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Celebration of independence

Huzaima Bukhari

“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth”—George Bernard Shaw

Congratulations to all Pakistanis celebrating the 73rd Day of Independence on 14th August 2020. May Allah bless the people of this country with years of prosperity and independence in the true sense of the word, Ameen.

Each year as we commemorate the occasion with jubilation, lightings, hoisting of flags, gun salutes, decorating the cities with fabricated cut-outs depicting our legendary heroes and cultural traditions and last but not the least, roaring around the roads on motorbikes with silencers removed as if to accentuate the message of freedom, we make resolutions only to forget about them as we advance towards another 14th August.

Cambridge dictionary defines ‘independence’ as “freedom from being governed or ruled by another country.” In the aftermath of Colonialism, this seems the most appropriate meaning that can be attributed to the word. A quick glance over world history would reveal how one nation subjugated another and exercised its authority over the defeated forcing them to not only bow in obeisance before the vanquisher but also to forego their cherished folklore and sometimes, even faith. The most that a subdued nation could do was either submit before the powerful, accept whatever was forced upon it, or follow a leader within its ranks who could promise respite from the atrocities of the victors. This was usually followed by a single or many decisive bloody battles until one or the other proved supremacy and remained in power for years to come.

However, the modern concept of independence sprouts from the more recent history of European Colonialism around the sixteenth century. By the end of the First World War (1914-1919) major territories of the globe across the six habitable continents (Antarctica being the seventh) were colonized by different countries of Europe. The Second World War (1939-45) shattered the economic prowess of these European states whose hold started weakening over distant lands that led to granting of independence to many of these colonies. Unfortunately for the newly independents, this came at a time when they were already stripped of their precious economic resources, their pride, their values, their culture and in the case of many, even their characters. 

What is the feeling of freedom and independence and how long does it last? The answer to this question is both difficult and complicated. For instance, when a girl is under her parents’ control (depending upon the magnitude) she finds herself bound by certain dos and don’ts. Her will is subjected to approval from mom and dad and she has limited access to whatever she desires. Once she attains adulthood and makes her own decisions, can she call herself as free? Going a step further, she marries a person of her choice but again, finds herself stifling under the hold of her dominating husband who imposes his own rules which she has no choice but to obey. Out of the frying pan into the fire! She secretly pursues education, finds a job and applies for divorce. She is now entangled in another web of employment related regulations. She may be economically independent but is she free again? These are questions that do not have straight answers.

Likewise, a country’s independence does not imply that the nation can make free choices, especially if it is compelled to rely on an outside force for managing its internal affairs and run its economy. This is so true in the case of Pakistan. No wonder then that even when the British renounced their control over our territory, we still clung to their apron strings for support and ‘guidance.’ We had earned freedom from their political clutches but remained ensnared as a nation. To this day, our laws mostly comprise statutes the British left us with, our governance is modeled on the same premise as when they were rulers and we were subjects, our prized language is English, our mannerism is derived from the colonial imprint, our thinking is spun around our slave mentality, our treasured education is hinged on Oxford and Cambridge, our military training is incomplete unless endorsed by The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; so are we actually independent?

On the international front we allied ourselves with the United States of America as soon as we were born as a nation. Consequently, we harped their tune, befriended their friends and alienated ourselves from their enemies. Like a timid toddler we looked up to them for financial and moral support even though they broke our hearts on crucial occasions. As we grew up, we realized our mistakes but the damage was already done and as we struggled to assert our independence, we ended up facing disunity, political upheavals, wars, isolation, continuous fear from neighbourly states and above all, terrorism.

The myth of our independence had been busted! We suffered at the hands of our own people. The guns that should be facing enemies were turned against peaceful protesters, claimants of rights, labourers, students and anyone who dared to raise a voice against injustice. One of our arms (East Pakistan) had become independent from an ‘independent’ Islamabad that obviously seeks to frustrate further such attempts. Voices of reason are silenced, expression and even art is censored, people are conveniently whisked off to unknown destinations, journalists are throttled/manhandled if they refuse to tow the line and yet we proudly claim to be independent. 

The quality of our national independence is now greatly marred by our constant reliance on foreign loans and foreign lenders. Although there is no threat of a take-over by any colonial power because none would want to add on to their liabilities, yet the freedom to assert is completely inhibited even to the extent of introducing structural reforms for better governance. Any indigenous proposal is vetoed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their likes because they value their insane prescriptions more than sensible approaches of the local ‘independent’ experts.

Efforts to introduce relief measures for the public are thwarted by know-all foreign representatives who totally lack an understanding of the ground realities of our people with special reference to their faith and cultural traditions. They impose their dictation without considering the nature of the people and the way they handle their relationships. Thus, the government is pressed upon to make laws that fail to comply with the local standards. A good example would be that of trusting one’s life savings with a relative but in doing so, the safe-keeper (amanat dar) becomes answerable or even taxable for the sudden increase in his wealth. A poor charwoman is not considered deserving of governmental aid because she is owner of a small hut built by her employers out of charity. There are many instances of enormous differences in our life-style and that of the foreign donors which they can never comprehend. Their motto: ‘one size fits all.’

While Kofi Annan rightly said: “The skills you need to fight the colonial power and the skills you need to gain independence are not necessarily the same you need to run a country,” Roosevelt’s advice: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made” cannot be ignored.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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