The dance of the courtesans


For all their differences and minor jealousies it's heart-warming to see the two great self-respecting republics of India and Pakistan agreed at least on one particular: their furious desire to worm themselves into the good graces of the United States. 

Balancing the scales between a willing Pakistan--let no one accuse Pakistan of ever being unwilling--and a cantankerous India, that is when India rode the high horse of moral rearmament, was tricky enough. How much trickier when both parties are almost wrestling the US to the ground in order to plant their favor upon it. Spare a thought for the embarrassment of riches on America's hands. 

When the Twin Towers of New York, hit by the alleged fury of Al Qaeda, came tumbling to the ground, both India and Pakistan tried to beat each other to the draw to win American favor. 

Without bothering about terms and conditions, Pakistan quickly said yes when Colin Powell called (in these parts saying yes and not haggling over details being called old-world chivalry). India too was quick off the mark and even before anyone had raised the subject was offering all kinds of assistance, including the use of military bases, to the US. 

Geography dictated America's choice. As the US got ready to make Afghanistan safe for democracy--by first razing everything to the ground, the same process that we are seeing at work in Iraq--contiguity to Afghanistan is what it wanted, something which in the best measure only Pakistan could provide. India's chagrin at its advances being ignored (not rejected) should not be hard to imagine. Hell hath no fury--you get the picture. 

The US is facing a much trickier situation in Iraq, the occupation and policing of Iraq proving far more difficult than anyone around Secretary Rumsfeld's war table had envisioned. So difficult in fact that the number one problem before the US right now is not to undermine the ayatollahs, contain North Korea's nuclear program or discover weapons of mass destruction. All these can wait. The most urgent problem is recruiting soldiers for hire, mercenaries who can do its dirty work in Iraq. Thus freeing the US military from a task beginning to tax its fortitude and resolve. 

Colin Powell has gone to the extent of asking Bangladesh for hired soldiery, the US capable of any stooping in a jam. The two great republics of India and Pakistan have left few doubts about where they stand. It is not just that they are willing; they seem desperate to be taken on board. 

Pakistan's soldier-president being under no obligation to consult anyone--this being the beauty of one-man rule--has said in no uncertain terms that Pakistan was ready to send troops, for which read mercenaries, to Iraq. His only condition is the UN flag or the auspices of the OIC or the Gulf Cooperation Council. In other words, he is not objecting to the thing in principle. The willingness part is thus settled. He just wants the proper fig leaf. 

India's position is not much different. Through winks and nods the BJP government has signified its readiness to perform guard duty in Iraq. In this it has the support of big business which thinks that with troops in Iraq, India's chances of winning fat 'reconstruction' contracts would improve. But there is stiff domestic opposition to the idea of pandering to American wishes. Since the Indian government lacks the advantage of Pakistan's soldier-president who has to consult only his own wishes, a decision on this issue appears to be stalled. 

However, when it comes to bartering individual or national honor, the key thing is the initial willingness. Once that is secured, only the details remain to be sorted out. In other words, once you say yes, the rest is negotiable. 

This summer then there should be no spectacle more fascinating than our two republics looking silly on the question of Iraq. Here's the whole world saying the Americans have got themselves into a quagmire and a mess. And here India and Pakistan, fretting to beat each other at the game, and ignoring every aspect of honor or long-term interest, are itching to fling themselves into the same mud. Courting universal ignominy for a stash of dollars: more than being impressed, even our American friends are likely to be bemused. 

Far from smarting at Indian competition, Pakistan should feel happy it has someone to give it company. All the more so when who should be giving it company but high-minded India. Trafficking in the same goods, vying for the same favors, walking up and down the same promenade. Welcome to the club.

Meanwhile of course, the Camp David spectacle is behind us. Ah, what to make of it. Our talent for selling ourselves cheap is by now so well established that it's no use crying. Three billion dollars over five years--which comes to about $600 million a year, divided equally between military and economic lollipops. This is such a damp squib, such an anti-climax to the pre-Camp David hype and hoopla, that even Pakistani officialdom has been reduced to incoherent muttering if not embarrassed silence. 

