Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pakistan is to celebrate 62nd Independence Day

Nations far older than Pakistan continue to debate the meaning of loaded terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘independence.’ In our country, that debate is particularly multifaceted. After all, even at this nation’s inception, freedom meant more than one thing: independence from British colonial rule, the option of choosing a new homeland, and the promise of living without the burden of oppression that minorities are subjected to.

Over the years, freedom has meant different things to Pakistani citizens – from Dhaka to Kashmir and beyond. But the meaning of freedom has always been negotiated and contested. Think, for a moment, of all the different contexts in which we champion our freedom: we had free and fair elections in February 2008; the lawyers’ movement agitated for a free judiciary; the freedom of our media was compromised during emergency rule in 2007; and most of the young couples who fall victim to the practice of karo kari are termed by the media as ‘freewill couples.’

Just this year, or even in the past few days, the idea of freedom has been floated and interrogated in many different contexts by Pakistani citizens. After Gojra, and similar attacks on minority communities, can we say Pakistanis are free to practice the religion they want? Just months after the Taliban assumed control of Malakand, can we say that all Pakistanis are free to educate their children and avail of any medical treatment they want?

And what of independence? What does an independent judiciary signify in a country where parallel justice systems proliferate? And what can a desire for independence mean for a nation in light of recent demands for a separate province for Seraiki speakers, or even recent comments by the Khan of Kalat?

On Independence Day, invites its readers to debate these issues to help generate a better understanding of what ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ mean in present-day Pakistan.

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