The Pakistan Day Parade has become a very contested issue. Why should such a grand show be put on by a state whose economy is struggling? Why does the military have such a huge part to play in the commemoration of a civil society event in 1940 that led to the formation of Pakistan and the adoption of the constitution in 1956 that made Pakistan the first Islamic Republic? Is it the military showing its power to the civilians, or is it showing its power to the world? What is the symbolism of the whole event?
Let us clear that up. The Pakistan Day Parade traditionally is supposed to center and honor the civilian government. It includes cultural floats and performances by children; the military display is one part of the whole event. The President and Prime Minister are the chief guests and are flanked by military heads. The military displays salute the stage where they stand, symbolically putting themselves up for inspection to them, and the people of Pakistan, and reaffirming their commitment to serve and protect.
In recent years it is true that the military displays form the majority of the itinerary but that can be chalked to the military’s role in the resumption of the parade through operation Zarb e Azab and the reduction in terrorist threats. Regardless, there needs to be an increase in the representation of culturally diverse floats and representations of non-military achievements, because an excellent military is only one of the many wonderful things that Pakistan has to offer.
That aside, what is the cultural and emotional worth of an affair like the Pakistan Day Parade? Well, I can only speak for myself. The Pakistan Day Parade requires a huge amount of resources to be executed to the perfection it is every year. From the staff, the rehearsals, refreshments, and more, the event takes weeks of preparation and event day itself costs a lot. So, is it prudent for a state like Pakistan, with debt and at the mercy of loans and aid, to be spending on something like this? Is it extravagant, an investment, or an extravagant investment? For most of the year, my thoughts challenge the idea of the parade. And yet, there is something to be said about the way it makes people feel, and makes spirits soar.
I consider myself lucky to have been able to attend the Pakistan Day Parade twice. The rehearsals are open to the public but the actual event requires an invitation card, while it is being broadcast live to the whole country. Whether or not it is an investment, witnessing the parade is undoubtedly an experience, and one that stays with you.
From the early morning drive to reach there on time, to being directed to the parking for your enclosure, to being seated, even before the event starts, there is excitement in the air. Then as we are seated and watch the displays begin, as we feel the sun burning into our face as we look skywards for the aviation display, I can’t help but think of all the officers standing in their ceremonial suits in the rising warmth of spring and direct sunlight.
The event, and day, both progress with rising emotion. Our ancestors fought for Pakistan to be made. Being able to celebrate their dreams coming true, is deeply moving. On the times I didn’t go to the parade, sometimes we just drive around the city, playing patriotic songs, and waving flags, looking at lights and other people out having fun. I think of the way the parade, and marking the day make me feel, and I can outline the main emotions. It is pride, hope, and a sense of responsibility.
Pride, about having made it so far as a nation. Hope, for a brighter future, and a sense of responsibility to make that happen. Whenever I think of the parade, “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance (an alt-rock band) plays in my head because of its lyrics.
“When I was a young boy, my father took me into the city, to see the marching band. He said, “son when you grow up, will you be the savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned.” He said, “will you defeat them, your demons, and all the non-believers, the plans that they have made? Because one day, I’ll leave you, a phantom, to lead you in the summer, and join the black parade…”
You can have your reservations about military representation or even funding, but at this point in time, and in our geopolitical scenario, it is undeniably important for Pakistan to have a strong military. It is simultaneously important for the people of the nation, and the military itself, to have the message of the military’s ethos, to serve and protect, be reinforced every now and then. It is also important for the children of the nation to grow up seeing splendor and indulgence in a celebration of all that we are, and all that we could be. It is important for people to realize that we all have to play our part to make Pakistan worth celebrating every year.
The parade is not above critique and should never be. It could be better and more representative, with a higher focus on Pakistan’s civilian achievements in the decades since the Pakistan resolution, the first of which is the existence of Pakistan itself. In a new normal, and a different world, it could be virtual and hence less costly. The day could be celebrated differently, and maybe it should be. But until alternatives are studied, considered, and adopted, I think the feelings invoked by Pakistan Day are worth investing in.
The Soundtrack To My Mixed Feelings About The Pakistan Day Parade