THE Independence Day is celebrated with great enthusiasm every year. And rightly so. The day marks the point in time when we got independence from British rule, and, equally importantly, averted the possible hegemonic, social and economic domination by the majority community in the Indian subcontinent.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah rightly specified the objective of independence when he said: “We should have a state in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice could find free play.”
It may also be useful to remember that nation-states enjoy relative independence only. None of the nations, including superpowers, can claim to have something close to absolute independence. The statecraft, governance approaches, day-to-day decision-making related to national, regional and local affairs are all managed with the aim of preserving the optimum degree of independence.
A basic reason behind this commonly subscribed approach is to ensure that the benefits of freedom do reach residents, citizens, visitors, enterprises and society as a whole within the perimeter of a nation-state.
The demands of statecraft mean nation-states, including the superpowers, generally enjoy only relative independence; not absolute.
We insist that our geographical borders are out of bounds for operatives from another country. Evidence might indicate that there are times when the statement did not hold water. We must revisit the tenets of our policies and approaches to maintain territorial independence in the face of contemporary challenges.
The Quaid-i-Azam was categorical about the rights and privilege, he thought, the Pakistanis would enjoy in the newly-created country. He announced on August 11, 1947, that all citizens of the country were free to go to their respective places of worship and subscribe to their belief systems.
Religious independence was granted by the state to all the citizens according to relevant laws and statutes. However, history might suggest that there have been occasions when the state may not have given this freedom the way the Quaid had planned.
In common understanding, a well-functioning nation-state offers equal opportunities to all. For a very long time, the country has been taken hostage off and on by non-state actors, feudals, industrialists, real estate tycoons, populists as well as sectarian and ethnic assemblages.
History informs us that curbs and limitations on the democratic practices is a core reason behind the rise of such stand-alone voices. Our political parties, which pose themselves as the custodians and harbingers of democracy, are also to blame for this state of affairs, at least to a partial extent.
It goes without saying that the true application of democracy demands a situation where the periodic cleansing of representatives can happen routinely across multiple platforms around gradually refined manifestoes and ideas in a transparent manner.
When people get the right to regularly examine the manifestoes and intentions of individuals or groups planning to run public offices, welfare bodies, trade unions, mosque committees, agricultural associations, market associations, transport and communication groups, the element of social accountability automatically shores up.
The people become empowered to take ownership of decisions and actions, leading to the creation of capable institutions at every level. Such a premise causes a blow to the old and decadent system of patriarchy, which gradually withers away, giving birth to fresh traditions of credible and worthy leadership at every level.
Besides, the terror mongers and the orthodox can be firmly dealt with, and they eventually get flushed out of the social arena when a credible public rejection is instituted through the electoral process.
Additionally, the political parties running away from conducting credible intra-party elections are questioned by their members and voters. Whether our institutional architecture and the collective wisdom of society can achieve this goal is a crucial question that must be answered by the stakeholders as a matter of priority. The protection of the interests of smaller and weaker groups and communities can only become tangible through enhanced democratisation.
Poor governance adversely affects independence and liberty of the ordinary on many counts. Nationhood cannot be effectively practised without the freedom of policy formulation and practice by any country. In our case, the central fibre of our nation has been threatened due to the rising interference of neo-cons of the West and the rising influence of our ‘most trusted friends’ in the Islamic world.
State relations have sometimes been reduced to contractual arrangements. By accepting the roles to fight battles, even proxy wars, certain regimes in the past dangerously jeopardized the future of the country for very short-term gains.
The founding fathers were very categorical about the theory and practice of independence and freedom. Even during the transitional phase of acquiring independence, Mr Jinnah did not compromise on any matter that may have cast a shadow on the working independence of Pakistan.
History is replete with evidence where he set aside otherwise attractive offers while dealing with the independence of policy and action of the state. Refusal to accept Lord Mountbatten as the joint governor-general of the two dominions is an example in point. Also, despite the fact that Pakistan faced real threats to its security and existence, Mr Jinnah refused to accept any direct interference from any world power. We have surely oversized booths to fill in such matters.
There are many ways to define a nation’s independence. Literature is replete with well-argued texts and evidence-based studies. Many comprise certain core variables. Political self-determination, economic sovereignty, border control, localisation, food and water self-sufficiency, energy independence and self-defence.
It is about time we opened a national debate among the relevant stakeholders to work out ways in which we may ensure complete independence in every tangible walk of life. This is surely an achievable mission.
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.