Its hard to recall an Independence Day in recent history that has not come with a feeling of overwhelming depression.
The Independence Day of my childhood is a distant memory – listening to “Dil Dil Pakistan” by Vital Signs on repeat, watching the parade in Lahore (a city I grew out of love with at the same time that the Sharifs turned it into an almost Legoland-like version of itself), buying flags.
The Independence Day of my adulthood is very different, marked with cynicism and the wonder that this country has managed to survive for so long.
This year, that feeling is magnified as Pakistan faces the worst natural disaster in its history. Floods have ravaged the country, with $1 billion worth of crops destroyed, millions displaced, over a thousand dead, and diseases spreading rapidly through those affected. Houses, lands, livestock, lives – gone. Tales of corruption and deprivation emerge from deluged areas, of those who have lost everything and have no one to turn to, of people who have been cut off from the rest of the country.
As midnight approaches, there will be celebratory gunfire in my neighbourhood from those who choose to mark occasions such as Independence Day with shooting aimlessly in the air. There was gunfire a few weeks ago near my house too, as rioters made store owners close up to protest an MQM legislator being killed in Karachi, another victim in a wave of targeted killings that has claimed over 200 lives.
There will be no celebrations in Pakistan tomorrow, officially. But there will be the same questions. How exactly has this country survived?
As Cyril Almeida wrote in today’s Dawn about the economic crisis:
The challenges may be grim, but they are not insurmountable — yet. What is terrifying some people in Islamabad, however, is the attitude of the present government. Like first-class passengers demanding caviar on a sinking Titanic, the federal government seems supremely unaware of the storm that is slowly engulfing it.