LOYALTY is not given; it is bought. And never more so than in politics, whether domestic or international.
An honest politician was once defined as one who when bought, stays bought. This adage does not apply to nation states whose allegiance can be bought, sold and resold, all of course in the supreme national interest.
Pakistan is not alone in marketing its loyalties. It once rejected an offer from president Jimmy Carter of $400 million as ‘peanuts’, and then settled for many times more. Other impecunious states whose pretensions exceed the depth of their purses have succumbed to similar blandishments.
Today’s creaking colonialists — the British, Europeans and the Russians — are being outbid by the US, the Chinese and the Saudis. In time, the US will outplay the Saudis.
It was not always like this. During the initial years of the oil boom, when King Ibn Saud told the Arabian-American Oil Company to jump, Aramco would ask ‘How high?’ Now, the US sets the bar for the Saudis.
Today’s creaking colonialists are being outbid by the US, Chinese and Saudis.
Since 1945, the US has determined who in the weaker world shall reign and who shall rule. The Shah of Iran was recalled from exile, reinstated for another 25 years and then, after being deposed, denied sanctuary in the US. King Hussein of Jordan was succeeded not by his brother Hassan (crown prince for 34 years) but, at US behest, by Abdullah, Hussein’s half-British son from a morganatic marriage.
Other notable dislodgements have been Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai. The list is as endless as Satan’s wiles.
A forgotten name is Sheikh Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi. Elder brother of the more famous Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, Sheikh Shakhbut ruled from 1928 until 1966, when he was removed by the British for refusing to recycle his petro-income into their pockets. The British forgave him his passion for poetry — after all, they had dealt with another ruler-poet Bahadur Shah Zafar a century earlier. It was Sheikh Shakhbut’s gritty morality they found irksome.
Sheikh Shakhbut discovered an unlikely laureate and biographer in Roderic Owen, an Englishman who visited Abu Dhabi in 1955. His book The Golden Bubble (1957) did for the Bedouin sheikh what T.E. Lawrence achieved for King Faisal of Iraq through his Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Lawrence’s words — “I drew the tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars” — were pure inspiration. Owen’s odes were induced. Take these lines composed by Owen in praise of Sheikh Zayed: “They need not praise you, Zayed/ For your determination/ To set an overwhelming bribe/ Contemptuously aside.” This composition marked the unpoetic occasion when Sheikh Zayed refused a bribe of £30 million from the Saudis for the Buraimi oasis.
Crude oil, Owen wrote, gave the petro-Arabs only “more scope to be crude”. He explained their psyche as that of “some poor people who are suddenly rich beyond their wildest means; and they have done nothing to deserve it [.] These undeserved riches are greater than anyone in history has amassed by hard work, merit or even dishonesty.”
Unearned wealth spawns unfettered power. Some sage rulers, however, used it temperately. Still remembered is King Faisal’s unconditional generosity that financed fertiliser, cement and refinery projects in Z.A. Bhutto’s time. Others recall the mediation of the Saudi ambassador Riyadh al-Khatib during the post-1977 election impasse between prime minister Bhutto and the PNA opposition parties. Still fresh is the memory of the halcyon visit last year of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during which compliments and commitments rained like confetti in Islamabad. The crucible of Islam has always had a soft spot for the self-appointed champion of it.
Now that the UAE (Saudi Arabia’s voice-mail) has recognised Israel, will the Saudis expect us to join the Saudi/UAE/US/Israel nexus? Or will we socially distance ourselves and hide behind the mask of hypocrisy?
Sixty-five years ago, in 1955, a juvenile Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact. It included Iran, Iraq, Turkey and the United Kingdom. According to the historian S.M. Burke (citing a Dawn report): “When Pakistan joined the Baghdad pact, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Pakistan took the unusual step of issuing a press handout containing the text of a Radio Mecca broadcast, urging Pakistan to drop her membership of the pact and ‘to return to the right path’. The broadcast called Pakistan’s act ‘a stab in the heart of the Arab and Muslim states’ and said it had caused surprise and astonishment that Pakistan, who had always been proud of her Islamic faith and declared her respect for all Arabs and Muslims, should have joined Turkey, who ‘feels honoured by co-operating with the Jewish state’.”
Time has a longer memory than malleable ministers and supple statesmen.
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2020