A monument to our nation, still up in the air.
With the birth of Pakistan, sixty-eight years ago, Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent succeeded in establishing an independent home where they could freely live according to the tenets of Islam as prescribed in the Qura’an and Sunnah. That success came with a price.
The Partition of India sparked one of the largest migrations known to mankind, with Hindus and Sikhs moving out of the areas allocated for Pakistan, and the Muslims going the other way from the new state of India. Most of them carried nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the hope of sanctuary in a new land where they would be free; where the land is there’s; where the people would accept them as their own because they belonged to the same faith. They had left behind their empty home, hurriedly abandoned for a new land, tearing up their roots and centuries old links at a moment’s notice.
Communal rioting in cities and towns across India had begun well before the Partition was announced, making things extremely dangerous if you were a member of the minority in a specific area. Fleeing these difficult circumstances, on foot, by ox-drawn carts or by train, these refugees, braved searing summer heat, dehydration, starvation and the ever-present threat of slaughter and robbery at the hands of marauding zealots out for blood. Many reported attacks by Hindu mobs and kirpan-weilding Sikh Jatha’s and seeing rotting, barely clad, mutilated bodies by the hundreds littering the roadsides, wells and fields.
These events left a deep festering wound on the hearts and minds of the generations that witnessed it. But the hope of a new beginning drove the broken Muhajireen families on to rebuild their lives in the Land of the Pure.
To most of my generation, the oral narratives and stories in the history books constantly remind us of how Pakistan was made with the sacrifices by millions on Muslims fighting against oppression by the British and their Hindu allies. There are a handful of monuments to the creation of Pakistan across the country; even monuments to the wars fought to preserve its integrity; even monuments to our great (and some not so great) leaders. But, there are no monuments marking the memory of those who actually paid the debt of our freedom with their own lives.
When I found out about the Government of Pakistan’s plans to build a monument at the site of Walton Hijrat Camp, I thought to myself, “Finally, someone’s thought of doing something decent to honour those souls who died for the freedom of our nation.” But it has been years since General Musharaf laid the foundation stone of the “Bab-e-Pakistan” – the Gate of Pakistan, and, yet, the concrete skeleton mocks me whenever I drive along Walton Road, in Lahore Cantt.
It is a shame that despite six, albeit tumultuous, decades of independence, we have not been able to give a truly decent monument to our ancestors who, in words of Quaid-e-Azam, himself, had “been displaced by the cataclysm that attended the birth of Pakistan. Most of them have lost all their worldly belongings as also their means of livelihood.”
The story of “Bab-e-Pakistan” is as complicated as the history our nation. The project was originally conceived by the late Lt. Gen. Ghulam Jillani, Governor of Punjab, in 1985 and was immediately approved by General Zia-ul-Haq, the then President of Pakistan. With the demise of General Zia’s regime, the project was frozen, until 1991 when Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif came to power. An estimated budget of Rs.100 million was allocated for the construction of a 400-acre park on land in the possession of Punjab Board of Revenue. In 1991, the late Ghulam Haidar Wyne, the Punjab Chief Minister, with the consent of the then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Iftikhar Ahmad Sahrohi and former Corps Commander Lahore, Gen. Muhammad Ashraf had laid “first” the foundation of Bab-e-Pakistan.
When Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif returned to power, he and his brother, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the then Punjab Chief Minister, again, tried to breathe life into the project with little effect, until Gen. Pervez Musharaf took over the country after a coup-d’état. And then, it was forgotten and the land was leased to the Army, the Pakistan Boy Scout Association, Punjab Education Department and Police. Some of the dedicated area of the project also became occupied by illegal slums due to apathy on part of the government bodies, further jeopardizing the construction of the monument.
In 2004, the Punjab Chief Minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi took up the challenge of finally realizing the Lt. Gen. Ghulam Jillani’s dream by reactivating the Bab-e-Pakistan Project which will cover an area of 110 acres, and will include the Monument, Chehar Bagh, Linear Dek, Boy Scouts Association Headquarters, High Schools for girls and boys, at the cost of Rs.800 million. Under the “guidance” of Gen. Pervez Musharaf, who was designated as the patron-in-chief, the Bab-e-Pakistan Project was to be completed in two and a half years (i.e. 2007). Finally, on 14th August 2005, Gen. Pervez Musharaf laid the “second” foundation of Bab-e-Pakistan and construction started to stop once again, because of political turmoil in the country.
As things stand today, you still see the concrete hulk on your right, when driving towards Ferozepur Road along Walton Road. Four years ago, I was pleasantly surprised on my last visit to Bab-e-Pakistan site to see some activity going on with rows of bulldozers and heavy construction equipment lining the lot, ready for some action. Upon further inquiry, I was told that work on the monument had started again. My sources could not provide with me a final completion date for the project but they were hopeful. Sadly, the Secretary, Bab-e-Pakistan Project was unavailable for comment. Today, another government is in power, tomorrow, another one which will choose to ignore our heritage.
I hope one day, we finally succeed in honouring those who gave up everything they loved to make this great nation. And I hope we never forget that which brought us here.