comment: Nuisance value —Munir Attaullah\05\14\story_14-5-2008_pg3_5

Making a nuisance of oneself has always been a handy negotiating tool in the hands of the weak, in their dealings with the strong. But the first rule for successful negotiators is not to become emotional. That is a sure-fire losing strategy

No doubt about it: it pays to make a right nuisance of your self.

In the neo-Darwinian analysis, such instinctive behaviour, in certain species, has become ingrained over evolutionary time, through proven worth as a successful high-survival value strategy. Think of the otherwise helpless baby, crying its head off till the mother mollifies it with the milk bottle; or a pack of hyenas harrying a feeding lioness till she abandons her hard-won kill in disgust. Or think of a nameless Pakistani politician or two.

I was led to these thoughts by some recent announcements concerning aid to Pakistan by the American and British governments. Apparently, the aid packages are to be substantially increased; and, in the new thinking, most of the money is to be directed at the social sector (health, education, etc), rather than on useless military hardware. Good! Wonderful! Lucky us!

The question arises: How have we managed to get countries thousands of miles away to commit to doing something so obviously in our vital national interest, when we ourselves have steadfastly refused to do what we should have done, for as long as I can remember? Do you think there is any relation between the answer to this question, and the sentence I started the column with?

As a principle, getting others to do for you those important things you are normally expected to do for yourself, appeals to me immensely. Provided you can pull it off, what could be better? Is my own life not eloquent testimony for the merits of this approach? And let us not dismiss the main chance by being swayed by some squeamish appeals to dubious morality that would label such an attitude as ‘parasitic’. In Nature, as countless examples testify, a parasitic existence can be a very successful way of making a living.

“Ah! But is it honourable?” the same old boring crowd will say. I will come to that relatively unimportant matter later.

What is all this leading up to? Well, how often have you heard the moan that, badkismati say, our problem is lack of wise leadership?

Think again. Is the instinctive recognition of the true value of making a thorough nuisance of oneself not proof of innate political skill, wisdom, and farsightedness? Why does the world rush to give aid to North Korea and us, while ignoring Zimbabwe, Sudan and Somalia?

And that, naturally, brings me to the Bomb. Sure, I know the ostensible theory behind its development: defensive, to deter Indian adventurism, we are told. But is not the true worth of the Bomb exactly the opposite? Has it not actually, allowed us extra safety to indulge in our own adventurism, in the pursuit of the policy of being a thorn in the side of Indian flesh? Besides, don’t underestimate the nuisance value of an ‘Islamic Bomb’. So let us not sell short our finely honed political instincts.

The previous Government was often accused by foreign powers of ‘not doing enough’ in the ‘war on terror’. On occasions, the charge was extended to that of possibly playing a subtle double game. This latter charge was given some credence because of a theory by some of our great minds that argued as follows: sooner or later, the Americans will get fed up and leave Afghanistan. To plan for that eventuality, should we not then be supporting — or at least not decimating — the Taliban (who, as Pashtuns, were, and are our natural allies), rather than Karzai and the Northern Alliance (who are pro-India)?

Now I have no idea what the truth of this matter may be. But I will say, if true, the policy was brilliantly conceived (though not for the reasons given above). I say forget all that geo-strategic nonsense. Focus instead on creating and maintaining a situation that will keep the international powers bogged down here for decades. Just think of the beneficial consequences of the hundreds of billions of dollars we can hope to see come rolling in if we can pull off that geo-politically brilliant feat!

So what if we continue to suffer some suicide bombings as a result. After all, a thousand times more of our countrymen die unnecessarily every year from easily preventable diseases. And, while I am at it (being cold-bloodedly callous, that is), let me not forget to throw in, in this context, that other all-time favourite of the pontificating politician, “...when 90 percent of our population does not have clean drinking water.”

Meanwhile, let us note that even in Nature there are limits to even the most successful of strategies. For living organisms have a certain degree of freedom that precludes a 100 percent rate of predictive success for any strategy: the mother may, on occasion, ignore the crying infant, even slap it; and, sometimes, the lioness fights back in rage if the hyena pack is small in number. And we can choose to ignore that annoying fly or buzzing mosquito, or go after it with a vengeance. Or, call the pesky politicians’ ‘asooli’ bluff.

The parasite, therefore, must have a keen appreciation of how far it can go. A suitable quid pro quo is even better: the cleaner fish that swims fearlessly into the mouth of the shark, to eat food particles stuck in the latter’s teeth, is not eaten up but welcomed because it provides a valuable cleaning service to the shark. So, it is OK to be a parasite, provided you know your place and have a keen sense for limiting factors.

I ask those who speak of ‘honour’ and yearn for a defiant assertion of our sovereignty in our dealings with outside world to clarify, for the sake of the public, a simple matter. As it is, our economy seems to be in trouble. And this, despite billions in aid from the international community, the continuous hand-outs from our Arab friends, billions more in soft loans from international lending agencies, and still more billions in remittances from overseas Pakistanis. Where will we be if these foreign taps are turned off, as they so obviously and easily can?

Yes, making a nuisance of oneself has always been a handy negotiating tool in the hands of the weak, in their dealings with the strong. But the first rule for successful negotiators is not to become emotional. That is a sure-fire losing strategy. Those of our leaders — whether they be political personages, influential media personalities or heads of the lawyers’ movement — who constantly make emotional appeals, and give ultimatums, on the basis of ‘principle’, ‘honour’, and the like, do us no favours in helping us with our struggle at arriving at sensible and practical decisions.

I leave you with a parting thought: was I being serious in writing all the above? I am not saying.

The writer is a businessman

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