Risky business

Fayes T Kantawala on the games people play

Risky business
Did you ever play the board game Risk? It’s kind of like chess for megalomaniacs. You begin by owning small bits of the world map – say China and France with a bit of South Africa – then battle to expand your territory until you own the world like a successful Gaddafi *cue sociopathic laughter*. It’s led to the dissolution of many a friendship over the years because it can get very stressful and violently territorial. Practically everyone who has played knows the game brings out a dark, competitive, bloodthirsty and amoral side to your soul, one you swore you’d never show publicly but still occasionally do in the line at the bank.

Risk teaches you attacking, diplomacy and exit strategy, three necessary skills to surviving any adolescent experience. In a fit of nostalgia I found myself playing on a sketchy locally produced version of the game the other night. The board itself, a brazenly inaccurate world map, shows Mickey Mouse dancing with Superman on a compass, and the labels on the countries read like dyslexic spelling bee answers: Tyland, Rusha, Austrial (?). The whole of the subcontinent was labeled “Pakistan”, spelt correctly in big bold letters in what reeks of sentimentality on the part of the fake game maker.

[quote]The whole of the subcontinent was labeled "Pakistan"[/quote]

While we were rolling dice and sending off our troops into war (I lost the game when I thought Monaco a better territory to defend than Mongolia, a decision I stand by even amidst the rubble of my defeat), the telly was on in the background with news of bombs and deaths and negotiations. Suddenly, a few people are angry and there has been a perceptible change in the rhetoric surrounding the ongoing “Taliban Issue” (akin to saying “nuclear bomb mishap” or “bubonic plague sniffles”).

After what has amounted to years of doing nothing, I am now to believe that the country has woken up to the fact that the Taliban want us all dead. Suddenly military action is being “considered” and everyone is speaking in hushed whispers about “impending war” and “existential threats” and how the great state of Pakistan has finally just “had it”. The descriptions make our nation sound like a sleeping giant, one who hasn’t dealt with the nasty flies buzzing around its drooling mouth out of laziness as opposed to incompetence (or worse). We are not the giant. We are like the head lice in the giant’s hair waiting to see which way the wind blows.

Many of you must have seen Bill Gates’ recent report on the state of the world. For the most part he seems optimistic. India is less poor, Africa has less dying people, China is becoming slightly nicer. Things change dramatically when he mentions polio, and there Pakistan tap-dances onto stage like a malformed virus, singing “Tada! We still got it!” In the span of a decade, almost the exact period of time we have been calling this someone else’s war, Pakistan is now the worst place on the planet for polio (among other things, like cheeses). Not only because we keep killing (repeatedly) any polio vaccination workers, but also because now over 80% of the polio virus currently lives in Pakistan. Our closest competitor is Nigeria, which is never a Good Thing. While we have been calling the Taliban our brethren and asking the world to hear their plea, they have literally spread a disease in our midst, one that has the potential to destroy only future generations. Way bitchy. Should the Pakistan polio pandemic-to-be become even worse, it’s probable that Pakistanis will no longer be able to travel the world without extensive health documentation, if at all (not that we can get into many places as is, but still).

We just don’t want to admit that we have lost control over vast portions of the country already (“Seeya Quetta, miss you Peshawar”), are under attack in every major metropolis and are scared (and therefore want to negotiate with) people who shoot children. But once you do, you realize something you should have years ago: we are already at war and have been for quite some time.

My parents got married during the 1971 war, and I occasionally heard stories about their hushed wedding reception as bomber planes flew overhead, or of bomb shelters and air raid alarms. The mechanics, sights and sounds of wartime were clearer then. It was a simpler time when you could delineate victors and losers and say with some confidence when a war began and ended (to say nothing to who the “enemy” is). That no longer holds true.

Now Nawaz-Saudilover-Sharif wants to fight back and Imran Khan will “consider” standing with the government on military action (given the only other place he can stand is with the Taliban, one assumes his self-preservation instinct kicked in). I’ve been confused about NS for a while now actually. People don’t talk about him all that much. Have you noticed that he is rarely on the news? This is mainly in comparison to the last term, when President Zardari’s every move, every flight and every health issue was magnified to the point of national crisis. NS, meanwhile, rarely attends parliament, doesn’t address the nation much and is flying off to all sorts of places (with good reason I’m sure) with scarcely a mention, and I know absolutely nothing about his cardiac health. But as the BBC noted, when he is seen “He appears overweight and ill, and many people fear he has given up” and therefore incapable of winning this fight. Ouch.

If we launch an offensive on the Taliban (and their sympathizers? Yeah, probs not) in the next few weeks, we will claim to be at “war”. But it surely can’t be as easy as one offensive. We are at war with an ideology that has already infected deep pockets of our state. Are we tackling that too? My worry is: If we really thought we weren’t at war, are we already too late?

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