Monday, July 15, 2013

USA-Pakistan: A Ballroom Relationship

Majyd Aziz

Pakistan and the United States of America could be termed as a couple in a ballroom ever since they established their bilateral relationship. Over these past seven decades, starting from October 20, 1947, each facet of this relationship has moved in such a manner that it could be akin to a long evening at a ballroom dance event. The two nations have at times a dysfunctional and at times an asymmetrical attitude towards each facet of their bilateral relationship, whether it is economic, military, social, or diplomatic. Although the foundation is bonded and cemented, the dynamics change with circumstances or concerns prevailing at that moment.

The first ballroom dance commenced when like a wallflower at a dance, Pakistan was waiting for someone to ask for the next dance. Notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet invitation preceded President Harry Truman’s invite, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s visit did put Pakistan in the laps of the US. Liaquat’s historic visit in 1950 was a game changer and created a wedge between the Moscow and the nascent Islamic country. USA and Pakistan began to do the Waltz, smoothly moving in a given pattern, striving to lengthen each step. Their first step took them forward on their heel, then gradually rising to their toes, and continuing to move.  Since that time, each Pakistani leader ensured that this closeness was crucial to the survivability and progress of the motherland.

The initial relationship primarily centered on the requirements of the military and then, gradually, agriculture, trade as well as social assistance became part of the overall picture. Pakistan became a vital partner of the US in the, now defunct, military alliances CENTO and SEATO, and availed the advantages of being closely allied with Washington. Pakistan was considered as a formidable ally against Communism and thus in 1954 the United States signed a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with Pakistan. This is when both started doing the Foxtrot. This dance is usually recommended after partners have mastered the Waltz. A beautiful, romantic dance, the Foxtrot is composed of fairly simple walking steps and side steps, is usually "slow, quick, quick" or "slow, slow, quick, quick", and must be danced very smoothly, ensuring that timing is a very important component of the Foxtrot as it is more challenging than other styles.

Pakistan also received wheat under the PL-480 (Food for Peace Program) initiated by the US government and signed into law by President Dwight D Eisenhower in July 1954. The wheat consignments as well as milk for students were some features of a relationship that also embedded aid and grants as part of the close alliance. Thus came the time to do the Cha-Cha. Like the characteristics of this dance which is vibrant, flamboyant and playful, the light and bubbly feel gives it a unique sense of being in a spellbinding mood, enjoying it at times, unsure at times, lost in the crowd at times.

Martial Law in Pakistan suited the decision makers across the seven seas and the style in which Field Marshall Ayub Khan was wined and dined reflected the satisfaction of cavorting on the dance floor. The music started changing and the orchestra decided to come out with a medley of music in response to the ballroom environment. The musicians came out with the right music and it was time for the Tango.  This is a dance made for lovers as there is a sense of need emanating for both partners. There is a feeling of passion radiating all throughout the dance. The US-Pakistan relationship in those days, like the Tango, though looked very complicated even with the basic choreography involved in alternating movements, the objective, however, was pretty much in consonance with each other’s policies.

The successive events after that were more like doing the Minuet. This is composed of four plain straight steps performed forwards, backward, sideways or in a square. According to an expert, "The Minuet is a Movement, or Sink and Rise step of the three that produces a Bouree and the fourth and last a Half Coupee." The relationship became more conventional, ensuring a diplomatic etiquette where Pakistan had to maintain those short steps and like a graceful lady, allowed US to lead the dance. The 1971 war, the General Yahya blunders that resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh, the Bhutto socialist slogans and demagoguery resulting in the fateful announcement that Pakistanis will eat grass but will have the Bomb, the removal of the People’s leader and the long, dark nights of the military regime of pseudo-Islamic zealot General Zia, his fall from the sky, etc were times when the relationship had its different perspectives.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif then arrived with their short double stints as Prime Ministers. Those were the days when the fa├žade of democracy was touted as Pakistan’s being acclaimed as a progressive country. They invited Washington to do the Quickstep with them. This dance evolved from a combination of various dances and the US-Pakistan relationship during the Bhutto-Sharif resembled doing this dance on the floor with varied patterns including hops, runs, quick steps with a lot of momentum, and rotation. At the end of this dance, USA got tired of this dance as reliability of movement was felt amiss.

Enter General Pervez Musharraf. Exit Democracy. After 9/11, the US message was the short and simple “You jiving with us or you ain’t jiving with us”. The Global War on Terror was making the dancers heady and the result was a roller-coaster adventure. The music changed. Time to do the Jive. And, Jive it was. This dance is a very happy, forceful dance, with plenty of knee-lifting, bending, and rocking. It has lots of kicks and flicks and even twirling and it isn’t like any other dance. The dancers may appear to be moving their feet haphazardly in every direction but they are close together.

Fast forward to the Zardari era where Pakistan wanted to do the Mambo or the Samba while the White House was keen on the Swing Dance. The resultant events very clearly demonstrated that the orchestra was playing music for the Swing Dance. Those who watched the two partners do this dance were in agreement that Washington was far more experienced than Islamabad in dancing to the music.

May 2013 elections got Nawaz Sharif back in the saddle. The United States is not sure whether the new government will do any of the popular ballroom dances. The best advice is now for America to learn some new dances, Pakistani dances, to be exact. How about doing two of the popular Punjabi folk dances like the Bhangra or the Luddi? These would not be classified as Ballroom Dances, but what the heck. Atleast they would make it more pleasing for the present government because they know the steps and, at the same time, make it easier for Washington to very soon lead the dances, once again. Hit the Dhol and the Chimta.


  1. So you seem to know a lot about the different dances as well as history. We had to take 6=8 classes in physical Education like tennis or running; I took ball room dancing about 3-4 times for the fun of it. I was not good unlike you!! Best!

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