Today, we celebrate 23rd March, 2019, Pakistan Day. It is a day that commemorates the Lahore Resolution of 23rd of March, 1940, wherein the leaders of the All India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, met at Lahore to formally adopt the call for Indian Muslims to have their own independent country, thus beginning the movement to create the nation of Pakistan. That dream was realized seven years later on 14th August, 1947, the anniversary of which is now observed by Pakistan as Independence Day. Pakistan Day, for its part, is the holiday dedicated to the genesis of the very nation of Pakistan.
Every 23rd March, the government hosts parades and a ceremony in Islamabad to recognize the meritorious service of citizens whose labor strengthened Pakistan. This Pakistan Day, we will be having a joint military parade with various countries including the People’s Republic of China. In addition to our customary joy and fanfare over how our nation’s existence came to be, we observe each Pakistan Day with reflection over the meaning of our nationhood, how far our nation has come since creation and where we stand today, and a reaffirmed commitment to build a prosperous future for the nation.
However, a dark pall hangs over our nation this year as we celebrate.
Last year, in the run-up to Pakistan Day, I heard the thunderous sound of fighter jets in the sky several times. It was the Pakistan Air Force practicing for the Pakistan Day Parade. This year, as 23 March drew near, I again heard the same sounds, emanating from the sky at an even faster rate. This time, however, it was for a very different reason. The Air Force was responding to the intense escalation in hostility between India and Pakistan, which erupted after Indian warplanes crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir for the first time since the war of 1971 that tore our nation apart.
That standoff occurred as a result of a bomb attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir on 14 February. India then flew fighter jets into northern Pakistan on 26 February, claiming they were bombing a militant training camp. Pakistan retaliated by downing two Indian warplanes, one in Pakistan and the other across the Line of Control. In the few days afterwards, the two countries exchanged aerial attacks and artillery fire across the LoC in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The military confrontation continued for several days and is now replaced by a quiet yet tense standoff.
We celebrate Pakistan Day this year in the wake of a crisis that brought our nation to the brink of war. The danger that confronted us and which is still hanging around cannot be understated, as both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed and a nuclear war could kill tens of millions of people. That this year’s 23rd March is spent in such circumstances is a stark reminder of the seriousness of the Kashmir dispute, an issue that in fact has plagued Pakistan ever since our nation came into being. It is actually one of Pakistan’s many chronic problems. The truth is that in its seven decades of history, Pakistan has struggled in many ways and much has been holding it back. Many say that Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan has yet to be fully realized.
Seven decades of Indo-Pak conflict may even be responsible for many of the ailments that plague Pakistan. Pakistan has had to devote much of its resources to defense and national security, contributing to widespread poverty and lack of development. The constant security threat caused periodic martial rule, impeding the orderly political development of the country. The tensions within Kashmir contributed to the rise and spread of militancy in the wider region, not to mention the constant threat of terrorism.
So this is where Pakistan stands today. A territorial dispute that should have been a teething problem for a newly independent region has never come close to being resolved and has been a source of consistent trouble, playing a significant role in shaping our nation. Going through the latest trouble it has given us, we have to ask ourselves how the Kashmir dispute, a tragedy for Kashmir’s people, a burden for Pakistan, and a danger for all involved, could have happened.
The Kashmir issue is customarily traced to 1947 and the Radcliff Boundary Award, but its roots are deeper. There was once a time that Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, was under Muslim rule, but it fell to the Sikh Empire in 1819. The British took over Kashmir in 1846 and gave it to a Hindu clan known as the Dogras, as a reward for helping them defeat the Sikh Empire. The Hindu rulers of the Muslim princely state of Kashmir, therefore, do not have the legitimacy other hereditary rulers of princely estates in India do. After the British left more than a century later and princely states had the option of joining Pakistan or India, Kashmir’s Muslim populace wanted to join Pakistan and its Hindu ruler wanted to join India. The dispute led India and Pakistan to go to war in 1948 over annexation of Kashmir. A UN-mandated ceasefire split the area between the two nations, as India pledged to hold a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmiris in keeping with the principle of self-determination sanctified by the UN resolution. Unfortunately, India never made good on the pledge to Kashmiris and the divide leaves both India and Pakistan hostile to each other ever since. Thus, the danger of a nuclear war breaking out in the 21th century is entirely due to imperial machinations of the mid-19th century.
