KARACHI: Throughout his life, Shabbir* had never been so indecisive about hoisting the national flag atop his house in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal locality.
“Since many years I have been putting up two large flags of Pakistan on the roof of my house,” tells the father of two children standing outside his residence in Block-13. “However, this year, I cannot decide whether to continue the tradition, for it may seem that I have switched political loyalties,” adds the apolitical citizen.
Shabbir lives in a locality which has remained the stronghold of the city’s largest political player, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
“To me this is our national flag. So everyone has the freedom to hoist or display it in or outside their houses,” he reasons. However, other Karachiites are not as confused. Noman*, a resident of Azizabad, said he would definitely hoist the national flag. When asked if he feared that doing so could lead to an assumption that he has switched over his loyalties [being an MQM supporter], he smirked and said, “I live in a flat; I can afford the luxury to display it. No one will know”.
This flag is my flag
On March 23 this year, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chairperson Mustafa Kamal announced the name of his party and said they would be using the national flag as their party symbol, instead of using a separate flag.
PSP vice-chairperson Wasim Aftab told The Express Tribune that they are using the national flag as they want to ‘unite the nation’. “Our people are already divided on the basis of sect, ethnicity and race. We want to unite, not divide,” he said. “Whoever puts up this flag is our brother and we respect them,” he added. He claimed that the PSP had registered a separate flag with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) but they would not be using it. “We will see when the time comes,” he replied when asked whether the party would continue to solely use the Pakistan flag come election time.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) deputy convener Shahid Pasha, in a passionate media briefing during the party’s recent two-day hunger strike, called for action to be taken against the PSP for desecrating the national flag. Pasha was of the opinion that he was now unable to raise the Pakistani flag due to the PSP’s actions. He stated that a case should be registered against them, as the PSP was misusing the national flag for political purposes. Section 123- B of the Pakistan Penal Code makes the defiling of the national flag a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to three years.
Need for a separate flag?
PSP’s determination to adopt the national flag has raised the question whether each political party must have its own flag. Senator Taj Haider of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) believes so. “No party should be allowed to monopolise the country’s flag,” he stated. He explained that no political party can claim the national flag nor should it be used for official party purposes. The veteran PPP politician, reflecting upon Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ideas, said a political party must have an ideology and this ideology must be represented through its party flag.
Meanwhile, an ECP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said as per the Political Parties Act, 2002, a political party is not required to submit a flag when it applies for enlistment to the ECP. Confirming that the PSP was an enlisted political party, he said that to fulfill the criteria to become a registered political party other details are required, such as source of funds, manifesto and names of office bearers.
Regardless of the MQM’s reservations, PSP leaders will be elated this Independence Day seeing their ‘party flag’ in nearly every hand and atop most houses and vehicles.
*Names have been changed to protect identity