For years, Pakistanis have been unable to openly celebrate their independence day – due to security reasons. But starting this year people will again flock to the streets waving flags.
Here in Karachi, people are waving Pakistan flags everywhere: in parks, streets and beaches. Some have even painted their cars and motorbikes in the colors of the national flag.
Young people, like Iqbal Ahmad, are flocking to the streets. Ahmad drove 200 kilometer from Sindh to join the celebration at Karachi Beach.
“I think the whole Sindh seems to have come here to celebrate and enjoy the day at the Sea View beach. The roads were jammed, it’s packed with people,” he said.
Scenes like this were unimaginable in the past as political tension and violence marred the city. Last year on Independence Day, most schools were closed and the streets were empty.
Several years back, many parts of the city looked like war-zones… and gun battles could rage for hours. The Commission on Human Rights reported that nearly 3 thousand people were killed last year because of the violence. No one was interested in any kind of outdoor celebration.
After an attack at a Peshawar school last year, the Pakistan government was determined to restore peace. In 2013, the government started a clean-up operation in the city with the Pakistan Rangers. The rangers patrol the streets and conduct raids on suspected hideouts of the militants in the city.
“We have seen a number of suspected militants belonging to Taliban, sectarian group, criminal syndicates have been killed or arrested,” said writer Ziaur Rehman who has been covering security issues in the country, with his recent book “Karachi in Turmoil”.
The Pakistan Rangers are managed by the Ministry of Defense. They receive orders directly from ministers and the Prime Minister.
Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan says the Rangers have done a good job restoring peace. He said, “After the God, we are thankful for the Rangers who have remained dutiful in ensuring peace in Karachi, despite all the problems and criticism.”
But some says the Rangers have been crossing all limits.
Yet within a year, the Rangers have earned respect among Karachi citizens.
“They have changed a lot for us. It was getting more and more dangerous back then. We businessmen were extremely anxious because of the violence. We were thinking of leaving the country for good,” Sajjad a local shopkeeper explained.
But security expert Ziaur Rehman believes the government needs to have a long-term plan to maintain peace. “The Rangers are basically a border force that would have to go back eventually,” he said.