THE first time one heard of Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls was from relatives visiting or returning to India from Pakistan in the early 1960s. The British subculture inspired by cheerful styles from the Edwardian period had rubbed off on young Pakistanis. At that time, their Indian counterparts were struggling with Gandhian frugality and his cut price ‘livery of freedom’. Pakistanis also drove around in better cars than Indians.
This was also the time when Afghan women were walking to the university in maxis and slacks. I interviewed their patron Anahita Ratebzad in Kabul in 1981, when she was education minister in the Karmal government. A medical doctor by training, and a member of her country’s intellectual brain trust, she was a product of Kabul University.
The latest ‘foreign-made’ goods came into India and Pakistan from Afghanistan, and Donald Trump will never believe that Vilayat Khan played the sitar in the court of Zahir Shah to discerning applause. Swedish Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal discussed the culture and politics of the region in his classic two-volume magnum opus, Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations. In a footnote, though he remained partial to Nehru, Myrdal quietly noted that Pakistani diplomats were more convivial and gifted with easy social graces compared with their usually stiff Indian counterparts. But India had democracy and Pakistan had killed it.
Both countries were tutored to guard against communism. Pakistan followed a straightforward brief and the military ensured its ruthless execution. India leaned on a subtler ploy and used the British Commonwealth route to tackle domestic Marxists. Nehru’s opportunity to showcase his loyalty to the Queen came with the dismissal of the newly-elected communist government in Kerala. The comrades hit back with a range of options, including poetry. “Khaddar ki kechul ko pehen kar nagin ye lehraane na paae/ Commonwealth ka daas hai Nehru, maar le saathi jaane paae”. (The snake has moulted its skin and now wears homespun khadi/ That’s Nehru, the slave of the Commonwealth, comrades, pin him down right there). Thus raged Majrooh Sultanpuri — only to be jailed for this and other alleged indiscretions.
When did the Saudis ever support the Palestinians that they should commiserate with the Kashmiris?
Pakistan evolved as a pillar of the West’s strategic architecture to protect the Middle East against Moscow and it included Iran and Turkey though Iraq showed a clean pair of heels. India was happy befriending the newly decolonised Afro-Asian nations and their charismatic leaders. Nobody other than Sindhi traders had heard of Dubai, and only Muslim pilgrims visited Saudi Arabia. Akbar Khalili, Indian ambassador in Tehran with Persian forebears, larded the point with wry humour. Learning that I worked for a newspaper in a Gulf emirate, he chortled: “You are wasting your time in a desalinated water economy.”
Iranian immigration officers made a similar observation at the Mehrabad Airport: “Indian journalist? Working in an English newspaper in some place south of Bandar Abbas? Which country is that?” The ever self-absorbed Iranians had seldom known of anything beyond their noses.
The overthrow of the Shah altered the equation. It pitched Pakistan into a new role from one of protecting pro-Western monarchies from Palestinian and other Soviet-backed rebels, to defending them against Iran. Ziaul Haq’s crackdown on Palestinians in Jordan was old hat. The departure from a civilisational bonding with Iran that had together with Turkey shored up more than an anti-communist club for the West, downgraded Pakistan as a guardian of nouveau-riche oil merchants.
The brouhaha in Pakistan over alleged betrayal by its Muslim allies over the ongoing outrages in Kashmir indicates a lack of interest in reality. When did the Saudis ever support their supposedly Muslim brethren in Palestine that they should commiserate with Kashmir? Look closely.
There was a time in the 1980s when the Saudis and the Kuwaitis could not stand each other and the two would have gone to war over a football match had the Gulf Cooperation Council not brought matters to heel. Kuwait had a parliament in which some issues could be debated openly, and much of the discussion was about Palestine. However, Kuwait posed no direct threat to Riyadh, which Iraq’s Saddam Hussein did. The Saudis thus nudged Saddam against Iran, but the war ended in a painful draw inflicting losses on both sides.
There was another reason to destroy Iraq. Saddam Hussein had opposed the Fahd Plan along with other leading detractors. They included Libya’s Qadhafi and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. Marxist Yemen too opposed the Saudi proposal to give Palestinians limited rights, but with simultaneous guarantees for the recognition and security of Israel. The proposal by Saudi crown prince Fahd to Arab leaders in Fez in 1981 revealed an early set corner for Israel. Significantly, it came within two years of the Iranian Revolution.
The leaders of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen did not show up at Fez and sent their deputies instead. One remembers King Hassan of Morocco berating Syria’s vice president Abdul Haleem Khaddam: “You are too junior to make war or peace.” Yasser Arafat needed political support from the Arab strongmen and funds from the Saudis and so was ambiguously quiet. The summit collapsed. Qadhafi’s brutal murder, Saddam Hussein’s hanging by a US-appointed kangaroo court, followed by the devastation wreaked on Syria and Yemen, spoke volumes for the avenger. When Egypt posed a threat, its army was bankrolled to foil democracy.
Imran Khan was not the prime minister when Pakistan’s parliament put its foot down against a Saudi request to join the current war in Yemen. It was probably as good a decision as any that Pakistan has made in dealing with its so-called Muslim brethren. The revenge for ignoring the Yemen invite was extracted from Kashmiris. If there is one worthy lesson accruing from the tragedy unfolding in Kashmir, it is that Pakistan should rediscover its original civilisational bearings that were more inclusive than the self-limiting religious paradigm.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019