United for Gaza, Divided for Pakistan
By Taimur Ali Ahmad
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
Only a few weeks ago, Pakistan seemed to be swept away in a wave of outrage over the Gaza conflict. Regardless of what the opinions were, there was at least a sense of solidarity.
But after all the physical and social media protests, there is a new topic that is now taking over that Pakistan: the Azadi March.
Imran Khan’s promise of inqilab has forged a deep divide in the nation. As everything in this highly charged country, the divide is not simply between those for or against this proclaimed “walk towards freedom”.
The mesmerized followers of Tahirul Qadri may deserve some attention too, for their dramatic proclamations of their own plans for the government, if nothing else.
Then there are those who want the army, in all its glamour and glory, to come charging in and save the country yet again from the grasp of incapable politicians.
Among all this hullabaloo, many appear to overlook the significance of the Azadi March — and whatever political shake-up it promises to cause — being scheduled for no other day than August 14 — the national Youm-e-Azadi.
Although the phrase, Youm-e-Azadi is reiterated by anchors and politicians over and over, we as a nation, seem to have completely forgotten the true value of this day, i.e. solidarity, independent of our cultural, religious and political beliefs.
As we live through the August 14 of this year, the atmosphere of fear, violence and repression is a worrisome sign for where we stand as a society and where we are headed.
Instead of commemorating the endless struggle and the selfless sacrifices of our forefathers, we seem to be consumed by the politics of today and whatever hollow-ringing promises there are on offer.
When did we get so obsessed with political theatrics, and when will we finally get over them?
Doesn't the true value of freedom lie in being united instead of battling out meaningless and fickle political loyalties?
Imagine an independence day of divisions, with each faction carrying their own flags rather than the national flag. Think about the possibility of chaos and innocent blood being shed, all in our devotion towards misguided politicians.
A deep introspection is needed. Surely the 'political self' in this nation must be nurtured enough to look beyond melodramatic statements that call for “regaining our freedom”.
Politicians have always feasted on our vulnerability in falling for their acts, and despite politics badly infesting our lives for long, we still haven't evolved enough to snatch back our everyday joys from them. How much longer will we let politics mess our social fabric and redefine our existence?
Already political associations have become a defining element of social relations, especially since the pre-2013 election period. Friendships are being made and broken, physical and verbal abuse occurring, and individuals starting to identify themselves primarily based on their political affiliations. This has led to society becoming dysfunctional and hindering the development of the democratic process.
One of the fundamental flaws of democracy in Pakistan is our nascent ability to attach our social existence to an ideology, and then make it a matter of life and death.
No discourse and no evidence is strong enough to change that attachment simply because we feel it would be a loss of pride to do so.
Latching ourselves onto a belief or individual or institution as a means to give our social existence a meaning is an innate characteristic of people in our region, and this has often led to widespread exploitation of the masses.
If we are to truly move towards stability and prosperity, we must learn to divorce our identity from our political beliefs. Only then can we collectively stand for what is right, rather than standing for what our pride asks of us.
We must return to celebrating August 14 as our independence day, when all of Pakistan was liberated on the back of a collective struggle, and not trivialize that momentous achievement by linking it with a march to topple a democratically elected government.
Until such occasions are able to bind us together once again, our solidarity will be confined to international events only.
(The author is a student at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a research intern at the Research Society of International Law. His writing interests include political and economic affairs. Courtesy Dawn)