Memories come back to me like shards of glass, prompting tears, sorrow, and anger. My sadness in following the events since independence is deepened by bittersweet memories of the euphoria of the Pakistan dream that was being dreamed in the heady days of 1947 when Pakistan was so very new and hopes were so very high. I was born in slavery. On August 14, 1947, I was a free man, proud citizen of a free, independent, and sovereign country which I could call my own, a country I could live for and die for. I was young, twenty-four to be precise, full of joie de vive, idealism, hope and ambition. For me and, like me, for all those who belonged to my generation, Pakistan symbolised all our wishes and expectations. We all shared a seemingly unassailable certainty. We believed in Pakistan. To quote Wordsworth ‘bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven.’
On that day, we dreamed of a shining city on the hill and the distant bright stars. It was a day that should never have ended. For it was like a dream come true, and carried with it a sense of pride, of excitement, of satisfaction, and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can ever come up to it. On that day, over a century and a half of British rule came to an end. The Union Jack was lowered for the last time. I saw the sun set on the British Empire. I witnessed its dissolution and the emergence of two independent sovereign countries. As a young subordinate judge, I presided over the referendum held in Swabi on July 6, 1947, to decide the future of my home province. The result was a foregone conclusion. The province was in the grip of wild excitement. An atmosphere of mystic frenzy prevailed everywhere. Students and teachers, young and old, men and women, poured their idealistic zeal into the emotionalism of Pakistan. We perceived Pakistan as a bright dream, a passionate goal, the vision of paradise on earth.
What went wrong? Why did Pakistan become a land of opportunities for the corrupt, unscrupulous and unprincipled? Such questions continue to haunt me. Our generation has nothing to be proud of. We are leaving behind a splintered, impoverished country, plagued by political, ethnic and sectarian divisions. Pakistan, born at midnight as a sovereign, independent, democratic country, is today neither sovereign, nor independent, nor even democratic. Today it is not just a “rentier state”, not just a client state. It is a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by corrupt, power-hungry junta and a puppet government set up by Washington. Pakistan has become one vast Bedlam. Looted and plundered and ravaged again and again by corrupt rulers, Pakistan bounced back again and again and managed to survive. Surveying the past, Pakistan looks somewhat wistfully and longingly at the progress made by some other countries in our part of the world. It is not inconceivable that if Fate had been less malignant and our rulers less corrupt and greedy, today Pakistan might have been not only more secure and stable, but also more prosperous and more advanced in all that makes life worth living.
This is the bleakest era in the history of Pakistan since 1971. At a time when leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of vital importance and put the country back on the right path, Pakistan is ruled by a president who lacks both integrity and credibility and seems oblivious to the realities of his awesome responsibilities and is interested only in perpetuating himself and protecting his wealth. The nation is breaking down. Already people are anxiously scanning the horizon waiting to see if the cavalry will come riding down the hill to save Pakistan. Look where Pakistan risks going on Zardari’s watch, in contrast to what she was about to become a decade ago. The Supreme Court defied, all our institutions trampled upon, our international prestige debased and a bankrupt economy. All the pillars of state, with the exception of the Supreme Court and the media, are dysfunctional. The president, the symbol of the unity of the Federation, is mired in corruption. Parliament, the “embodiment of the will of the people”, is fake like a Potemkin village. Independent judiciary and media do not suit corrupt rulers. No wonder, both are under attack in “independent” Pakistan.
This is a moment of deep anguish for all Pakistanis. Zardari, Mr Jinnah’s unworthy successor, has pushed us to despair. The nation has lived so long in the embrace of death that violence has become more normal than tranquillity. Disaster and frustration roam the country’s political landscape. Talk today is of a vanished dignity, of a nation diminished in ways not previously imaginable. It is almost as if no one wants to acknowledge a sad end to what once seemed a beautiful dream.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does politics. When Weimar Germany was buffeted by civil unrest and commotion, its tenuous democracy was discarded in favour of Nazism. If we are not vigilant, some such thing could happen in this country. When state institutions wither away, when respect for law and order declines, and a void is created, the devil of force, in the words of Percival Spear, leaps into its place as the only possible substitute. If the original breakdown of authority is caused by a ferment of ideas, a genuine revolution like the French may result. If it is simply due to decrepitude of authority, the solution is the substitution of fresh authority, but whether the substitution is external or internal depends upon prevailing circumstances. Pakistan is a case of failed leadership, not failed state. Until we get the right kind of leadership, Pakistan will continue to oscillate between long periods of authoritarianism and bouts of corrupt and sham democracy. I have this palpable feeling that the Maoist prescription – things have to get worse before they could get better – is being tested in Pakistan today.
We are in a period of moral lassitude which has brought the profession of politics into disrepute. Pakistan has turned cynical and has jettisoned the last vestiges of idealism on which the people had hoped the nation’s polity would be based. It is in deep, deep trouble, is going down the tube and nobody cares. One thing is clears The ‘Wechselstimmung’ or the mood for change is unmistakable. Another wind, now approaching gale force, is blowing through the country. This nation asks for change. And change now. My generation may carry on for a little while longer. Some of us already feel the icy touch of death pass by in darkness. Being over eighty and fast approaching ninety, is like being engaged in a war. All your friends are gone or going, and you survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield. Our day will soon be over and we will yield place to others, mostly young, who will live their lives and carry their burdens to the next stage of the journey. They have a long way to go and much leeway to make up. And they have to hurry up for the time at their disposal is limited and the pace of the world ever faster. They are our only hope.
To borrow one of Mao’s phrases “the road is tortuous, but the future is bright.” If we are not careful, the road ahead of us maybe more tortuous and the future darker than anticipated. “What will happen to the next generation if it all fails?” Mao asked. “There maybe a foul wind and a rain of blood. How will you cope? Heaven only knows.