Central Command itself--that is, where the gods reside-- has revealed (in a report carried briefly on its website but then quickly withdrawn when it was threatening to turn into a scandal) that the economic loss to Pakistan for carrying America's bags in Afghanistan came to roughly $10 billion. Far from getting anywhere near that figure, Pakistan's soldier-president has been rewarded with another bag of peanuts. But he got the visit to Camp David, didn't he? Lunch and a bit of a chat at the US president's private mountain retreat. Wow, what an honor. And then to be extolled by the US president for "brave leadership". 

The story line never varies. Pakistani leaders, right from the Republic's infancy, have always fallen for morsels of comfort from the US, small certificates of approval which very briefly puff up their insecure egos. Two years ago, remember, when America was still bombing Afghanistan, General Musharraf was almost lionized when he visited New York. Soon thereafter when the Taliban melted away and the pounding of Afghanistan stopped, much of that enthusiasm evaporated. A brief moment in the sun soon gone. 

Not that Musharraf's usefulness is over. By God, what sentry duty, what yeoman service, the Pakistani military is performing along the Afghan border. The American military command has only to murmur something and a loud clicking of heels can be heard all across the mountains. But aren't we getting paid for our pains and our smart snapping to attention? 

We are but, in truth, not much. Our load is heavy, our recompense small. Actually, for no real fault of the Americans because right at the beginning Pakistan's military rulers surrendered whatever leverage they could have exercised. 

Leverage comes from a gift deferred or a gift left hanging in anticipation. It is the prospect of what you can give that defines your worth and sets a price on your expected cooperation. But when the gift - in this case, Pakistani assistance - is delivered without any questions asked, precious little leverage remains. 

But perhaps the whole point of such excursions as the visit to Camp David has more to do with form than substance--with symbolism rather than tangible benefits. Many Third World leaders feel themselves blessed when they get a pat from an American president, feeling their standing at home enhanced. 

It never works like this and when storm waters rise no amount of American backslapping is enough by itself to rescue a leader in trouble. But Pakistani leaders, prey to infantile notions, have always felt otherwise and if Musharraf is proving to be no exception, if he feels washed and revivified by his helicopter flight to Camp David, who's to blame him?


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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. Khamis from USA

    I think before anyone accuses Sindhis, one should see what the ground realities are, as a Muslim of Arab origin who has lived in Pakistan, I am all too familiar with the attitudes of MUhajirs (and also Punjabis in Karachi and elsewhere) towards friendly and hospitable Sindhis and honorable Baloch peoples. I was looted and cheated by the so called Indian Muslims (muhajirs)who migrated to Pakistan at independence on several occasions, they are quite arrogant and downrihght rude for an "oppressed" nation as they claim to be. Even relatives of Punjabis and Muhajirs who come from the UK are shown around town in Karachi by the non racist and friendly Sindhis (their own Punjabi and Muhajir relatives take them for simple folk and do not bother, little do they know that after living among racist whites you tend to be 'simple') if they happen to know a Sindhi family in Karachi. You call Sindhis "people with an Arab nature, am I right?" Don't spread false lies bro, its high time you recognized that if it wasn't for the Sindhis and their hospitality you would have never made it into Pakistan. As an outsider I was at first quite taken in by the charmers among the Muhajirs but then reality hit me after spending a few years as to who the oppressed were!

