Should literature be taken seriously by political scientists and historians? Is there any link between literature and political developments? Can literature be more helpful in understanding political developments than just providing quotable quotes? If the answer is Yes, then what is it? This scribe is of the view that literature can play a significant role in understanding political developments. How? Consider: arguably, the greatest novel of all times, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace chronicles Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and its effects on aristocratic Russia, Maxim Gorkey’s Mother is an excellent expose of Russia at the verge of socialist revolution. Mirza Ghalib’s letters provide its readers contemporaneous account of the fall of Delhi. Faiz and Jalib’s poetry comes handy to all political activists and players. In recent past, Ustad Daman’s poetry about Z. A. Bhutto’s changing stance on Kashmir was reflective of how a segment within the Pakistani society viewed the situation. In more recent times, Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness are a case in point.
A lot has been written and said about Pakistan-US relations especially since President Trump announced his New Afghanistan and South Asia strategy especially his emphasis on the billions and billions of dollars paid to Islamabad by Washington over the years to do its biding. Is this what the Pak-US relations all about? Washington pays Islamabad and Pakistan provide its services? Obviously, this is a very narrow and inadequate description of Pak-US relations yet there are a number of questions about this bilateral relationship that remain unanswered for well over 60 years now. Over the years, how has this relationship been perceived and viewed by men and women of letters in Pakistan?
Sadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) arguably the greatest short story writer of Urdu literature who is no less than D H Lawrence, Oscar Wilde and Maupassant, has in his impressive and prophetic letters to Uncle Sam provided a very interesting and perceptive description of Pak-US relations and what shape it might take in future. These nine letters written between 1951-1954 provide an excellent critique of Pakistan’s foreign policy formulation and American aims and objectives in entering into this bilateral relationship. Although at the time, this relationship was still just beginning and taking shape, yet Manto was perceptive enough to prophesize that it will evolve into a patron-client relationship.
What motivated Manto to write these letters? According to the available varied information, either he already wrote the first letter when “someone” from the American embassy approached him to contribute a shot story for a journal that the embassy was planning to publish and was willing to pay him Rs 500 for it (Manto was not willing to accept anything more than 200 nor he was willing to address or accept any editorial changes) or that this incident resulted in the first of the total nine letters that Manto the nephew wrote to this chahca, Uncle Sam.
In his first letter, Manto not only addresses the tragedy of the partition but also points to the class structure of Pakistan. “I am poor because my country is poor.” He wrote, adding, “You will ask and ask with a lot of amazement why my country is poor when so many Packards, Buicks and Max Factors reach it from your country.” Manto’s answered this: “My country’s population which rides these Packards and Buick is not my country; my country is that where me and those worse than myself live.” In the second letter, using Pakistan as an example, Manto points to the dependency factor in American alliances with the third world countries against the emerging Communist threat. Manto states: “As long as Pakistan needs wheat, I cannot be disrespectful to you.” Third letter is interesting in the sense that in it, Manto competes with Uncle Sam’s other nephews throughout the world claiming that he is the most obedient of them all (is this a symbolic reference to Pakistan in its relations with USA?). he wrote: “Although you have millions and billions of nephews but you wouldn’t find a nephew like me even in atomic light; do turn your attention here once in a while, just one interested gaze is enough. Just announce that your country, may god preserve it till world’s end, will give military aid to my country…” Manto goes on criticize US for all destruction and havoc it has created in Hiromshima, Nagasaki and elsewhere before requesting his uncle to give him a “tiny atomic bomb” to kill the mullahs and the stone they use to publicly clean themselves.
In this letter, Manto points to the Military industrial complexes in USA and how it fuel wars around the world to sell their weapons: “ The military pact with us is a great success, do stick to it. Over there with India you should also establish similar relation, sell outdated weapons to both because you must have made redundant those weapons which you used in the last war. Your spare weaponry would be useful this way and your factories would not remain idle.” Manto’s fourth letter is perhaps the most significant in the series because in it, he pointed how religiously motivated political actors are American assets against its war against the red bear, the USSR: “India may grovel before you a million times but will definitely make a military pact with Pakistan because you are really worried about the integrity of this largest Islamic sultanate of the world and why not, as our mullhas are the best antidote to Russia’s communism.” Manto was foresighted enough to prophesize this decades before President Carter’s National Security advisor late Zbigniew Brzezinski confessed that arming Muslim fundamentalists to defeat the communist evil empire was a fair price to pay. In this fifth letter, Manto points to American foreign policy duplicity. On one hand, America aspires for global peace, on another, it develops lethal weapons including the hydrogen bomb. Manto highlights how Washington is using its propaganda machine to highlight Soviet Union’s heavy handedness in Poland, Czehoslovakia etc., but whatever, Washington is doing is for global peace: “I have heard that you have made the hydrogen bomb just so that there should be absolute world peace. Although God knows better, but I am sure of what you say because I have eaten your wheat and after all, I am your nephew.” Manto blamed the communists for destroying the sixth letter to his uncle which he posted but never reached his dear uncle Sam.
In his seventh letter, Manto continues his emphasis on American war economy. In keeping with the reports of a stagnation in American economy, Manto suggests that Washington should consider going for another war or at least start fueling or supporting one. Manto states: “Dear uncle, I have heard a troubling news that your (American) economy is passing through a difficult period. … this crisis only occurred because you have stopped the Korean war. Now it is up to you to think where will your tanks, bomber jets and guns be sold?… You have stopped the Korean war. This is a big mistake… . you should start a war between India and Pakistan. … this war will be such a profitable trade, all your armaments factories will begin to work on double shifts. India will buy weapons from you, and so will Pakistan. … After all, our objective is to create world peace, right, my dear uncle? I really like what Dulles said that the free world’s objective is to defeat communism; this is the freedom laden language of the hydrogen bomb.” In his eighth letter, Manto criticized Saudi Arabia and its Monarchic ruler. In his ninth and final letter to his beloved uncle, Manto points to American and Soviets attempts to employ writers, intellectuals and journalists to become their mouth organs in the on-going cold war. In this letter, he also points to the environmental hazards and implications of American nuclear and hydrogen bomb testing: “Japanese scientists have just revealed in an announcement that hydrogen bombs also affect the weather, reason being that you have recently tested this bomb in the Marshall Islands.
These people say that Japan’s weather was affected such that despite the end of April, they are still experiencing extreme cold, I don’t know why those flat-looking Japanese do not like winter. We Pakistanis love it, can you please drop a hydrogen bomb over India? Summer has already begun here and if the weather turns cold, I will be in great comfort.”
Manto’s letters to Uncle Sam provide an excellent critique of American imperialism, its policy towards the third world countries, and how it uses third world countries to advance its own objectives during the early cold war years. As for Pakistan, most of what he wrote about Pak-US relations is perceptive and provides a succinct analysis of a bilateral relationship that was just emerging when Manto wrote these letters. Manto passed away in 1955, long before what he prophesized, became true. The fact that he had the foresight to conclude all this so early in this bilateral relationship is where his true genius lies.
Rizwan Zeb is Research Fellow, South Asia Study Group (SASG), University of Sydney. He is Senior Research Analyst, Institute of Regional Studies and Associate Professor, Iqra University, Islamabad (on leave). He is also Associate Editor of the Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs (Sage).
This article is an abridged version of his forthcoming monograph on Manto on Pak-US Relations.