It is just one example of how the past shapes the present world. Knowledge of history is thus important for proper understanding of present day problems. It’s fair to say that history has not worked in Pakistan’s favor very much. Nevertheless, to be better able to work towards a brighter future, we must become cognizant of the good in our past. A nation’s history and that of its predecessors is an important source of pride for its people. Awareness of past achievements can motivate a people towards greater accomplishment in their time.
Pakistan, indeed, has something in its heritage worthy of high acclaim. Pakistan, along with the Subcontinent in general, is the first European colony to gain independence after World War 2, initiating the process of global decolonization that today results in a world of free nation-states. That alone imparts a high distinction on Pakistan. British India hosted the world’s biggest independence movement, of which the Pakistan Movement was a significant part. After the war, the British departure from the Subcontinent was a foregone conclusion. However, the Muslims of the Subcontinent obtaining their own sovereign nationhood, independent of Hindu-majority India, was an unlikely outcome, achieved, in the face of great opposition, without recourse to violence and with rational political discourse led by a professional advocate named Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The making of Pakistan is thus one of mankind’s great achievements in the annals of world history.
Since then, as a nation, another great accomplishment of Pakistan is the building of the Karakorum Highway. Built in the ‘60s and ‘70s with Chinese help, it is the world’s highest paved international road and runs through some of the world’s most lofty mountainous terrain, rendering the construction project an immensely difficult feat. As a result, the Karakorum Highway is often regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the world. Indeed, the construction of the Karakorum Highway is the crowning achievement in highway engineering.
Pakistan is also a nation of high prominence on the international stage, due in part to its military industrial strength. In this context it is the most powerful Islamic country. It is one of the few countries in the world which managed to build a nuclear arsenal as part of an impregnable defense system built to ward off a much bigger enemy, India, after the 1971 war dismembered Pakistan. Scientists in the remaining half of Pakistan built a nuclear weapons system with civil military collaboration unrivaled elsewhere in the Muslim world.
All of this shows that Pakistan is endowed with a huge potential. It is not fully fulfilled because equally enormous obstacles lie in the way of tapping all of it. These include problems of the past and present. Pakistan’s very birth was mired in tragedy, as millions died in the extreme communal violence of Partition, and in disappointment as it had far less territory than its founders envisioned, who thus called it a “moth-eaten state”. Then, right from the beginning, our new nation was beset by the Kashmir dispute and in its heel, the death of our founder, Quaid-e-Azam. A few decades later, catastrophe befell Pakistan as it was split in two, when East Pakistan, containing half the country’s population and much of its natural resources, broke away, rendering the original purpose of the country (to be a homeland for Indian Muslims) moot. Since then, Pakistan has been in the grip of institutional stagnation and in 2001, a whole new sort of geopolitical trouble for Pakistan started with the War on Terror, which led to the spread of civil war and terrorism in Pakistan. The resultant strain on the country made some regard Pakistan as a failed state. That is an unjustifiable characterization. The state is still intact and struggling towards greater achievements but the problems it is dealing with are overwhelming.
Pakistan’s troubles are due to a large and complex variety of factors. It seems that several different problems converged on Pakistan to make it such a troubled country, problems coming from both inside the country and outside. Events like the recent standoff with India are a serious concern and stand as a reminder of our longer-term situations. With the post-Pulwama military confrontation and the threat of nuclear war we just went through, we must realize that we cannot go on like this. In order to do something, we need answers. Solving the problems of our nation will not just require effort and unity. Pakistanis are already a hardworking people, but they are in want of guidance. In order for us to guide Pakistan through all our troubled circumstances, we need to analyze and comprehend the issues that we face and think up solutions to them. If we are to make our country better, we need knowledge and ideas.
