Quaid's 'missing' portraits

A private TV channel reported last week that portraits of the Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had been removed from the Presidency and Prime Minister House. The report showed recent ceremonies including a reception in honour of Pakistan cricket team taking place at these state premises with the Quaid’s portrait blatantly conspicuous by its omission.

The allegation was promptly rejected by the Presidency spokesperson who described it as totally “false, mischievous, unethical and highly unbecoming of any professional media outlet and professional journalists.” Subsequently, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Qamar Zaman Kaira also denied these reports and insisted that the Quaid’s portraits had not been removed from the President House and Prime Minister Secretariat. He described the story of the private TV channel as “baseless.”

The matter should have ended with this clarification. No one would have had any qualm with the government version despite the fact that the Quaid’s portrait was not visible anywhere in the visual footage of the report shown repeatedly by the TV channel in which it focused one by one in defence of its report on the portraits of the ruling party leaders, past, present and future. The guilt-conscious government, however, moved quickly to stage a spectacle to show its reverence for the Father of the Nation.

But in doing so, it inadvertently inflicted an indignity upon the Founder of Pakistan. By inviting Quaid-e-Azam’s great grandson, Aslam Jinnah and his family from Karachi to Islamabad as guests of Pakistan’s Bait-ul-Maal and presenting them with financial aid as state charity from the Bait-ul-Maal funds, it did no honour to the Quaid who lived with exemplary grace and dignity, and who would have never accepted his family members being treated as state mendicants.

If the government really wanted to do something for the Quaid’s poor and broken family, there were certainly other more dignified ways of doing so. The Jinnah family has been living in abject poverty and misery in the city of Karachi ever since the Quaid left this nation with a sovereign and independent country and every conceivable luxury and affluence. A report in this newspaper three years ago had highlighted their plight which was known to every successive government since Pakistan’s creation with no attention ever paid to provide them the needed relief.

For sixty-three years, it was no secret that the Jinnah family had been living in Karachi as its slum dwellers with no means of income or support. The only favour authorities did to them all these years was to take them as symbolic showpieces to Quaid’s mausoleum for annual wreath laying ceremonies on national days including the Quaid’s birth and death anniversaries. There could not be a worse case of state neglect of its subjects. In Quaid’s Pakistan, his own family didn’t even own a house to live.

The present government indeed deserves gratitude of the nation on waking up to this grim reality. But this is not the only case of depravity and hardship in our Land of the Pure. More than half the population of this country is living in abject poverty like the Jinnah family as totally underprivileged citizens with no government attention on alleviating their hardship. The Bait-ul-Maal is no remedy for their misery, despair and despondency.

President Zardari has promised to ensure free treatment of Aslam Jinnah’s disabled daughter Zainab in the US. It is very thoughtful of him but what about millions of other disabled children in the country? There are hundreds of million of our people who don’t even have access to one square meal a day. This is not what Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned about the country that he created for the Muslims of the sub-continent.

The Quaid’s mind was spoken truly by his great grandson when he made one thing clear about his life to the journalists in Islamabad. “I have no regret and I will never ask for any favour from anybody.” This is what his great grandfather would have said had he been alive today. Alas! Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not live long to personally steer Pakistan to be what he thought and aspired will be “one of the greatest nations of the world.” On our part, we are not even ashamed of what we have done to his Pakistan.

How many of us would remember or know that the Father of our Nation spent the last hours of his life on that fateful day of 11 September, 1947 lying helplessly in an ill-fated army ambulance which broke down due to “engine trouble” at a lonely stretch of the road while bringing him from the Mauripur Air Force Base to Karachi? Earlier on arrival from Quetta, no one from the government except his military secretary, Colonel Knowles, was present at the airport to receive him.

In her book, My Brother, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah recalled those agonizing moments: “Nearby stood hundreds of huts belonging to the refugees, who went about their business, not knowing that their Quaid, who had given them a homeland, was in their midst, lying helpless. Cars honked their way past, buses and trucks rumbled by, and we stood there immobilized in an ambulance that refused to move an inch…We waited for over one hour, and no hour, in my life has been so long and full of anguish.”

Does this painful recollection give us any food for thought or lead us to a feeling of regret and remorse? The answer lies in the barefaced contempt that we as a nation have shown to the Quaid’s vision of a “strong, stable and democratic” Pakistan and his ideals of peace, equality, tolerance, rule of law and human rights. Indeed, the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan remains unfulfilled.

Those of us who belong to the first generation that saw and experienced the formative phase of Pakistan and its creation as a dream of its founding fathers are indeed guilt-ridden at the thought of what Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned this country to be and where we actually stand today as a nation and as a state. We are no longer an independent, peace-loving democratic country that our Quaid had left for us as the fortress of our pride and dignity as a self-respecting nation.

Today, regretfully, Pakistan’s name raises instant fear and concern among the nations of the world. Terrorism is our sole identity now. We are described as the “most dangerous” and “most violent” nation on earth. We are also considered the “most insecure and most unsafe” country in the world. Ours is the only country where Muslims are killing Muslims. We have become a suicidal nation and are killing ourselves. We are also being rated as a failing, if not already a failed state.

Poor governance is our national hallmark. There is no law and order in the country. With our continued domestic political instability and the precarious extremism-led violence, we remain unable to harness the unique asset of our geographical location for our economic growth. Our economy is in shambles with no trust or credibility among world’s lenders and investors. The common man is suffering the worst ever hardship.

Meanwhile the plunderers, profiteers, and the looters, murderer and the killers could not have a safer haven anywhere else in the world. No other country is familiar with the normatic practice of forgiving as a matter of rule the elite loan-defaulters and the known highly placed plunderers of national exchequer. The culture of “power and privilege” is thriving on patronage, graft, bribery, extortion, nepotism, cronyism, influence-peddling, fraud and embezzlement.

Had the Quaid lived longer, he would have only been embarrassed to see how miserably his successors had failed to live up to his vision of Pakistan, and to protect and preserve its sovereignty independence and territorial integrity. He would have instantly suffocated to death at the sight of his nation left only as a mutilated and disjointed mass of people with no national unity or dignity. It is a mastless country looted and plundered by its own people and public dignitaries. It is a nation with no sense of direction.

No wonder the Quaid’s soul must have been agonizing over this deplorable scene. Surely, no one needed to remove his portraits from anywhere. Perhaps the Quaid’s soul itself found it necessary to be in peace by disappearing from the scene. After all, there is nothing left of what Quaid-i-Azam had hoped his Pakistan will one day be one of the greatest nations of the world. Shamshad Ahmad

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