By Humayun Gauhar
When people ask me whether we will arrive at a more equitable relationship with America wherein we agree to reopen NATO supplies routes and let them continue drone strikes and on what terms, I tell them the following stories.
Once upon a time there was a king. His courtiers always told him, “All is well – sub theek hai – the people love you, Sire.” One day the king came out of his comfort zone and decided to put his people’s love for him to the test. He ordered that every morning when they enter the city gates they should be hit two times on their bare common bottoms with wet leather shoes. He would see if this would make his people turn or not.
After a month his courtiers told him that the people still loved him. “Okay,” said the king. “Beat them twice again as they leave at the end of the day. Then we’ll see.” And so it came to pass. After another month the courtiers informed the king that his people still loved him. Frustrated, he ordered that the number of shoe strikes be increased to ten each, morning and evening, like some medicine to arouse self-esteem. After some time the king’s courtiers informed him that a delegation of citizens desired an audience with him. “The worm has finally turned,” thought the king, overjoyed. “My people can grow a spine after all.” Much to the king’s disgust and dismay the delegation had a simple request: “Please increase the number of people administering the shoe beatings because ten strikes take too much time and we are late for work and late back home.” Angry, the king asked them in high dudgeon: “Don’t you have any self-respect that you are happy to be beaten on your bare bottoms every day?” Came the worm’s obsequious response: “What were bottoms made for, Sire? Beat us if it pleases you, but please also take our convenience into consideration.” The king gave up. Dejected, he said out loud: “The worm will never turn. My people are hopeless.” The king stopped the shoe beatings as an utter waste of time.
We have nearly always had much the same sort of relationship with our rulers, native or foreign, overt or covert, and those waiting in the wings to take the helm yet again. We had the same relationship with our British masters not so long ago. After ‘independence’ that relationship transferred to the new cock of the walk, the United States of America. Nothing new: we have kowtowed to all conquerors and self-serving princelings, potentates and satraps. The few who don’t kowtow and fail to enrich themselves are regarded as stupid by the supine. The question then arises: Are submission and slavery in our genes? Is it in ourselves that we are underlings?
It gets worse. When I was a little boy last century I had a Pathan Ayah named Rahima. She was the second concurrent wife of a man named Haibat Khan, a name that means ‘Fearsome Khan’. Rahima would proudly tell my mother that her husband beat her more than his first wife “because he loves me more. Since I’m young and beautiful he fears that I might get up to some hanky-panky. He doesn’t care for that old hag of a first wife of his.” It’s the same with us. We fool ourselves into believing that America is being so rough with Pakistan because we are very important to it, “our critical geostrategic position, you see.” We are happy to suffer. If America ignored us we would be unhappy, because that would mean that we are not important. Such is the mindset of the enslaved who don’t even know their rights, their faith, are bereft of ideology, concerned only with personal well being at the expense of others without giving two hoots for the greater good. Our ruling gang, in government or opposition, is akin to the black slave foreman who would whip other slaves on behalf of his master if they picked cotton slowly. The slaves called the foreman ‘boss’. Most Third World countries like ours are America’s foremen, as indeed they were foremen for the British not so long ago. Where do you think our landlords, judges, bureaucrats, military officials and the entire class conceived by Lord Macaulay comes from – ‘Englishmen in every respect except for the colour of their skins.” What is the most important aspect of “every respect”? It is the mindset. They learn to think like the master and adopt his value system. Why? To be good foremen and slave drivers they must pre-guessing what exactly it is that the master wants, that’s why, to do their dirty work for them without having to be told – like Jeeves, always striving to please. Our ruling gang is Jeeves for our current master to whom we were sold some six and a half decade ago.
I hope you have noticed that I have said ‘ruling gang’ rather than ‘ruling class’. I hate such labels, for they generalize. Ruling class should broadly mean all those who are in what one calls the upper middle class, the rich, the powerful and influential. The majority of the ruling gang comes from this class, particularly of the feudal variety, except for some honourable few. Not all members of the ruling class – or to use the much-misused word ‘elite’ – belong to the ruling gang and think like slaves or slave drivers. Which is why there is hope yet. They are the true elite, a word that means the best, cream of the cream. A not very well off poet or writer who wields great influence is amongst the elite of his society. Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib spring to mind. They were the elite amongst poets and thinkers of not only their time but for all times to come and influenced people a lot. They can never be equated with slave drivers for it was the slave drivers that they were out to obliterate.
We will certainly ‘reset’ our relationship with America. In any case, it is stupid to have no relationship or an adversarial relationship with still the most powerful country in history. It may be less inequitable than before, but it will still be inequitable nevertheless. In any case, bankrupt countries whose economies are aid-driven and dependent on handouts like slaves’ finances always are can hardly have a strong negotiating position much less take the high road. Our bondage was well underlined last week when, with negotiations still underway, America didn’t even give our government the fig leaf of informing us before striking us again with their drone, as they had done in Abbotabad and Salala earlier. For all our big talk, what have we done about it? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Not even the same threatening noises as before. It’s a crass display of impotence.
The worm does turn. It is only a question of how much more oppression and time it takes. Look at Iran, Kashmir, Muslim North Africa and the Middle East recently. Forget that. Remember how our forefathers and mothers ‘turned’ to wrest a new country out of India? They ‘turned’ because at that time our leadership was not a self-obsessed gang. So let me end with my last story.
Once upon a time there was a man who was tall, slim and smart. He had a long, wizened face that the English so love. He spoke English better than his native tongues. He had great leadership and communications skills. He was educated in England and became a famous politician, though he saw many failures at the beginning of his political career. He was admired at home and abroad. He was a private man and frugal, to put it politely. He loved dogs. His financial honesty was beyond reproach. He was naturally bold and took risks. He played to win, not to avoid losing. He had tunnel vision and never said die. He had an unsuccessful marriage to a non-Muslim, divorced and the wife took the offspring to England. People called him all sorts of names.
I’m sure you’re thinking I’m talking of Imran Khan. No, I’m talking of a man whom his adoring people called ‘Great Leader’ because he helped them turn. Yes, the worm does turn when it gets the leadership.