That is what we commemorate on 23 March. One would think that Independence Day would be our more important holiday, as 14 August means the struggle for Pakistan was at last realized, but 23 March signifies the idea that materialized the struggle. We recognize the importance of the idea of Pakistan by making Pakistan Day as big a day as it is.
That is why we hold both Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah in high regard as the two great founders of Pakistan. Jinnah was the statesman who led the political struggle for Pakistan. He did the work as a skilled politician who could mobilize his people and negotiate with the Indian National Congress and the British. Iqbal was a prolific poet and writer, called the greatest Urdu Poet of the twentieth century, who formulated the concept of Pakistan and persuaded his fellow Muslim Indians to believe in it. It was in Iqbal’s great mind that the need for a separate Muslim homeland was first recognized. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the decision to embark on that journey and an awareness of what course to take. The part of an endeavor that takes place inside the head is in itself often a significant task.
On 23 March and August 14, we celebrate the existence of Pakistan itself. We have the nation, but we have yet to make it into a truly prosperous one. Pakistan’s creation is only the beginning, but we have to do more to move forward. As a 21 year old Pakistani, I am very much a supporter of carrying on the struggle of our founding fathers. For this, I propose that just as 23 March, 1940, the All-India Muslim League adopted the idea of a separate Muslim homeland and launched the struggle to achieve it, we must spend every 23 March formulating and promoting ideas of what we can do for Pakistan. The best way to celebrate Pakistan Day is to engage in discussion about how to make Pakistan greater.
Every day, of course, should be a day for doing that. But 23 March can be a day of special focus on this subject. We can spend the whole year prior engaged in investigation and discourse in academic institutions, think tanks, government departments, civil society organizations, and just about anywhere, studying concepts and developing ideas and putting our work on display on 23 March. That day, we can also decide what we are going to be doing the rest of the year and simultaneously describe what we have achieved towards the goal post. The journey for Pakistan is still far from over. We can’t spend 23 March with just jubilation. We should also dedicate it to reflection and discourse and a determination to act.
That is actually how we get together and spend Pakistan Day. But I believe that we need a change in our thinking, an intellectual revolution, in fact. We need to broaden our horizon when it comes to awareness of our challenges. We must push more for academic pursuit of knowledge and ideas and be open-minded about where to find them. An analysis of Pakistan’s journey over the ages and where it is now, a discourse on where we can go from here, and a comprehensive investigation into the issues surrounding Pakistan are essential for us as a nation. Part of the reason why we have not managed to solve some of Pakistan’s endemic problems may be because we neither fully comprehend the issues, nor know where to search for ways to solve them. We do not possess tools to fathom our own capacity to meet our challenges. Gaining knowledge is a relatively easy task and so Pakistan, if it wants to make itself a better nation, should devote itself, before anything else, to learning.
I propose, therefore, that we create a national forum for research and idea development, an open forum where all can post for issue identification and analysis and for dissemination of ideas for issue resolution. In the age of information technology, a national forum, open to all, designed for developing ideas and plans of action for the country is not only feasible but also desirable. I have hereby decided to create a program for such studies. Feel free to contact us for ideas and inquiries. With your help, it may develop into Pakistan’s foremost research and advocacy think tank.
So what is it that we can do to solve Pakistan’s problems and turn it into a better country? The possibilities are endless. We just need to engage in thorough, scientific study of Pakistan’s circumstances and think outside the box in looking for answers to our problems. Awareness of history is necessary, as is proper awareness of the wider world and Pakistan’s place in it. Here is a basic overview of the sort of subjects relevant to our pursuit of knowledge for our nation.
First thing we have to know is that Pakistan does not exist in a vacuum. In our discourse on national issues, it appears that we have an unwitting tendency to regard it that way, to disregard the world as a whole. But the world is highly interconnected and individual nations tend to be heavily impacted by global or faraway developments and events. Pakistan’s history bears testament to this in its entirety. Pakistan was able to get independence because Britain was weakened by World War 2. The political system the new country adopted (because it could not go back to being a monarchy like in Mughal or Sikh times) was the same as those developed by the West, by our very imperial masters. Pakistan’s subsequent history was largely shaped by international affairs such as the Cold War and the War on Terror.
