“Nationalist pride, like other variants of pride, can be a substitute for self-respect”—Eric Hoffer
Way back in the 1960s, during our primary school days, our textbooks contained stories of children belonging to different provinces, even Bengalis when East Pakistan was under our flag. These used to be descriptive accounts of their lifestyle including language, culture, staple food etc. which vary from region to region. Albeit these stark differences, the characteristics that were common, we learnt were bravery, courtesy and above all, self-respect. Whether a Pathan, Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi, Bengali or even a settlor, each stood out as part of one proud nation that honoured its words and independence more than anything else. So what if one ate rice, another wheat or corn. So what if a Balochi speaking is unable to understand what a Punjabi is saying. So what if the dress of the Pushtun is different from that of the Sindhi—these are just traditional variants adding spice to an otherwise morbid life. Alas! With the passage of time this nation has experienced more disintegration on the basis of ethnicity than anything else. Consequently, we lost one part in 1971 and since then struggling to forge unity, which is a daunting task without removing inequalities and injustice in all spheres and elitist capture.
One of the reasons for rise and fall of nations is their vulnerability to foreign invaders at whose hands they are forced to suffer humiliation and destruction. A good example is that of China and Vietnam that kept going through intermittent periods of subjugation and inroads from outside forces; yet they have emerged as a formidable force and now China’s might in the world is being acknowledged. However, few nations endure hardships on account of their own people and their own doings. Unfortunately, our beloved country is among them.
Pakistan has experienced quite an erratic political journey at the hands of capricious rulers who kept playing with the destiny of the people by either their totalitarian policies or under the pretense of representative democracies, that too eventually steering towards self-styled despotism. There came occasional splurges of development, industrialisation and progress interspersed with natural calamities and wars that kept the gears of advancement moving forward and in reverse as the country put on years with the people swaying between neo-liberalism and fundamentalism, unity and ethnic/religious bias, education and ignorance, sensibility and superstition. In a nutshell, Pakistan is a country that has in a short span of life treaded on more varied paths leading in different directions than any other country on the globe.
These last seven decades have witnessed party politics based on regional and religious affiliation although it is claimed, even by those who opposed it, that Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam that should have been enough to unify Muslims of any race. Our national flag contains a white strip that represents the minority that is entitled to all those privileges which any Muslim Pakistani enjoys but over time, let alone the universal rights of the minority, even the majority is now feeling suffocated on account of rising intolerance, injustice, bad governance, pathetic politics, corruption and disrespect for rule of law. With the country’s name on the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the looming threat of being included in the black list, it is becoming more of an embarrassment for the citizens to introduce themselves as Pakistanis.
Amid this hullabaloo and an atmosphere of disunity and prejudice among the people of this land what has become a national nightmare is the rapid increase in domestic and international debts, the pay-off of which is causing tremendous drain on the national exchequer. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “A man in debt is so far a slave.”
Those nations that fail to stand on their own feet, do not learn to remain within their limited resources and instead rely on other people’s benevolence can never appear as confident and assertive. Historically speaking, nations stumble mostly because of bad governance, complacency of rulers, political interference in the government machinery, rampant corruption and above all, by invoking more debt than can only not be paid off but also cause state assets to be compromised.. These are factors that reduce a nation’s self-esteem, lowering its value and hurting its pride.
Ask self-respecting persons to beg before someone and see their reaction. Many would rather die than spread their hands for alms and those who once, overcome their pride can become persistent free-loaders but unable to withstand the glare of their donors’ eyes. In other words, unless they return their loans they lose their discretion and are compelled to support their benefactors no matter how much they disagree with them.
When passing through crucial phases of our existence, if we had become one strong nation, set aside our differences and poured out our personal resources to prevent the country from getting entrapped in the debt snare, we could have valiantly defied those who dare to hurt our sensitivities. Mere protests and destroying whatever remains are fruitless and insufficient reactions. What good has come out of claiming to be a nuclear state when we cannot face the slightest of insult? Courageous nations approach ordeals with self-sacrificial sentiments to retain their self-respect and protect their pride. They step forward to volunteer their services and possessions to deliver their country from any crisis. That is how they shine forth in the annals of history.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)