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Independence Day came and went. We had a set of usual activities to celebrate Independence Day with ‘zeal and zest’. Some usual TV programs which were fitted into long commercials. The anchors and participants get younger and though they certainly express excitement, but they have relative lack of knowledge of Pakistan concept, the value of freedom and our responsibilities as the citizens of Pakistan.
At the street level, the usual things went on. There were displays of lights, there were flags on the houses and cars and some buntings here and there. The street urchins came out with the same one-wheeling practices, horn honking, trumpet blowing and making as much noise as they could.
Prior to Zia ul Haq era, the public celebrations were minimal. There were only official seminars and shows. Some schools had speeches before or after the day. Public buildings had lights displays. Zia regime promoted and sponsored public participation in the Independence Day celebrations. People were encouraged to put flags on their houses and cars and put on batches. The media which was mainly PTV and Radio Pakistan created a lot of hype and pumped up sentiments of patriotism on the Independence Day.
Another officially sponsored day was also created by Zia, as it was not there before. It was Kashmir Solidarity Day on 5th February. It was made into a public holiday and was celebrated as a protest day with even TV screens going black for a minute and radio broadcasts suspended for a minute; even the traffic was stopped for a minute.
Critics say it was an effort to divert attention of people. It is not unlikely. Zia overthrew Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was one of the most popular elected Prime Ministers. ZAB had his problems, some of which were quite serious. Even then, his popularity at the grass roots level was enormous. Zia had no way to eradicate it, hence the start of celebrations to divert public attention.
It is not our subject to determine the right and wrong of these things. However, I can emphatically say that the Independence Day celebrations were revamped, energized and engraved into the public mind, young and old alike. It became a movement and a ritual to celebrate Independence Day with more and more pomp, display, excitement and sentiments. New national songs were created every year, many of which became hugely popular. The whole arrangement helped to promote Love for Pakistan quite successfully. It strengthened the relation of people with the country and generated high level of patriotism. Even if the intent was negative, the outcome was very positive.
The official backing has remained intermittent since the death of Zia ul Haq in 1988. Incidentally, he passed away on 17 August 1988 and today is his death anniversary, as you read these lines. I remained his staunch opponent and history will judge him, but as is customary, we say a prayer for him on this day.
In general, the successive (or revolving) civilian governments performed much poorly in sustaining the spirit of Independence Day. There have been intermittent, half-hearted efforts to create excitement about 14 August, but these mostly fell flat. The next military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, fared much better and we saw a revival of Independence Day happiness.
The Independence Day has a lot of importance. Freedom should not be taken for granted, though our freedom has many issues, but it is freedom all the same. Some major points may be counted as follows.
Remembrance – It is necessary to keep the memories of partition, Pakistan movement, the political and strategic negotiations, the loyalties and betrayals of the state and non-state actors. If we disconnect from past, we cannot understand present and will not steer into future. Brushing aside past as being irrelevant is an act of huge omission.
Renewal – It is a day to renew our feelings, our commitments and our pledges to Pakistan. Life is busy, and all relations need renewal from time to time. On a personal level, birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated to renew the vows and commitments to one another. On a national level, similar renewal is necessary.
Re-energizing – No relationship can thrive on listless, lazy and weak actions. Energy is required to keep the relationship fresh, active and present. Celebrations create lot of energy and should be used to energize the relationship again.
I believe that days like this should be public holiday to the extent that the work should be stopped. Everyone should attend the office in routine in the morning and the first half should be reserved for Independence Day related activities. Flag hoisting, Anthem singing, cake cutting, speeches etc. should be arranged in the morning. The later part may be off so that people go home and celebrate with their families.
The summary is that Independence Day is a great day because Independence is great. We should add more formality, more fervor, more excitement and more commitment to it.