October, 2011

It is a globally acknowledged and much touted fact that Afghanistan has never been conquered; that the Afghans are fiercely independent, proud and have always fought off all invaders. All Pakistanis admire this and proclaim it loud and often as we watch the discomfort the US faces in that unconquerable country. No one however wishes to talk about Afghanistan’s neighboring land that has exactly the opposite track record. No one, especially no Pakistani, will ever acknowledge that the land that is now Pakistan has always been conquered and ruled by foreigners, Ranjeet Singh notwithstanding, our land and its people have always been ruled; indeed this fact is glorified and proudly acknowledged in our history books.

Imagine this. A young soldier travels all the way from Macedonia on horseback and is able to conquer our land. An Arab teenager from the hilly village of Taif in Saudi Arabia can sail across an ocean and conquer an entire civilization effortlessly. While this is an uncomfortable truth, our historians always imply that these invaders were our forefathers; that we are the descendants of the conquerors, the rulers.  Interestingly, no one ever identifies the descendants of those that were conquered or indeed the multitude that was supposedly converted to Islam by the missionary Muslims from Arabia. Equally interestingly, I have thus far not come across a single descendant of any of the foot soldiers, the servants or the menials that were part of the invading armies. All of us appear to have been descended from the elite; our forefathers were either missionary Syeds or the warrior generals and titled Khans or Aryan traders. Where are the offspring of the stable hands of Alexander, the descendants of the boatman of Mohammad bin Qasim, the progeny of those native women who were possessed by ‘the right hand’ of the Muslim invaders?

But I digress. Back to the truth that the bulk of the land that is Pakistan today has always been ruled by foreigners. They came on foot, on horseback, by boat, by air; as traders, missionaries, travelers, raiders and ended up ruling the natives. Modest resistance was offered but the natives invariably ended up conceding to the intruders, asking that they be treated ‘as kings treat kings’. It is also necessary to state the discomforting fact that this land also experienced what has to be the rudest of all invasions. In 1947, this land welcomed a flood of refugees, many of whom did indeed come on foot, in tatters and penniless. (There is more than an iota of truth in what Dr. Zulifqar Mirza says). Even as the natives watched in quiet indifference, these ‘invaders’ took over governance of those that were providing them with shelter, grace and bounty. This is not to deny the good the refugees brought to the land and to the natives; it simply acknowledges that even as they contributed to their new homeland, they assumed the role of rulers over the unsuspecting populace. This fact is exemplified of course in the manner we handled East Pakistan. It is unimaginable how 7% of a population, that too of Mohajirs; refugees were able to impose their language as the national language on the 93% majority. That has to be the ultimate distortion of the relationship between hosts and guests.

The fact is that the Land of the Pure has always been ruled. Even though the British departed after partitioning the sub-continent, their rule continued to be implemented through remote control. The Vice-regent was replaced by proxy rulers who did the bidding of their foreign masters and this continues to the present day. British dominance soon gave way to American patronage. Agreements, pacts and treaties were put in place. SEATO, CENTO, weapons and technology transfers, training and manpower exchanges were instituted. The very American concept of ruling as friends and not masters, (a phrase later to be enshrined by a military dictator as the title of his biography), coupled with the highly visible handshake of the stars and stripes and a green and white crescent became the signature of the relationship of the fledgling Pakistani nation with its distant ruler. The Bretton Woods Sisters working through pliant rulers both civil and military according to the needs of those that called the shots. Whenever a leader of this unique Muslim nation became too big for his or her boots and tried to break loose from the grip of Uncle Sam, he or she was replaced. A hanging, a plane crash, a military coup; many were the tools used to keep the Muslim nation in check.

And it is this truth that Pakistanis need to recognize. We need to understand that it is this form of governance that can logically be extrapolated into the future. Pakistan will continue to be ruled by foreigners in the future also. We are too disparate and diverse a people to unite under the banner of religion or the national flag. The only difference is that today there is a multiplicity of intending rulers and this time, we, the natives, get to choose which one we prefer to lead us. There is of course, old Uncle Sam who offers multiple earthly benefits but wants more than the customary pound of flesh; another is our friend from the north, yet another is an untrustworthy neighbor in the east while there is also another western neighbor whose main failing is that he practices an unacceptable version of Islam.

Then there is the one ruler most appealing to most Pakistanis but also the most inconvenient. It is a ruler from the Holy Land who wishes to govern through a fundamentalist group of religious fanatics. This rule offers rewards in the everlasting future but offsets it with a very bleak and difficult earthly existence.

The choice is ours. We will be ruled; this is a fact. How this is done is up to us. We need to choose because the aspiring rulers are getting impatient. They are chafing at the bit and are ready to move in to fight over us. In our land. At our expense.