The key to making a relationship work is timing. It’s about knowing when to make the first move, when to say “I love you”, when to give some space and when to walk away. Timing, timing, timing. Trust me, I have frightened away many a woman over the years with my inability to appreciate the value of good timing. I misjudged the moment I entered the friend zone, mistimed that all-important first move and (all too often) didn’t know when to give up. There are emotionally scarred women littered across Karachi who would gladly attest to my inability to appreciate the when’s of relationship management. I do, however, take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this tragic deficiency, all of Pakistan suffers from it too.
If the love story between Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan had ended at the right time, it would have been a tale of joy and beauty. Sure things started off weird, what with the whole coup thing. But we didn’t complain too much because it felt … dangerous. Military dictators are a fetish for us. They hurt us, they make us sorry, but that’s what makes them so attractive. Sure Zia was a crazed religio-lunatic who spent more time yelling at us then cuddling but surely this next one wouldn’t be so bad? Right? Maybe? Surprisingly, the risk paid off, for a while at least. Those first few years with Musharraf were glorious. He took care of us, was attentive and protective. He nurtured our economy and liberated our media. He loved us and we loved him for loving us. And if we had both called it quits then, things would have been so different today. But we didn’t. He and us, we stuck in there too long. Once the gloss and shine and newness of the relationship wore off, things started to go the way of all long-term relationships. “You’ve changed,” we screamed. “No I still love you, but I want things on my terms,” he hollered back. Tempers flared. He tossed a chief justice at us and we flung a lawyers movement back at him. Then, with nothing left for each other but anger and resentment, ways were parted. But, because we were scared and just wanted to be held without caring about who was doing the holding, we made the same mistake that all lonely people do and got into a rebound relationship. Maybe it was just our way of getting back at Musharraf, maybe we just didn’t trust ourselves to be alone. But that first person to whisper the right words, whoever it may be, became the next person for us. Now, it’s been over two years in this doomed fling with Zardari. It was never meant to last and was started for all the wrong reasons, but here we are nonetheless, without the strength of will to do anything except make the same mistakes again and see it through to the bitter end. We may want to walk away, but we’re scared that if we do then everyone is going to think we’re the problem. “Can’t hold on to a relationship,” they will mutter in gossiping tones, “afraid of commitment.”
The problem is the alternatives are just as bad. Zardari may be neglecting us but we really aren’t in the mood for the awkward and dispassionate come-ons of Nawaz. Musharraf is trying to come back too, but it’s too soon. The wounds are still sore and the bruises still dark. You can’t reclaim that magic so quickly. We need more time apart. Now you just seem desperate and needy and that’s a turn off.
Maybe what Pakistan needs, in the end, is to be alone for a while. We need to rediscover ourselves before we let anyone else tell us who to be. So don’t call us, we’ll call you. When the timing is right.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2010.
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