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Pakistan: Car Flags

Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Islam-i Jamhuriya-e Pakistan

Last modified: 2010-12-29 by ian macdonald
Keywords: pakistan | crescent | star (white) | bhutto | presidential flag |
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[Pakistan] image by Željko Heimer

Here is a story from Pakistan's Dawn (Karachi) newspaper, 14 July 2001.

Flying flags on the cars
By Hafizur Rahman

Living in Islamabad which is slowly coming to life as a metropolis, I am gradually becoming a recluse. I never go out to attend so- called "functions," except family gatherings, and am generally ignorant about the life that continues to hum around me. That is why I have never seen a cabinet minister alight from an automobile, or get into one. So, short of asking the Cabinet Division, I have no means of knowing if this breed still sports the national flag on staff cars, the little object that gives the title to this piece.

In Ms Benazir Bhutto's second coming as prime minister, when cabinet ministers and many so-called dignitaries enjoyed this privilege, there were also numerous (some say numberless) advisers and others who had been granted ministerial status. They too sported the flag on their cars, and, in the case of many of them, this was the only thing they did.

Then came Mian Nawaz Sharif, the prodigal turned spoilsport who decreed that his ministers would not enjoy the pleasure of flying the national flag on their official or private cars. What a comedown for the poor chaps! It was a pity really, depriving politicians of this joy and privilege. I mean to say, what was the harm if the practice had continued? After all, entitlement to the car flag means so much to us Pakistanis that many of us would gladly give five years of our lives for it.

I remember a federal minister (the name escapes me) who refused to drive to a public function where hundreds of guests were awaiting his arrival, just because a flag car was somehow not available. The desperate personal staff had to borrow one from another minister who, fortunately, was free that afternoon - neither performing the opening ceremony of a tandoor nor going in the company of a photographer to condole the death of a colleague's distant relation.

Nobody dared suggest to the flag-less minister that no harm would come to him if just this once he went to a public place without a flag waving on the bonnet of his car. However, he himself made the unsolicited remark that the flag meant nothing to him personally, it was a question of principle. Absence of due respect to a cabinet minister showed lack of respect to the country itself and its hallowed institutions.

Khan Jalaluddin Khan of Hazara, a minister in Ayub Khan's cabinet, made history in the context of the national flag. Once in Karachi, when his car broke down en route to a function, he hailed an auto- rickshaw and boarded it along with his security guard. That was not all. He unscrewed the small flag-mast from the car and held it in his hand while the rickshaw-driver, who also turned out to be a Hazarawal, proudly drove him to his destination.

The Khan, or Jalal Baba as he was known, was very popular as a political leader. Of humble origins - he started life as a driver in a transport company - he ended up by becoming a wealthy transporter and business tycoon. I still have somewhere in my old files a copy of the official handout issued in his name by the PID when his appointment as minister was made. In it he invoked the blessings of God on his parents and on the Field Marshal. His tribute to the former was that it was their prayers that had made him famous, while he blessed the latter "for putting a flag on my car."

So the flag is not an ordinary thing. It is the ideal of a politician's dreams and ambitions, and a visible and palpable symbol of the prestige and authority that he wants to command among his countrymen. Imagine, therefore, the consternation and disappointment of scores of federal and provincial ministers when, for the first time in the country's history, Mr Z.A. Bhutto did away with the car flag.

Were he a lesser man they might have revolted, but before him they all agreed that nothing better could have been decided by him. "After all," they echoed, "we are Awami leaders. Why should we have to fly the flag?" But I know they resented the decision and thought it would only lower the prestige of the government in the eyes of the masses. Naturally they were not worried about themselves, only about the good name of the country.

As responsible citizens we are all expected to show reverence to the national standard and to protect and preserve it. But a minister in Punjab in the early fifties was particular that no harm should come to his car flag. When the car was garaged in the evening he would remove the flag and keep it in his bedroom. His explanation was that his chauffeur was an idiot and one never knew what he might do with it. "After all," he used to say, "it's the national flag and no joke."

In the Field Marshal's time car flags were a craze. Since the bureaucracy was at the zenith of its power, all manner of officers were permitted to fly the flag on their cars. Secretaries to government and divisional commissioners and DCs. And yet, every now and then the Cabinet Division would issue a press note that the President had been pleased to allow so-and-so to use the privilege. But what about those whose obsession with the flag was not endorsed by the Cabinet division? Were they to be left behind?

No. They resorted to improvisation and got the insignia of their department put on the flag. Others simply had their designation inscribed on it. Thus it was not unusual for a car flag to tell you that the occupant of the vehicle was, say, "Director General, Stud Bulls & Milch Cows Development," or "Chairman, Sand-dunes Flowering Corporation." It did not matter if anyone was impressed or not. But the unwary traffic constable did stand to attention and salute. I suppose that is what really counted in the end.

The above should be sufficient to emphasize the vital importance of the car flag in the psyche of all kinds of persons in authority. But I must remember to find out the position nowadays - that is, who all are entitled to this heavenly bounty in the military government. Although you may well ask how that affects me. Just curiosity, I suppose!

Joe McMillan, 4 October 2002

On the Pakistani side of the international border, a more restricted group of officials are entitled to fly the national flag on their automobiles. However, to make up for the fewer numbers, the flags they get to fly are a little larger, 8 x 12 inches (about 20 x 30 cm).

According to the Pakistani Interior Ministry,, these are the lucky chaps:
- President (flies both the national flag and his personal flag)
- Prime Minister (the MOI site seems to indicate that the PM also has a personal flag that is used alongside the national flag, but if so I've yet to encounter a design for it)
- Chairman of the Senate
- Speaker of the National Assembly
- Chief Justice of Pakistan
- Governors of the states (these governors also have personal flags, which I'll report on separately, but the MOI site does not say they use them on automobiles)
- Chief ministers of the states
- Chief justices of high courts
By the way, the Azad Kashmir "national" and presidential flags I saw and reported on a couple of weeks ago were, based on their size and type of manufacture, obviously car flags. So it's safe to say that the President of Azad Kashmir flies the AK flag alongside his personal flag on his car.
Joe McMillan, 30 January 2003