Rock 'n’ roll and flowery shirts

Pakistan, before it was overtaken by General Zia’s Islamisation programme, had a swinging, chilling vibe and a vibrant intellectual scene.

"Good and bad, this too will pass" is the way that so much is accommodated in the subcontinent. Columnist Nadeem Paracha is Pakistan’s walking, blogging archive of the country’s ups and downs – also its coolest dude - and has composed a brilliant pictoral series for Dawn online entitled "Also Pakistan". Here is Ava Gardner filming Bhowani Junction in Lahore, the Queen in a rather beautiful and stylish dress visiting Karachi in 1961, adverts for whisky and cabaret, adoring screaming fans as the Beatles land at Karachi airport, the entire crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 given a welcome motorcade procession, promotional material to encourage the hippy trail and buses that proclamed "Enjoy the love".

Freer than India, which was struggling against Soviet repression and prohibition, Pakistan was a country that was swinging and chilling in equal measure. Dizzie Gillespie played sax with a snake charmer in a public park in Karachi in the 50s. Imran Khan went shirtless in a post-match celebration in Sydney in 1977 as batsman and captain of the winning Pakistan team happily and deservedly share a beer.

There is also a reminder of one of the world’s great particle physicists Abdus Salam, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1979 with Steve Weinberg, and whose joint works in electromagnetic fields predicted the Higgs Bosun. Dr Salam belonged to the long harassed Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan which was declared non-Muslim by decree of the state in 1973.

Worth remembering that there was a vibrant intellectual scene in the late 60s and 70s in Pakistan, not unlike Calcutta’s fiery Marxist and literary addas (coffee-house society). Quickly the reactionary military junta of General Zia which was backed and funded by Saudi Arabia silenced discussion and dissent and closed down clubs, cinemas, social meeting places and bars up and down the country. The pictures finish with a headline from Dawn about the military takeover of General Ziaul Haq in July 1977. “The elections did not take place ‘next October’,” Paracha writes. “Zia ruled for 11 years. Pakistan was never the same again.”

In the west, the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the military regime marked the end of Pakistan’s international reputation. The rise of the oil-rich Gulf and Wahhabism would change the geo-political landscape of the region. In Iran the revolution of 1979 and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets brought America into the frame.

Thirty years on, as these pieces show, Pakistan is yet to recover its economic prosperity. But in an age of social media, it is to be hoped that there is still an opportunity for a diverse and talented younger generation to lead the country back to normality.

 

Dizzy Gillespie playing with a Sindhi snake charmer at a public park in Karachi in 1954.
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Donald Trump's cartoon nuclear rhetoric draws on a culture of American jingoism

Senior Republicans avoided condemning Trump's incendiary speech, and some endorsed it. 

From recent headlines, it seems as though Donald Trump isn't content with his Emmy-by-proxy. The US president told the United Nations General Assembly this week: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Trump’s speech raised eyebrows for its bellicose tone, especially when contrasted with his predecessor’s endorsement of a war-averse approach. 

A widely circulated image of Trump's chief of staff John Kelly with his head in his hand might suggest that most listeners loathed the speech. But Trump said many outrageous things on the campaign trail and voters - at least a critical number of them - agreed. So how did his words go down at home? 

My contacts in international security were unwilling to go on the record condemning it. They were mainly Americans in their twenties, hoping for a government job one day, and fearful of saying anything that could be interpreted as "un-American".

The one person who would speak to me asked for their name to withheld. A former military analyst in the US Department of Defence, they told me that “the US has the military capability and legal responsibility to address threats to itself or allies". What Trump said, they suggested, should be seen in the context of the wider US institutions. "While Trump may have advocated for isolation in the past, the political and military forces he leads are built to enforce the adherence to international law and regional security," the former analyst said. "They provide a real counterweight to the bombast in Pyongyang.”

Trump's speech may have been colourful - his nickname for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, "Rocket Man", is a reference to Elton John’s mid-Cold War musical hit – but the speech should be seen as yet another reassertion of US military dominance. North Korea may boast of its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) development,  but its arsenal is simply not well-equipped enough to present the same existential threat to the US that the USSR did at its peak. 

Rather than lacking comprehension, the analyst said of the speech: “Trump's rhetoric is intended to galvanise recognition that the current rules based order is threatened by North Korea's actions”.

Trump’s jingoism is not unique amongst the current American elite. Back in 1983, in his book, The Wizards of Armageddon, the liberal journalist Fred Kaplan characterised the hawkish US military strategy as simply ejaculating combative statements without a long-term plan. Kaplan quoted Herman Kahn, one of the early nuclear strategists, who called one proposal targeting the USSR a “war orgasm”. 

The US Senate recently passed a defence policy bill to increase military spending to $700bn, which includes $8.5bn for missile defence purposes. Overtly catastrophic language, meanwhile, has long been a staple of US foreign policy debates. In 2015, Trump's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz, made headlines when he vowed to carpet-bomb Isis until he found out "if sand can glow in the dark". While most leading Republicans chose to stay silent after Trump's speech, a few, such as Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, publicly endorsed the message. Cruz, despite the rivalry, was among them. 

On social media, the American public are vocally divided. Some called for Trump to be denounced for his inflammatory speech, but others tweeted #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Even some Trump sceptics agreed that the North Korea “nuclear summer” needed to be kept in check.

By contrast, overseas listeners have perceived the speech, and this administration’s foreign policy, as unnecessarily incendiary. Matt Korda, a Canadian research assistant on strategic stability at the UK-based Centre for Science and Security Studies,  told me: “Kim Jong-un perceives his nuclear weapons to be the only thing guaranteeing his regime's survival”.

“He will never give them up, no matter how much Trump threatens him," Korda added. “On the contrary: Trump's threat to ‘totally destroy’ the entire country (including millions of innocent and oppressed civilians) will only tighten Kim's grip on his nuclear weapons”.

The effects of Trump’s speech are yet to fully play out, but it is clear that his words have rallied at least a section of American society, and rankled everyone else. The Donald may seem to be mirroring the culture of nuclear recklessness his North Korean opponent helped to create, but this is also the kind of hostile and hyperbolic rhetoric which fuelled his rise to power. In reality, once Trump’s unpleasant vernacular is decoded, he can be seen to be echoing the same global view that has long pervaded the collective American consciousness. Trump's speech was not addressed at his UN doubters, but rather at his domestic fan base and his allies in the South Pacific. This is not a shift in US foreign policy - it is tradition with a spray-tan.

 

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman