“KARACHI, India” was a talking point and a source of tremendous national hurt and humiliation when my generation was at school — letters written by foreigners often carried an address which ended with “Karachi, India”.
The government of the day would come under harsh attack for not making the world know that Karachi was in Pakistan and not India. Hearts choked and people hit the ceiling when an address ended with “Karachi, Pakistan, India”. Those were heady days, and we lived under the spell of the euphoria over Pakistan’s emergence. Those who had opposed Pakistan had no face to show and were hiding in rat holes.
Look, patriots would say, the country was two and a half years old, and the world still thought Pakistan was in India. What was the government doing? Harsh words for the government were rare. A British paper, taking note of this controversy, added fuel to the fire by remarking that “Pakistan will always remain part of India”. In spite of Radcliffe and Mountbatten, Britain still had some admirers, thanks to Claude Auchinleck and Beverly Nichols. But even they vowed never to purchase a Morris minor and to remain jobless rather than work in a British firm, of which many were household names with the middle class — Burmah Shell, Glaxo, BOAC, Standard and Chartered, Mackinnon Mackenzie, etc
A forceful pain provider every year was the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London. Pakistan and India were the only non-white members of the Commonwealth (CW) and occupied the place of pride, because the rest of Afro-Asia was still groaning under colonialism.
In the photograph, the British prime minister sat to the monarch’s right; Nehru to the left. Liaquat Ali Khan was seated — or as we believed was humiliated and made to sit — next to the British prime minister. This was a tremendous source of national grief. Why wasn’t Liaquat next to the monarch? Shouldn’t we quit the Commonwealth? This was a matter of national honour.
Much later, when Pakistan had come of age, Bhutto in the 1960s made the issue clear. Neither Pakistan nor India would ever quit the CW, because the withdrawal by one would swing the CW members’ sympathies to the other. So, that I suppose continues to be the guiding philosophy in a zero-sum game even today when the CW membership has gone up to 54.
The shift from the British-centric attitude came with the advent of Uncle Sam on the Pakistani scene. A major event was the ‘Thank You America’ signs dangling from the camels’ necks as the carts carried American wheat from the harbour through Bunder Road, Karachi’s only artery then. Only the leftist elements — more powerful and well organised than they should have been in Pakistan’s formative years — made an issue of it. It was a humiliation, they insisted. For the majority, however, the American gesture of rushing wheat to Pakistan in a food-deficit year was timely and friendly. Anti-Americanism was decades away.
Gradually, the world started waking up to the reality of Pakistan, less from its membership of the US-led military pacts and more because — in spite of being America’s most ‘allied ally’ — it drew closer to China, especially after the India-China war. The 1965 war with India, the burning of the American embassy in November 1979 for no fault of America’s, Abdus Salam winning the Nobel prize in physics, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US-led jihad that once again made Pakistan America’s blue-eyed boy, and the entry of words ‘jihad’ and ‘mujahideen’ in popular lexicon and media jargon turned the world focus on Pakistan.
There were three eventful decades — pictures in the world media about the obscenity that was whipping by Zia’s lash men, Pakistan’s monopoly of the world squash championship — thanks to icons Jahangir and Jansher — hockey’s Olympic, World and Asian titles coming to Pakistan; Imran Khan holding the cricket World Cup, a charismatic Pakistani becoming the Islamic world’s first woman prime minister, Pakistan going nuclear, 9/11, the Taliban, the flames of the Marriott shooting into Islamabad’s night sky in Ramazan, the Bush-Mush honeymoon, BB’s return and assassination, the black coats, 7/7, Mumbai, the drones, the earthquake, the flood, Raymond Davis, Bin Laden- Abbottabad, ‘safe havens’, Mike Mullen and the ISI. Well, it is Pakistan and Pakistan on the world’s front pages and TV screens. Even the New York Times and Washington Post can’t help it — for the wrong reasons.
Tossing between hope and despair, the Pakistani people’s world is a mix of triumphs and tragedies — accolades mixed with slurs; insinuations tempered with hidden admiration; bombed-out mosques and schools; a beautiful face smeared with blood and soot and contorted by pain, like Afia’s; an unceasing struggle between harsh realities and self-delusions; a nation’s soul crying and craving for normality.
Nevertheless, Pakistan has arrived. Nobody writes, “Karachi, India” anymore, nor does anybody care which side of Elizabeth a prime minister sits; BOAC and Burmah Shell have been replaced by Citibank and KFC; and the closure of the News of the World has been attributed to divine wrath, some solace for our match fixers.
World powers continue to come to Pakistan, focus on it, help it, abuse it, and betray it (we Pakistanis are very fond of being betrayed, because we ourselves do not hesitate to betray). As defined by Paul Kennedy, Robert Case and Emily Hill in The Pivotal States: Policy in Developing World, Pakistan is among the world’s nine “pivotal countries”. Mike Mullen, while parting, told his successor “to remember the importance of Pakistan. …There is no solution in the region without Pakistan”. This affirmation of Pakistan’s importance makes some people very jealous.
So, Pakistanis, carry on! Irrespective of what you are, irrespective of your misdeeds and crimes against yourselves, rejoice, for Pakistan, your country, remains “important”, “pivotal” and — unfortunately — ubiquitous.
The writer is a member of staff.