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The Chinese have a saying: ‘There is turmoil under the heavens.’ Come to think of it, has there ever been a time in history when there has not been turmoil under the heavens?

The 19th century was crater-ridden with colonial wars and internecine conflicts. Two world wars and innumerable mini-wars in Asia and Africa stained the 20th century. The first quarter of the present century is not complete and already Afghanistan and Yemen have been overtaken by the Ukraine. We have seventy-five years left to find fresh arenas of conflict, new battle-grounds, and graveyards to fill. 

Meanwhile, both the developed and developing worlds scavenge for potable water, for clean air, for uncontaminated food. We ingest invisible killers like micro-plastics. Healthcare systems - for those who have them - struggle like Heracles against the hydra-headed variants of COVID-19.  Fires rage across continents popular once for their benign climates. Floods course across areas unprepared for deluges of Biblical proportions. Heaven cannot help us because Satan is not responsible. We are. All this turmoil is man-made.

The West would have us believe that their brand of democracy is its best invention since the McBurger. Yet, looking across the present political landscape in the U.S. and Great Britain, one can see ludicrous examples of its failure.

In Washington D.C., a Senate Committee is still collecting evidence on whether former president Trump had tried to subvert the presidential election results of 2020. Any American child born then would be a toddler by now. At this plodding speed, by the time the Committee discloses its findings, that child may already be in kindergarten. And then what? Its report will be stored on the same dust-laden shelf along with the Warren Commission probe into J.F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1961 and the 9/11 Commission report.

Last week, President Joe Biden visited Israel and then Saudi Arabia, where he interacted with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, and obedient acolytes: the U.A.E., Jordan and Egypt. According to the western press, his opening salvo was to remind MBS of the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, for which the U.S. holds MBS personally responsible.

Biden could also have reminded MBS, Muhammad bin Zayed of U.A.E., El-Sisi of Egypt that out of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks in 2001, 15 were Saudi nationals, 2 from the U.A.E., and one from Egypt. 

MBS retaliated by jogging Biden’s memory  about the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the Iraqi prisoners abused in the U.S. controlled Abu Ghraib prison.

Having performed this Kabuki pantomime before the cameras, they then settled down the more pragmatic subject of crude oil supplies.

Can it be accidental that, while Biden was still in the Gulf, the U.A.E. arrested at Dubai airport Asim Ghafoor (once Khashoggi’s lawyer) on a charge of ‘money laundering’? Or that the U.S. president on his departure was escorted to Air Force One not by MBS but by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal (Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, & Governor of Makkah Region), the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and minor U.S. officials posted to Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis have obviously learned a thing or two from the Chinese about punitive diplomacy.

On his way home, President Biden did not stop in London. There is no one there to talk to, and will not be until 5 September when the new PM is announced.

In London's Browning Street, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Boris Johnson’s Casca) is determined to succeed a slain Caesar. An unburied Johnson is determined not to give him that satisfaction.

For Queen Elizabeth, in the twilight of her reign, this unseemly turnover of prime ministers is not something she expected nor relishes. She is by nature an orderly person. She has made provision for her succession and two generations beyond. Her funeral has been meticulously planned. The only thing missing is the date on the invitation card.

For us in Pakistan, our turmoil is ceaseless. We stumble from one crisis to another: rising oil prices, gas shortages, political mudslinging, and somnolent leadership. The establishment is increasingly becoming the target of disgruntled politicians and a disaffected public that sees wedding halls where barracks once stood, and state land being doled out as hereditary jagirs.

Before the recent by-elections in the Punjab, directives were issued on 5 July by COAS General Qamar Bajwa to his commanders and key officers (including the ISI), to ‘stay away from politics.’ Imran Khan (no more than the public, scarred after thirty years of military rule) did not believe this gratuitous disclaimer.  The results of the by-elections have shown that, on his own, bereft of support, he can succeed. He has bitten the hand that once fed him, and then after three years bit him.




[DAWN, 21 July 2022]

21 July 2022
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