Leaping off tall structures with one’s feet firmly tied to some stout elastic has never really taken off in Pakistan — but perhaps it should and maybe in a metaphorical sense it has been around for a while. Despite my fear of heights I was eventually persuaded to make a jump and recall with forensic clarity the mix of terror and exhilaration rounded off with profound relief as I saw some Welsh landscape from upside down and uncomfortably close. Decoupling from the ankle straps I vowed never to do it again and tottered off to the pub for a restorative tincture. I never did it again.
The thing about bungee jumping is that it is an opportunity to take a controlled risk (there are occasional very messy accidents, however) and the whole thing seems to have evolved from a rite of passage ceremony held on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. Young men hurl themselves off a rickety tower with lianas tied to their ankles. The origins are a bit of a mystery but may be associated with having a successful yam crop or something rather more obscure linked to a folk tale about a runaway wife.
By attaching a little elastic to the imagination it is not too much of a stretch, pun intended, to make a link between rites of passage, controlled risks and the current ‘pushmepullyou’ playing out between the military and the civilian government, particularly in Punjab. The ‘pushmepullyou’ was a creature that was part unicorn and part gazelle and crops up in the Dr Doolittle books. The unicorn is a mythical creature and we must assume it to be the political half of the beast, something with more than a whiff of unreality about it. Gazelles are very much with us, agile, and generally regarded as smart movers. Khaki, obviously.
Extending the allegory our ‘pushmepullyou’ may be pictured in mid descent having been tossed off a celestial platform somewhere over Lahore. At one end is a look of quiet determination coupled with a studied ignorance of what is going on at the other, more unicorn-ish, end of the operation and at the other a mixture of fear, confusion and whimsical puzzlement at having arrived in an entirely unexpected position — namely upsidedown over a tank of seemingly underfed piranhas.
Leaving our beast mid-drop pause for a moment let us consider what is going on in the real world. There really are elements of an epic struggle being played out between an efficient and frustrated fighting force and what is, once you scratch the layers of paint from the surface, something of a mythic character if not a mythical beast.
Politics is as much about the art of risk management and illusion as anything else. The making of artifice that convinces the eye but not always that part of the brain that engages in critical thinking; and the unicorn-cum-magician is currently undergoing something of a systems failure in the prestidigitation department. To say nothing of pesky offshore interests and a range of family members who never in their entire lives have ever not ever ever done anything remotely naughty with their pocket-money. Dear me no.
But, back to the khaki end of things. Assuming our ‘pushmepullyou’ has some sort of basic neural and cognitive connection, then messages will have passed to and fro as to the wisdom or otherwise of keeping poisonous snakes in your own backgarden and expecting them to only bite the neighbours. This message may have been imperfectly understood at the unicorn end, a consequence of which is a nasty nip at the ankles that looks as if it might turn septic.
Thus it is that our bungee-jumping pushmepullyou is a dilemma and a paradox in freefall, with no guarantee that the lianas are of sufficient length to prevent a meeting between malnourished fish and/or a tract of flat and adamantine landscape. Big job for cleaners ensues. The trick for the khaki end is going to be to manage the impact in such a way as to minimise damage to itself at the same time as ensuring that the unicorn bit is sufficiently intact to preserve the notion that bungee jumping is fun for all. Ask our cricketers. Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2016.
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