  2. Shaheen Jatoi from USA

    I think the problem has been there since Pakistan's beginning. As a Sindhi muslim of Baloch origin as Jatois are, I disagree with the comments made by a reader that Sindhis don't want to share anything with the immigrants from India. I think close examination of the relations will show that its the other way round. Its the Muhajirs who shunned Sindhis within three years of settling in Sindh, they call us lazy, backward, illiterate unjustly. If it wasn't for Sindhis there would be no thriving immigrant community in Sindh's capital of Karachi. Sindhis don't run torture cells as MQM , nor do they force to make the Indian immigrants leave. They accepted Urdu as the national language despite them reading and writing Sindhi for the past 5000 years! Indian immigrants made false claims after arriving from the poverty stricken Bihar into Sindh and when Sindhi Daudpota was appointed to look into claims being made, they made such a hue and cry to remove him. They spew hatred of Sindh every chance they get. I suggest that if they still wish to live in Sindh and not be forced back to India they will have to change their attitude to say the least. Punjabis may be racist but they have a land to retreat to i.e. Punjab but Indian immigrants will have to deal with the BJP goons if they play foul with the Kind hearted and noble Sindhis. so far Pakistan has been ruled by the old British priniciple, "lead the Punjabis, crush the Sindhis, bribe the Pathans and be friendly to Balochs". For the sake of Pakistan's integrity, this has got to stop.

  3. for Shadab from Cyprus

    This is in reply to comments by Br. Shadab. Youre views about Pakistan are indeed correct. The problem plaguing Muslims all over the world is that they have started to yearn for 'Islamic States rather than Strive to be living and dying in constant 'State of Islam'. With such lopsided priorities, Allah(swt) mercy is as manifested 'remains a far cry.

    The least we Indian Muslims can do is set an example for the Muslim World to follow. The richest man and woman in India are Muslims (Azim and Shahnaz). The President is a Muslim not because he was blessed by RSS but because he earned it. Democracy and Secularism has taken roots and India's Secularism is not like Turkey's wjere women till recently were banned from wearing scarf.

    The need of the hour for Indian Muslims is to have a 'Positive Outlook', shun illiteracy and focus on a bright future.

    InShallah...Riots and Rapes will become History as Muslims strive towards education and learn to tolerate provocations like the issues of Babri, Shah Bano, Haj subsidy etc.

    Let's plan the future.

  4. a Simple Fella from India

    Terming Pakistan as a republic itself is a display of absolute idiocy and still living under some false pretensions about the state of affairs in that unfortunate land.

  5. shadab hussain from india

    assalamu alaikum

    i agree with india and pak's bootlicking of US. As an indian muslim i know best of india and pakistan. right from inception of pakistan its leaders including jinnah have only thought of power and money.. they did not ensure security of muslims crossing borders to migrate to pakistan at time of partition cause they were not willing to implement their specious theory of seperate for muslims. more than a million ppl died in those riots. then every now and then military coup happens in pakistan making it the favorite place for democracy implementation in terms of america's 'human' vision. but yes they dont have oils and they are friends like saddam was, and hosni, algerian govt, kuwaiti sheikh, jordan's king, morocco's king etc are.. ok to continue then pakistan did another massacre in bangladesh killing scores of muslims.. then comes kashmir, of course there is a controversy over it and india is more responsible for problems in kashmir but then they are supposed to as they are valueless uncivilised hindus hardliners.. but what about pakistan.. cant they strive to find something useful and peaceful for kashmiris.. i cry for kashmir now.. then the only good governance in world which erupted in afghanistan was earlier supported but as soon as US showed eyes to pak then they started another massacre in afghanistan making muslims fighting each other.. pak's local ppl and so called muslims killed numerous mohajirs.. and to remind u that pakistan was given enough land to accomodate all muslims in erstwhile india but those local sindhis and punjabis muslims dont want to share with other muslims 'brothers' and thus they killed in name of mohajirs.. then u will see shite-sunni ongoing in pakistan.in all pakistan is right in line of dogs like turkey, jordan, kuwait, qatar, morocco, egypt, mauritania, malawi who are boot lickers of three pigs US, UK and Israel.Abt india, oh its my land where all indian muslims will bury only untimely after daily riots and rapes.

  6. NURU MUHAMMAD from NIGERIA

    Assalamu alaikum,

    "...but it is more fitting that they should please Allh and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), if they are believers."

    Q 9:62