States seek allies; profess neutrality; bandwagon; even appease – all ostensibly in national interest. Pakistan too has done one or the other but has also learnt that a single strand strategy, even if it brought you on the right side of the world’s mightiest power, was the shortest rout to hell. Placed on a historical crossroads, pulled and pushed in different directions, and because of the vicissitudes of international politics, this lesson has stood us in good stead.
Born in conflict, Pakistan entered into a useful relationship with the US to cover its vulnerable eastern flank. Since putting all eggs in one basket was never a good idea, in the early 1960s we exploited India’s fissures with China, and adopted the latter as our iron brother – indeed at the displeasure of our guardian angels in Washington. The cheekiness paid off in quick time when the Big Boss sought our help to get to the Forbidden City. That too came at a price.
It was not only India that was falling out with China at the time, but also the Soviet Union – then the only contestant to the American world hegemony. Since Washington was not keeping its part of the bargain when we had our first serious clash of steel with India, we embarked upon another balancing act – were mending fences with Moscow while taking Kissinger over the Himalayas to Beijing. Obviously, the Soviets were not amused and forged a security pact with India that cost us dearly in the 1971 war. I am not aware of any country that has kept pace with such vicious fluctuations in global alignments. No wonder, even the US was advised to learn riding two horses before joining the circus
Soon thereafter, in 1973, India exploded a nuclear device that showed us the way to get a more reliable balancer of power. Ironically, it was the same Kissinger whom we had given a ride over the hump, who now threatened to make an example out of us if we pursued the nuclear path. Mercifully, the leadership in those times had more spine, and we told him and the American deep-state, to go climb a pole. Instead they climbed right back to back us up all the way, as long as we got the Soviets out of Afghanistan. We asked them to look the other way, as we were giving final touches to our nuclear programme. That helped us bring the bomb out of the basement as soon as the Indians dared us to do so. But then again, it didn’t go down well with what was now the sole superpower. Unlike the present times, it gave us many a missed call.
Post 9/11, we answered all their calls and didn’t come out looking too good – but then made up by refusing to do their bidding for the next two decades. That helped us get them out of Afghanistan, but just when the time was ripe to earn dividends for all the hard work, we are again being pulled in two directions; Chinese and the American. It seems though that this time around we have forgotten, that to pull our rabbits out of the hat, we had to play, what in the diplomatic lingo is called, the hardball.
Before India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir, we were told to play dead. So we merely renamed a road, drew another map, and made noises like empty vessels. Didn’t even try to mobilise humanitarian aid for the besieged Kashmiris that could not have possibly aggravated any of our FATF troubles. We may have put up a brave face on the issue of providing bases to the US for its operations against the Taliban, but have quietly acquiesced to work on a facility that can be used if they so wished. In any case, we had already shown our soft flank by calling off a visit to Malaysia for a project that we had co-sponsored – just because MBS read us the riot act.
The lesson is quite clear: you will be taken seriously only if you’re prepared to die for a cause – and not for a call. Thus, there are good reasons that Biden is not talking to us, even on WhatsApp. He knows that he could whistle when he wished, and we would jump.
Incidentally, whenever we walked the tightrope successfully, we not only had our feet firmly planted, but also kept our mouth shut. One wonders therefore, why some here in high places had to shoot from their mouth, right into their feet: we will not let the Taliban use force to take Kabul; for example. Mercifully, no one asked us what we would do if they still did. Another verbal salvo that would be ignored both by our friends or foes is about the refugees. A country that adds seven million mouths every year to its population, is wailing from the roof top that it could not bear the burden of a few thousand Afghans who might crossover. Even if we were to ignore our religious or good neighbourly obligations, I think their predecessors proved to be better citizens than our own.
One could learn to ride two horses, or play double games, but trying a balancing act with legs straddling two boats, was more likely to end, as foretold in the age old adage of our area: na khuda hi mila, na wisale sanam; na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke – lost it here, and in the hereafter.