Along with India, three other countries around the world will celebrate today — South Korea which was liberated from Japanese colonial rule on August 15, 1945, Republic of Congo got independence from Republic of France on August 15, 1960 and Bahrain from the United Kingdom on August 15, 1971. Pakistan (too from the British) was created on August 14, 1947. We speak to nationals of South Korea and Pakistan on the occasion, getting to know their ideas of independence and their hope for the future.
Woung Jeong Choi
Since we got independence, the country has changed a lot. I am 49. In my memory, the Korean economy has grown a lot, in terms of GDP rate etc. The country has developed a lot and I am very proud of it.
We are a free nation, in terms of communication, and generally too; it’s a perfectly free atmosphere out here. Freedom, for me, is having the choice of taking up a job I like, choosing my politician and speaking my mind.
Yes, the North Korean perspective is important when we discuss my country, since we share our boundary with them. Especially with the nuclear weapons etc, it becomes crucial to consider this. But in reality, it doesn’t make much of a difference to the common man. It is a political fallacy. People, like me, bear no hatred towards the people of North Korea. The entire picture of animosity is all a political doing. We want to be friends with the people there. We are now focusing on the economic matters. North Korea wants no interference from South Korea or the United States of America, despite their economy not doing so well. They want to be completely independent from any external perspectives.
We, however, are expecting a consistent economic growth since we do have very strong potential and an economic background. Soon, we will be much more developed than we are right now, probably in the top 10 countries of the world. We are very diligent and have huge potential in the IT and manufacturing areas. That will take us forward.
(Woung Jeong Choi is a director in Tata Daewoo commercial vehicle company, South Korea)
Dr Osama Siddique
70 years of Independence
As someone who experiences the country not just as a citizen but also as a scholar researching the ongoing impact of inherited colonial legal and governance systems, the feeling can at times be deeply troubling. Like all other post-colonial states, one feels that Pakistan has to do a lot more in order to ensure a more just and humane polity and society. There remain multiple structural imbalances and embedded modes of oppression and discrimination. I believe that while there may well be differences at some operational levels, the underlying challenges remain much the same for India, and indeed Bangladesh, as well. So while all these young nations — yes, in terms of the age of nations, 70 is quite young — have made commendable progress and have achieved things that one can be proud of, they need to strive much more, collaborate and collectively move ahead to join the ranks of the more advanced countries. Ensuring regional peace and harmony would be the first and fundamental step in that direction.
What does freedom mean?
Like anywhere in the world, the quantum of freedom one enjoys is very much a function of one’s class, gender, geographical location, economic status etc. Keeping that caveat in mind, Pakistan on the whole is in many ways a much freer place today than it is popularly depicted to be.
We have our share of hate crime, very problematic laws such as the blasphemy law, and deep-seated cultural issues of patriarchy, misogyny and discrimination on various basis. These are indeed major ongoing challenges for Pakistani society, which has to demonstrate greater resolve and urgency in tackling them.
As a Pakistan-based lawyer, scholar and writer, I have taught, written about and spoken on all kinds of controversial and contested themes and done so with a great amount of freedom. That is not to gloss over the sacrifice or adverse experiences of those who have been muzzled or persecuted but we speak here of a nation of many million and broader trends. I find myself getting away with saying and writing things — on religion, state and society — that I would not, in many other parts of the world, including the so-called developed world. Pakistan’s multiple political, legal, jurisprudential and journalistic conversations are remarkably open and uninhibited and I believe we have made a lot of progress on this score over the last decade and a half.
Democratic process and stability
Much as my novel Snuffing Out the Moon paints a rather dystopian future for the region, I remain optimistic that if we as a people in Pakistan, as well as people of the region in general, adhere to and promote principles of tolerance and pluralism, democratic virtues and values and good governance practices, the future can be altogether different and a lot more attractive.
Pakistan continues to endeavour for greater institutional evolution, political continuity and social cohesion. Historically, we have not been very fortunate in terms of proximity to regional conflict as well as parochial Western support for locally unpopular and hegemonic military rule. However, lately there has been greater democratic growth and progress. Social harmony, however, continues to be disrupted for various reasons. Pluralism and mutual tolerance are the only solutions for ensuring harmony in a diverse population inhabiting South Asia. Our diversity is our biggest attribute. However, if not handled right, it can become the most destabilising factor. Greater focus on education, increased democratisation, regional co-operation and persistent spread of the norms of tolerance and mutual respect is the only way forward if we are to survive ongoing and future strife and chaos.
If one were to look at just the more sensationalist newspapers, the rabble rousers and specially the fairly nonsensical TV talk shows — which by the way have contributed a lot towards spreading hate and mistrust — it appears that we are on the brink of a war. However, over the last many years, I have been a regular visitor to Indian universities and research institutes, am proud to have several very good Indian friends, and have also been witness to all kinds of cultural exchange between ordinary citizens. I can, therefore, safely say that I have detected a deep sentiment and desire for not just deeply friendly relationships amongst the nations as well as a greater ability to travel and visit each other. We have to actively discourage the more jingoistic and hate-mongering elements in our societies, promote saner and pro-peace perspectives, and ensure communication and engagements at multiple levels.
More visiting students and faculty, artists, sportspersons, writers, scholars etc is the way forward. That is where the hope lies for a resolute relationship. There is a lot that we already admire and appreciate about each other — it is time we shut out those who try and distract us from that reality.
Look the fundamentals are there. The stock market has been performing well, macro-economic indicators have improved, there is an increasingly growing and highly-intelligent workforce, higher education and technical training institutes are burgeoning, and while the political process faces shocks and jolts, it no longer gets fully derailed like in the past and thus shows much greater resilience. I see more systemic and societal perseverance despite the country often facing natural as well as man-made disasters.
Having said that, the world is also becoming a more unstable place; individual countries are more vulnerable to external shocks than they used to be. More specific to the region, there are a host of destabilising factors — geo-political disputes, environmental degradation, vast sections of discontent populations resorting to violence and growing radicalism and indeed even fascism in the name of religion and majoritarianism — that embroil and impact not just Pakistan but all the neighbourhood.
In important ways our earlier generations have let us down. I don’t talk here of course about the generation that fought the freedom struggle; but subsequent generations have failed at various levels in building an equitable and just society. Their failure lies as much in their inability in fighting the rights battles as well as the cynicism that has pervaded their worldview.
As a teacher and a lawyer, I have been in regular and extensive contact with the youth. And though I am irked by certain characteristics such as a sense of entitlement and at times an ideological vacuum, I also detect a lot more optimism, energy and commitment to higher values and to creating and sustaining a resplendent Pakistan.
Like every society, we too face certain key junctures and decisions. If we are fortunate in generating and following the right leadership, the people have abundant intelligence, talent and enterprise to rise and soar.
(Dr Osama Siddique has served in 2016 as the Inaugural Henry J Steiner visiting professor in Human Rights at Harvard Law School. He is the executive director of the Law and Policy Research Network (www.lprn.org.pk) and the chief executive of Avante Development Services (ADS). He is also an associate fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), Lahore, Pakistan)
—AS TOLD TO NUPUR PRADHAN & VINAYA PATIL