We are but flies

By F.S. Aijazuddin

JUST as God made mankind range from giants to pygmies, so has He allowed nations to cover a gamut of sizes and strengths, from superpowers to vassal states.

International financial institutions like the IMF have fun each year classifying countries according to their GDP-PPP, which for those who never studied economics stands for gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) per capita. Translated into the vernacular, GDP is calculated using as a numerator “final goods and services produced within a country in a given year”, with a denominator of “the average (or mid-year) population for the same year”.

By IMF’s scale, the top 10 countries start with Qatar and include Luxembourg, Singa­pore, Brunei, Kuwait, UAE, San Marino and Hong Kong. Norway, Ireland and Switzerland (which tied with Hong Kong for 10th place) are the only countries that are not 20th-century phenomena. The last 10 stragglers are Madagascar, then Eritrea and Guinea, with tail-enders Burundi, Congo Dem. Republic and finally Central African Republic. Pakistan appears at 133, located between India at 122 and Afghanistan at 165.

This result is more than the product of an IMF spreadsheet analysis. It is the reflection of a geographical, economic and political reality. Pakistan will always be smaller than India, bigger than Afghanistan. It will find itself forever compressed between a pseudo-patriarch and a pretentious peddler-in-arms.

Which grouping do we fall in — Bigguns or Littluns?

Nowhere was this more uncomfortably obvious than at the recent Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar. There, Pakistan allowed itself to be lured into a trap, then caught in a pincer attack by India’s Mr Modi as host and the Afghan Mr Ghani as co-host. That this degeneration in Indo-Pak-Afghan relations was unfortunate is to concede that one has run out of stronger words of remonstrance. Our nation’s representative, Mr Sartaj Aziz, was publicly castigated at an international moot by a mature host country that should know better and a regressive co-host country that does far worse.

That our feeble offer of $500 million of aid would be repudiated contemptuously by Afghanistan should have come as no surprise to our government. For years, Afgha­nistan has gorged with ingratitude, first on Soviet aid and then US largesse. By one reckoning, $686 billion of US money alone has already been spent since the start of the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom — a Pentagon euphemism for Open Ended Funding.

In 1954, William Golding’s published his famous novel The Lord of the Flies, in which he made an innovative distinction between ‘Biguns’ and ‘Littluns’, between bullies and victims. This would seem to apply equally to countries. India is a regional Bigun, Afghanistan a tribal Littlun. Which grouping does Pakistan fall in?

Pakistan, ever since it developed nuclear-arms capability, has demanded like some petulant adolescent with a cosh to be treated as a Bigun, except that the Biguns dismiss it as a bombastic Littlun. Being labelled as a crucible of terrorism has not helped Pakistan’s case. Neither has its inability to harness to a single chariot of common national purpose all its four horses — the legislature, the judiciary, the military, and those protected by the cloak of invisibility.

Rational Pakistanis have watched the recent changes in the military and judiciary with oscillating optimism. A COAS retires after months of speculation on whether he would continue, or not. His successor has hardly warmed his seat and already a tropical fever of debate has taken hold as to whether he will continue the policies of his predecessor, or not.

The retiring chief justice of Pakistan is hardly cold in his chambers and spe­cu­lation is already rife whether his designated successor will continue the Panama-gate hearings with the same bench, or not; whether a judicial commission will be formed, or not; whether the final judgements of either will be delivered before the next general elections, or not.

None of the political parties appears to have made visible preparations for the 2018 elections. There is so much in-fighting within each party and between parties that they have not pondered over how they intend to fight to secure a majority in the next elections. If any party has a clear aim, it is the incumbent PML-N. A Bigun, it has no intention of losing. It will fight to win. The now provincial PPP, the parochial PML-Q, the quiescent ANP, the urban MQM, and the miniscule AML ought to be grouped as Littluns. The PTI like Pakistan itself yearns to be accepted as a Bigun, and would be, if only it stopped behaving like an impatient, immature Littlun.

For patient Pakistanis, each day zigzags between expectation and disappointment, buoyancy and despair, individual excellence and collective inertia, between faith in democracy and an agnostic suspicion of a clay-footed pantheon. Surely, Pakistan’s browbeaten, bullied Littlun public deserves better.

( The writer is an art historian. www.fsaijazuddin.pk )