Pakistan began as a poetic vision in the hearts of poets. With his philosophical vision, Iqbal envisioned a Muslim state where Islam could flourish as a cultural force. Jinnah, the pragmatic statesman, worked hard to make that ideal a reality. However, as dreams materialize, they tend to lose their purity. Is this the situation in Pakistan?

This month, as the country celebrates its 76th, it is fighting to recover the spirit of its founding ambition. Pakistan is a country whose air, once nourished by its founders’ dreams, is now parched and cracked under the weight of its contradictions.

Jinnah had imagined a Pakistan where people of all religions and origins could live as equal citizens, but today’s nation longs for its lost diversity.

The founding fathers envisioned a country where critical thought would be unrestricted and the intellect unfettered. Still, today, the light inside Pakistan’s educational institutions flickers precariously against the gusts of dogma and indoctrination. Its educational system is entangled in a battle between originality and conformity, between inquiry and obedience, with the education budget at a mere 2.8% of GDP. With cycles of mistrust and power struggles between institutions and government, Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of equilibrium has proven elusive, with Pakistan ranking 105 out of 139 countries on the Global Competitiveness Index.

Under the monsoons of greed and anger, the ties of nationhood have weakened. Internally, the identity of Pakistan currently juggles. Externally, Pakistan’s people have paid the price for its leaders’ Faustian agreements, sacrificing the state’s security. The geopolitical power struggles between the major countries continue to encroach on Pakistan’s international standing, with its ranking gradually falling to 89.7 in 2022 on the fragile states index. Pakistan still exists after 76 years, but it now resembles a caricature rather than a true manifestation of its guiding objectives.

On the contrary, when a country loses its true worth, it must use its founding vision as a compass and the founders’ dreams must not be abandoned since they contain the spiritual power that spurred the battle for freedom. Their memories can act as an antidote to the poison of pessimism. Pakistan was founded on an audacious dream, and that dream lives on.

It lives on in the hearts of millions of people who still believe their country can live up to the vision of its founding fathers. It lives on in the spirit of today’s youth, who aspire to achieve the impossible and write the next chapter of national renewal. It survives through the unwavering faith of the downtrodden, who regard Pakistan as an unmet but not yet extinguished promise. At the same time, many people present an image of a country burdened by issues. There is, however, another Pakistan, the Pakistan of possibilities.

This is Pakistan, where unity could bloom if the people remember the wisdom of their forefathers. Democracy could take root in places where citizens rediscover the notion of civic duty. Where women, who make up 50% of the population, if given the opportunity, may advance to leadership positions. This is Pakistan, where world-class scientists, who have seen a 21% rise in research output over the past decade, are innovating solutions to national problems. Dynamic entrepreneurs, including those running over 1 million SMEs contributing 40% of GDP, are challenging the status quo and reshaping traditional industries. This is Pakistan, where young change-makers, who comprise over 60% of the population under 30, transform society. It is a country that has seen its Human Development Index score rise by 25% in the last 30 years.

This is a Pakistan, where constitutional changes could bring unity, with the 18th Amendment helping decentralize power to the provinces, where education and human capital investment could generate long-term prosperity, increasing literacy rates from 45% to 60% in 2022.

The hardships of the past have dimmed but not destroyed Pakistan’s promise. Skepticism cannot extinguish the timeless appeal of optimism and would not stop the march of the dreamers.

A progressive Pakistan, proud of its variety, unified in purpose, and willing to shed the veil of the past, could emerge from the pains of the past. At 76, the country requires collective rejuvenation.

This century belongs to those who can reconnect it with the luminous vision of the country’s founder; those who can cleanse its body politic of corruption and communalism; those who can replace despondency with determination, and torpor with dynamism.  This transition necessitates the abandonment of minor divides for the greater good. It calls for purging distrust and reawakening the ‘Yes, we can!’ mentality. The future glimmers with possibilities as Pakistan enters its 77th year. If values are elevated above individuals and the nation’s will is supreme, Pakistan may become Iqbal’s ‘shaheen,’ soaring to its destiny, and Jinnah’s progressive, democratic state.

It would be Pakistan, where inquiry dispels the darkness of dogma. Where people have the inner freedom to think, believe, and dream. Where variety and criticism are valued rather than suppressed.

Indeed, an ideal Pakistan would not materialize overnight or with the flick of a magic wand. Days cannot undo the gradual changes of times gone by. However, motivated little steps in the right direction could add to a massive leap for the country. It is now up to its nationals to mend the ripped fabric of that dream and aid Pakistan in regaining its proper position in the international community. The future remains unwritten, and therein lies hope.

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