IT was one day when 120 million Pakistanis decided to put aside their woes and greeted the dawn with jubilation and gaiety. It was August 14, the day the country attained Independence 50 years ago. The golden jubilee celebrations started with special prayers in mosques all over the country.
Almost a week before Independence Day, it was impossible to find an area in Karachi that was not done up with fluttering green-and-white Pakistani flags. The sale of national flags, badges and stickers became a multi-crore-rupee operation, which received a last-minute boost with every school asking parents to send their children on August 14 with a national flag.
With all prominent buildings lit up on the eve of the golden jubilee, old Karachi in particular presented a spectacular sight. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's programme to address the nation at the stroke of midnight was widely publicised by the print and electronic media, midnight revellers in several densely populated mohallas kept awake to listen to it and ushered in the dawn of the 50th year of their Independence with lighted oil lamps.
Clubs, educational and other institutions celebrated the occasion with pomp and pageantry. Special supplements of newspapers recalled the trauma of Partition and took an honest look at what the nation had achieved, or failed to achieve, in 50 years.
Undoubtedly, the spirit was one of jubilation. In the psyche of the Pakistani, completion of 50 years of Independence was a double victory; one, azadi from the British and two, freedom from the hold of a Hindu majority, which the Muslims of Pakistan believe would not have given a fair deal to the community in the matter of education, well-paying jobs and an opportunity to lead a life of dignity and comfort.
School kids sang with fervour, national and patriotic songs like "Jeeve, jeeve Pakistan" (Long Live Pakistan - a song composed during the Bangladesh war to stir up patriotism among Pakistanis) and "Hamara parcham, hai jaan se bhi yeh pyara parcham" (Our flag is more dear to us than our lives). And elders watching the broadcast of such programmes chimed in with fervour.
BUT beneath the enthusiasm and jubilation, an uneasy nation greeted, with a lot of trepidation, the hastily enacted law against terrorism at a special session of the National Assembly on the eve of the Independence Day. This law gives sweeping powers to the police and other law-enforcement agencies to shoot at sight, make arrests without warrants and search anybody's residence at the drop of a hat.
While the growing cult of violence and the spree of looting and thefts have left Pakistanis gasping for breath and begging for some serious intervention from the Government, this is certainly not what the nation was waiting for. The new legislation has been widely termed as a 'black law' by several organisations, including various Bar Associations. Nawaz Sharif's promise that the anti-terrorism law would be used judiciously has not cut much ice with them. The new law was greeted by protests barely 24 hours after the festivities and celebrations had come to an end.
A nation where judicial activism is just taking root, with the Supreme Court Chief Justice Sajid Ali Shah ordering suo motu proceedings on the killings in Karachi and the sectarian violence in Punjab, reacted with scepticism to the Government's announcement of setting up special courts to deal with cases of violence. "What guarantee do we have that these courts will not be packed with cronies of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League?", asked a Karachi-based businessman.
According to the Pakistan Law Commission, over 747,600 cases are pending before the country's Supreme Court, the four High Courts and the Shariat Court.
Pakistan's golden jubilee celebrations evoked mixed feelings in an observer. While on the one hand there is talk of Pakistan emerging as an Asian tiger if only it is given the right political and economic direction, on the other, people are talking openly about the mess the country finds itself in after 50 years of freedom.
Population growth hovers between 2.7 to 3 per cent and literacy remains below a dismal 30 per cent. But what is heartening is that people talk openly and honestly about the problems staring the country in the face. There is very little attempt at whitewashing or window-dressing the harsh realities of Pakistan. That certainly is a silver lining.