That last part we well know of. But strangely, even when many Pakistanis are dealing with foreign matters impacting their country, they seem to avoid actually trying to understand those events happening afar. For example, many Pakistanis resent the West because they think the foreign powers still have imperialist intentions. Thus, they do things like accuse Malala Yousafzai of being an imperial stooge because she came to reside in Britain. But they do not really study what is going on in the West, to familiarize themselves with those countries (thereby rejecting the desire for learning that Malala advocates).
This sort of thinking is common in the wider region around us. For example, some analysts believe that the protests that broke out across the Muslim world over the Innocence of Muslims film were so strong and widespread because the people involved in it, in addition to being uneducated and isolated, spent most of their lives living under repressive dictatorial governments and so assumed that any film made anywhere in the world must have had government backing or permission. They knew very little about faraway parts of the world and, crucially, they were unwilling to realize that they knew so little, so they made assumptions based upon what their own country was like. Millions came to a conclusion without being close to knowing enough and that, unfortunately, happens too often in Pakistan. Learning how to learn is a requirement for learning.
So Pakistanis need a global perspective and must become intimately familiar with happenings all around the world, past and present, in both countries rich and poor, big and small. We should study the outside world both to find out all that affects us and to uncover lessons that could help us understand our national affairs better. It’s time to expand our horizon. Perhaps our global ignorance, even as we remain experts on everything within our borders, is a big factor keeping us down.
Knowing about Pakistan in fact entails knowing quite a lot about the world, because the nation occupies a position of international importance. The importance of its geographic position becomes very obvious the moment you glance at it on a map. It lies right between West Asia and South Asia, and Central Asia lies to its north. It is both a regional power and right in the middle of major geographic regions. In fact, looking at the map, we can say it looks a lot like Pakistan is the main bridge between the western and eastern halves of the world. Such a strategic position provides Pakistan with a huge amount of opportunity. It is safe to assume that it is also an underlying cause of many of Pakistan’s problems.
Pakistan has relevance especially for the Islamic world. Besides being the most prominent Islamic country, and being a link between the main block of Islamic territories and the wide expanses of Asia to the east, it is the only nation in history that is created in the name of Islam. Pakistan thus has the potential to play a leading role in the Islamic world. Its hostile relations with India mean that Pakistan’s main regional outreach will have to be to its fellow Islamic nations west and north. However, instability, sociopolitical troubles, and unrest are very common in these countries, as well as within Pakistan itself, and are a defining feature of the Muslim world in the 21st century. With its importance, Pakistan has to take on the responsibility of tackling these challenges. For it to build a bright role for itself, it should play a leading role in guiding the world’s Muslims towards peace and progress.
The neighboring country of China also has very important relations with Pakistan. China is an emerging global superpower, currently the world’s second richest nation. China and Pakistan have very friendly relations due to having India as a common enemy. Currently, following up on the construction of the Karakorum Highway, both nations are constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). One of the world’s most significant trade projects, it is being planned as China’s main route to Africa and the Middle East. Pakistan is thus a major partner in China’s emergence on the world stage and CPEC is slated to be a game-changer for Pakistan.
It is therefore very important to study China and what its rise means for the world. We also have to plan our economic integration and partnership with China wisely. Xi Jingping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which CPEC is part of, is a global economic revolution in the making. The future of Pakistan, and that of the world as well, will be largely shaped by China’s growth. It is a promising future but one we have to proceed towards carefully, as we have no idea where it could lead us. It begins now, as the steps taken today will decide tomorrow.
The world’s future is likely to be decided by China and other eastern countries. But the world’s past and present has been largely decided by the West. Western countries like the United States continue to play a leading role in the world and will for the foreseeable future. They also hang like a specter over Pakistan’s existence. The West is responsible for Pakistan ever coming into being, for otherwise the Mughal Empire would still exist in its place. Through its dominance and influence, the West is in fact responsible for almost every single way the world is today. It has played a fundamental role in the forging of the modern world.
