The Lessons of 23 March Parade

I watched the 23rd March parade this year from the comfort of my home. There was a time that I would make it a point to attend these heartwarming spectacles along with my children. Many years ago our parents used to take us to the Pakistan Day parade and we would eagerly look forward to these annual outings. Like always the grandeur of the occasion brings a lump to my throat. The sight of national and regimental standards and banners fluttering in the spring breeze, smartly turned out array of massed troops, fighter aircraft screaming overhead immaculately performing their loops and rolls and tanks and guns rolling past the dais in accompaniment of soul stirring marching tunes is always a sight to watch. I love parades and 23rd March has always been inspirational. The incumbent army chief did a good thing to revive the annual event to indicate to the world that we as a nation have crested the wave of terrorism and we were no longer afraid of terrorists striking and ruining this gathering. All this is very good. I am proud of our armed forces of laying out such a perfect event. I am amazed by their organizational skills and the humongous preparation that goes into marshaling all the resources to put the act together and make the event a success. Above all this helps in achieving the main aim of the parade i.e. sending the message to the enemies of the state – known and those whom we know not – that we are a resilient nation and we can respond to all challenges with grit and determination.

Now to the flip side of the Pakistan Day Parade. It causes minor inconveniences such as a holiday during the week. All businesses are closed and mobile services are down – not just for one day but two days including the one on which the full dress rehearsal is held. The losses incurred in stalled transactions are difficult to calculate. Major roads are closed, disrupting traffic between the twin cities and making it difficult for people to access emergency services. Some would argue that it is a minor price for a national event. They may perhaps be right but then let’s move on to a more serious issue. Pakistan is an exceedingly poor nation. Its human resource indicators are among the lowest. Its population is growing at an exponential rate. It has one of the largest populations of out of school children. Children, who are our future, are dying of starvation in the desert of Thar. If we have the money and organizational skill to organize a grand parade; moving units from out station and concentrating them in Islamabad for weeks; spending fuel on aircraft and helicopters sorties and resources spent on ensuring a fool proof security, we can also improve the lot of the people. As iterated earlier, if a nation can produce missiles, aircraft, guns and drones and put them out in a grand display, it can also conquer poverty and deprivation and provide its citizens two square meals a day, clean drinking water, health faculties, an honest judiciary and equal opportunities in life. It is time that we learnt from the parade and prepare a grand vision for our people.