[Originally published in the Focal Point Magazine]
August 14, the independence day of Pakistan, is undoubtedly one of the most festive and celebrated days in the Pakistani calendar. The entire country goes green, with firecrackers, fireworks, candles, decorative lights, diyas, and flags of all sizes seen almost anywhere one goes. Patriotic songs can be heard on all radio stations and markets, and Iqbal and Jinnah make their routine rounds in the media. This high of displaying love for the motherland is energizing, poignant, and meaningful on this day, but the question arises: does it really qualify as patriotism?
Whereas celebration is certainly necessary for happiness and well-being of a nation, it is also important for the spirit of the Independence Day to sustain throughout the year and transpire into action. There are so many people in Pakistan that celebrate its independence and show their love for their country not only by waving a flag, but also through their hard work; and in the process, they inspire and motivate their spheres of influence to work for betterment in our country through the examples they set.
The first of the three guiding principles that the founding father of our nation prescribed to us is unity. Unity seems to be of utmost importance today as we see ethnic nationalism on the rise, with a few separatist movements already pacing up. However, apart from rhetoric calling for unity in the federation, it is important for us to respect the ethnic differences that Pakistan comes with rather than trying to impose uniformity, and at the same time respect the federation and its essence in uniting us despite our differences.
An excellent example of unity was displayed by over 5000 Pakistanis that gathered in our multicultural metropolitan, Karachi, this August 14th to set the world record for the most people singing a national anthem together; and interestingly, our national anthem is also composed of a range of different languages – a symbol of national unity and diversity.
In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods inspiring instances of unity were again displayed by the Pakistani nation. People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions came together to help fellow countrymen in need of help. I personally witnessed one of the most beautiful displays of religious harmony in a flood affected village in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Christian and Islamic charities had worked together to reconstruct damaged houses. After the Marriott blast in Islamabad, I witnessed scores of people who had come to donate blood being turned back from hospitals because an overwhelming number of people had already responded in a timely manner. These instances reaffirm my faith in the unity of Pakistanis, as the nation always comes together upon each crisis – effectively dismissing all assertions of disunity and strife in the country.
However, it would be naïve to ignore a plethora of issues that Pakistan faces today, especially in governance and human rights, as well as on the question of a Pakistani identity. In this age of globalization, we are equipped with all types of information and communication technologies that make interaction as well as the transmission of information a lot more accessible, quick, and convenient. But as the power of the mass media has increased, so has the responsibility to use it effectively. The role of mass media in nation building can never be emphasized enough, and the panic and cynicism prone media that we see in Pakistan today can do wonders if it uses its capacity right, which is possible in several ways.
Firstly, the media can play an instrumental role in informing the public of the history of Pakistan in a more appealing and interesting manner. Some attempts have been made in the form of movies, and music videos, but a detailed narration remains to be seen, and this is a venture worth pursuing not only for the purpose of raising awareness, but solving many conflicts and biases based on misunderstandings as well.
Secondly, Pakistanis need to be sensitized on the role of the Government, its functions, and structure, as well as awareness regarding their rights guaranteed by the constitution. So many misinformed Pakistanis are tricked into bribing corrupt state officials every day, and so many suffer due to lack of cooperation from Police when registering cases. There are remedies available for such misdemeanor, but very few are aware of them. The media, with its widespread outreach, can play a fundamental role in bringing about this paradigm shift in attitudes as well as duties.
Thirdly, the mass media is capable of leading a campaign to present a representative image of Pakistan internationally. Not only can Pakistan be a tourist haven, but it is being cited as favourable for doing business as well. Therefore, the media can play a role in informing investors of the prospects of good business here. Pakistanis as individuals can also play their own role through social media in portraying the real image of Pakistan to those abroad through the internet. This can be done in two ways: by giving direct information, and by setting an example of themselves.
Whereas a good image of our country important, it should be supplemented by an explanation of the importance of Pakistan in the international arena as well. With our geo-strategic importance, as well as resources such as gas, coal, gold, rivers, agriculture, and most importantly, human resource, Pakistan is a country that is of international significance. Adding to this is our nuclear power, which, apart from being an asset, is a matter of concern as well. Radicalization has also led to many quarters in the international community to increase assistance to Pakistan. With all the international focus and attention on our country, it is up to us to make best use of it, and take a rational approach towards future progress, rather than radical stances that compromise our development.
However, we should not halt efforts to become self-sufficient in lieu of the international assistance and focus. To truly progress as a nation, we have to collectively work on capacity-building that enables us to survive independently. This will be most beneficial and effective if taken up at two levels. Firstly, at an individual level, where each Pakistani is able to survive on his/her own through hard work and planning; and on a national level where the nation works hard to create assets that are of utmost use and importance for future generations to sustain. We have shining examples of selfless service to the nation on a mass scale in the form of several institutions led by visionary individuals: the Edhi Foundation, the Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Namal College, Akhuwat Foundation, etc.
Now the future of Pakistan is really in our hands. Are we to follow those who worked hard and progressed to create an impact on the lives of many in the future, or are we to remain lazy and depend on others to help us get through with our lives? It is this fundamental choice that will determine the future of Pakistan, and luckily, more and more instances of the former are surfacing for all of us to be inspired and motivated by. Let the spirit of August 14, 2011 not die, and let us persevere and rise as a nation, just like the 5,847 rain-drenched but motivated Pakistanis that sang the national anthem.