That role has also been hugely multi-faceted. It has brought enormous good and inflicted great harm. The only way we can summarize modern Western civilization’s impact is that it is enormously complex. Take as an example the legacy of slavery for Western countries like America. It is usually regarded as a dark stain on that nation’s history as slavery was practiced on such a major scale and resulted in entrenched and chronic racism. But when you put it in the bigger perspective, many societies throughout history practiced slavery. It was a common and mostly unabated practice of civilization. Then Britain, the world’s biggest power, banned slavery and actually used its navy to block the Atlantic slave trade. Shortly afterwards, the United States fought the only war in world history to end slavery. Western anti-slavery efforts spread worldwide and it is now because of Western countries that slavery all over the world has been restricted to being an underground activity. They brought us the worst of slavery and the end of slavery.
The West and its shaping of modern history is thus a very complicated subject but also one that we have to comprehend. Understanding the West means understanding the world. Even China can be largely thought of as a Western product now. For 4,000 years, it was one imperial dynasty after another. That came to an end in 1911 when China got a republican government inspired by George Washington’s ideals. Then, in 1949, it got a communist government inspired by Karl Marx’s ideas. China later became what it is now due to Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of capitalist ideas, in which we can say he was inspired by Adam Smith. Here in Pakistan, Western influence is pervasive in our society, to which the fact that this article is written in English, not Urdu, is testament.
Pakistan has also had frosty relations with Western countries. It is not alone. Virtually every non-white society in the world has had frosty relations with the West at some time or another. But a lot more has to be done on our part than just holding up banners saying “Hang Raymond Davis” or something like that. We also got to get to know the West, to start to understand this immense, globe-transforming phenomenon that is Western Civilization.
Knowing history, of course, is generally important in understanding the world. But it also may be worth our while to peer far back into history. Doing so for the land where Pakistan lies, we find another great achievement in Pakistan’s heritage, which is that it is one of the world’s earliest seats of civilization, the Indus Valley civilization, or Harappa. The Harappans at their peak may have comprised one-fourths of the world population and their developments include urban planning, water supply systems, and elaborate drainage. If we study these accomplishments of theirs, it could inspire us with useful tips for today.
The Indus Valley civilization was centered on the Indus Basin, which remains the ecological foundation of our nation-state today. It serves as the reminder that the natural world is what makes civilization and humanity possible. Pakistan’s natural environment thus has to be included as an integral part of our national outlook. As we develop our nation, we must keep it in mind and learn to treat it responsibly.
Preventing environmental degradation therefore must become our top national priority. Pakistan’s existence comes at a time when human civilization is growing at a tremendous rate, fundamentally altering the balance of nature, which will in turn affect human societies everywhere. Most analysts say that Pakistan will be one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to environmental changes. Thus, Pakistan now has a whole new set of severe problems it will carry into the future. Most of the problems keeping our nation down are of the past, such as the Kashmir dispute, which is rooted in old struggles which the rest of the world has mostly moved beyond. But now, even if Pakistan overcomes all such problems, environmental change such as overuse of water, the shifting of the monsoon, and the shrinking of the northern glaciers will be a whole new challenge for the nation, impeding its development.
It will most likely even threaten Pakistan’s existence. Our nation thus has a very uncertain future. It is the most important thing for us therefore to study environmental changes and find out what can be done about them. Changes in the Indus River are believed to be responsible for the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization. We should study this event as it may give us insight into Pakistan’s prospects now. But all in all, understanding the entire field of human-caused changes to the natural world will be the biggest challenge in our intellectual endeavors.
This will hinge upon science. Science, the study of the material world around us, is in fact very important for the world. We should not neglect it as we endeavor to understand Pakistan’s challenges in the world. Scientific literacy will be enormously useful to us and will be necessary for making Pakistan a great country.
A wide variety of fields will have to be mastered if we are to strive to serve Pakistan with knowledge. There are social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and other aspects, all interconnected, of the issues surrounding Pakistan. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed. Critical thinking skills are needed. Even when we learn all the facts, we must decipher the meaning behind them. There is much we will have to learn, to analyze. That includes big questions that will be challenging to answer.
