighting now, we have overcome so much.

So independence day is not only a commemoration of the past, important as that is. It is also the first day of our future, and because we fought for our freedom on that day in 1947, it is our responsibility to work for the future that we want. And increasingly this will be the job of those born in freedom; our new generation may not remember the past, but they can see the beacon that was lit in 1947 and fuelled by the struggle that proceeded that day which needs to be kept a lit across the years and decades ahead.

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