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A country redefined

August 14, 2013

THOSE that were born in 1947 are old now. Those that were young then, those that fought for a country, saw its bloody birthing pangs and hopeful first breaths are nearly all gone.

Every now and then, we see them, those aged representatives of idealism past. We nod at their stories and weep at their faith but we do not believe them any more. Pakistan at the age of 66 is a nation of sceptics, of conspiracy theorists, of critics, and they do not speak the language of possibility any more.

Perhaps it is because the reality of 66 years old is a grim one and the numbers tell the story that the history books do not. Estimates may vary but, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, since last January, nearly 3,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks — the majority comprising ordinary people.

These were the simply unfortunate — the fruit-seller who handed the fruit to the man who was a target, the mosque guard who asked a question too many, the cobbler sitting at the intersection — all condemned by fate to be at a certain place and at a certain time, when a bomb, a blast, or a burst of bullets engulfed them.

Or perhaps they were simply unlucky to be born in a country that can feel no longer, that has no tears to spare, that has become so hardened in its misery as to weep no longer. The Pakistanis of now do not cry easily.

If a map could be stained with blood to indicate where the most has flowed since this January, the top and bottom of the country would be stained the darkest.

In Karachi alone, that forgotten first capital of the once-new Pakistan, hundreds fell between January and August. Punjab, the largest province, with a handful dead, appeared too placid and too pristine to really belong to the stained country.

Those afflicted with too much cannot but envy those left untouched, the normalcy of their continuing lives, the humdrum cares of heat and traffic and jobs mocking those gathering the dead.

The 66th year was also momentous because there was an election. It was held in May in the midst of the killing that continued with ferocity, taking lives at the top and the bottom of the country.

Because dreamers were hard to find and idealists were in short supply, they had to be created on television and ingested through the airwaves.

If the voters were surrounded by uncertainty and death and robberies and bomb blasts, their ears heard the slogans of change. The vote was their chance to speak, and some of them did indeed try.

It was again the top and the bottom that were most problematic, the least cooperative in allowing matters to proceed as they would.

In the far south by the Arabian Sea, some of the wealthiest and most edu-cated of Pakistanis insisted on fairness, on a vote for every citizen who wished to be heard.

In the far north, in desolate Karak, all the leaders, even sworn enemies, put their pens to paper and agreed that women must not be permitted to vote. In the end, as is the case with all that is past, everyone agreed that the election had been historic.

In the tradition of numbers alone, 66 does not merit much attention. It is not 50 or 100, not silver or gold or somehow inherently worthy of being celebrated. Yet in the case of this country, the rule may see an exception, for in Pakistan, the year is one that marks the fading of both the generation that saw the struggle for partition and the one that heard about it from them.

Now in charge, and rising fast, is the generation that bears little allegiance to their fighting forebears, the firsts who wrested pieces of land from the finally cornered colonial masters.

Never having dreamed the dream, they are not haunted by its closeness or distance from the Pakistan that was fought for. The pogroms, the killings, the crumbling of law, the disaffection of the masses, the crises of identity do not bother them.

At 66, the rulers of Pakistan revel in a new freedom: a breaking away from the idea that was and a move towards the something else that is.

At 66 then Pakistan is a country redefined; no longer comparing what is to what should have been or what could have been.

At this distance from history, the promises of progressive and democratic and tolerant are not be parsed against the realities of the present, their instructive weight shed by the passage of time and the passing of lives devoted to the promises of that other time.

At this distance from history, a founder can be imagined not as a man but as a monument to be reconstructed with the materials of the pious present; to answer its difficult questions.

On the morning of the 66th year since its creation, Pakistan will not mourn the passing of dreams; the abandonment of visions; the consternations of constitutions past but instead accept the reality of what is, distant as it is from the dream that delivered it.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.