Take, for example, the issue at the of Pakistan’s troubles. Newly-formed Pakistan and India fought a limited war in Kashmir in 1947 and the United Nations, also newly-formed, decided to intervene to bring an end to the conflict. It oversaw a ceasefire and got India to agree to a plebiscite in the part of Kashmir it occupied, which came to nothing. At the time, it looked like what the UN was doing was good, bringing peace, but on the long term, it condemned the region to a perpetual threat of war.
That is an example of the dilemmas inherent in international relations and the pursuit of peace-making. The UN is an organization founded on the goal of preventing war. It decided to stop a very small-scale war in the Himalayas but ended up moving the problem to the future and making it worse. We have had two wars, far more destructive, since then, seven decades of tense relationship, and we are now at the risk of nuclear war, a horrifying possibility. All of this could have been averted if Pakistan and India were left to fight it to the finish in 1948. So why all this?
It is just one of the many issues requiring a world perspective. The UN was founded due to World War 2, a war caused by German expansion in Europe. That expansion was first met with British appeasement. Then, when it got too far, Britain and France went to war with Germany, but it was in a way too late now. Germany would have been easier to defeat if they went to war before it took over Czechoslovakia and maybe carnage as tremendous as what WW2 turned out to be would have been averted. So one would expect the UN to absorb this lesson and consider that it sometimes is counterproductive to avoid the fighting of a war at the first chance you get. To investigate events like the Kashmir ceasefire which affect Pakistan, we need to look at these wider processes in the world and events in other countries.
There is a memorial in Burma, dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the war there, many of whom would later be Pakistani citizens, which says “All those who come here, let them hear us say- For your tomorrow, we gave our today”. That often holds true of war. It seems, also, that some attempts at peace-making have been a case of “For our today, we gave your tomorrow”.
This month’s war scare between India and Pakistan is a result of this. It is quite a problematic and controversial issue, certainly. War and peace is generally a very complicated and precarious subject but getting a grasp of it is a must for being able to tackle some of the world’s biggest and most fundamental problems, including of Pakistan. How peacemakers brought us the hostile relations with India that have been Pakistan’s longest plague and what could have been done instead is just one of many complex issues we need to unravel.
There is so much we will have to be exploring. Having gone through this yet one more nuclear war crisis just before Pakistan Day, we need to wake up as a nation and resolve to finally tackle Pakistan’s challenges. We, of course, do call for that each Pakistan Day. This Pakistan Day we are spending discussing the resolutions we should make and that we must push for a bright future for Pakistan. But how are we to be able to do that if we are not learned as a nation? To serve Pakistan, we need to gain knowledge before anything else. Pakistan’s problems may be unresolved so much because we lack a complete understanding of them and of the world around us. It is time to change that and embark on a voyage of discovery.
There is a long way to go for that because lack of intellectual productivity is another one of Pakistan’s problems. The country’s education sector is underdeveloped, with poor-quality schooling for much of the population and high levels of illiteracy. Scholarly activity in the country is generally of modest levels. What Pakistan needs first and foremost is the promotion of a culture of knowledge. Learning paves the road to prosperity. We don’t just have to do it within our borders. Pakistanis can and do go abroad to study, such as Dr. Abdul Salam, a Pakistani scientist who worked in London and won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. Nowadays, knowledge economies are considered the most promising form of economy, so if Pakistan is to rise as a big power in the world, it must do more to pursue knowledge, starting with knowledge of the challenges it faces.
79 years ago, our forebears adopted the idea of an independent homeland for the Muslims of South Asia and made the resolution to bring our great nation, Pakistan, into the world. On this anniversary of the landmark event, let us adopt the resolution to take on all of Pakistan’s challenges by developing the ideas needed for forging Pakistan’s path in the world so that it can become all that it is capable of becoming.
Shahzeb Khan is an Islamabad-based columnist, environment activist, and co-founder of Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management (PPLDM).