Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Kingmaker

The tribesmen of FATA are not the only ones who are fiercely independent in this country. Pakistanis at large do not like their country's sovereignty violated either. Thus the outrage over the US drone attacks and the disdain for our politicians and men in uniform who trot on over to Washington every so often. It is entirely understandable given our struggle against colonialism and our more recent exploitation by the US to fight a proxy war against the Soviets. But the truth is that while we may be known for our stridently expressed sentiments on our sovereignty, we are, for very good reasons, not at all known for our consistency.

We are ready to burn an extravagant number of effigies of US presidents at the slightest hint of American interference in our national affairs, but we as a nation had no qualms about turning Afghanistan into a satellite state in the 90s. But never mind. Perhaps it's difficult to apply the same standards to oneself and others.

What I find very difficult to reconcile with our fiercely independent natures is how unaffected we are by Saudi Arabia's most blatant interference in our affairs. Since perhaps Zulfi Bhutto's time politicians and armymen have made way more pilgrimages to Riyadh than Mecca or Medina. In recent years, the Saudis played a very prominent role in brokering an arrangement between Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf after the coup, then again when the Sharifs returned to Pakistan and yet again when Musharraf was floundering in his own emergency-induced mess and yet again when the PPP wanted to enter some sort of arrangement with Musharraf and now once more they have stepped in to tell our government and our opposition to back off of Musharraf. Can anyone imagine the extent of our fury if Washington had peremptorily summoned Rehman Malik, flown in Musharraf on a private jet and instructed the government to play nice? TV talk show hosts would have gone apoplectic. Zaid Hamid would most definitely have spontaneously combusted. But not a squawk when Riyadh is the one tugging at our politicians' leashes.

Well, Riyadh is part of the family, an uncle of sorts. But if uncle it is, it certainly is not a benevolent one. Ask any one of the thousands of Pakistanis working there. Our citizens are treated less like part of the Muslim fraternity and more like a necessary evil that needs to be assiduously contained, belittled and ignored. We have way more of a chance integrating into American society than Saudi's.

But let that be. Put aside Saudi Arabia's current defense of an immensely unpopular ex-dictator too and its lacklustre response to our cry for help when the economy was circling the drain last year. Saudi Arabia's most egregious sin toward Pakistan was committed, much like America's, in the 80s. It was after Iran went rogue in 1979 that Riyadh really noticed us. Suddenly we were inundated with oil money and cast as the bulwark of Sunni Islam. It wasn't the US-Zia nexus of the 80s that turned Pakistan into the mess that it is today, it was the US-Saudi-Zia nexus. The US may have given us the Kalashnikov culture but Saudi Arabia gave us extremist madressahs and a generation of hate-filled fanatics. Instead of directing its largesse towards our dismal formal education sector, Riyadh built an extensive network of hardline madressahs where the Taliban of today received instruction.

Now more recently, Riyadh is in the news for reported talks with the government to lease 500,000 acres of farm land, twice the size of Hong Kong, according to Dawn reports. This farm land will be used to promote food security. Not ours, theirs. Our sparse land and water resources will be used to keep the Middle East well-fed instead of meeting the needs of our own ever-expanding and ever under-fed population. Naturally, our government is falling over itself to guarantee Riyadh special security for the huge chunk of Pakistan it is about to purchase. Who wouldn't want to fly in Riyadh's private jets in perpetuity. And here we are having an aneurysm over America's 30 acre Islamabad embassy.

The real kingmaker in Pakistan is Saudi Arabia. It has been for sometime. America can never succeed in holding too much influence because of the Pakistani public's deep deep hatred of the country. Saudi Arabia has been so successful in turning us into a client state not because it has been especially covert. In fact it's meddling has been quite naked. Its reason for success is that we have refused to analyze let alone protest its role in our national affairs. What can be a better sign of its successful imperial policy than that when in 1977 Lyallpur (Pakistan's third largest city) was renamed Faisalabad (Long Live Faisal, in English), after Saudi Arabia's King Faisal, Pakistanis actually celebrated, totally oblivious that they were trading in one imperial symbol for another.

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