It was the sort of over-rich chocolate cake to die for, or from. Made from imported Belgian chocolate, each layer invited gluttony. Its outer casing glistened with gold leaf. The Karachi patisserie had priced it at Rs 25,000. “Does anyone buy such a cake?” one asked. “Many,” came the reply, “even at Rs 3,500 a slice.”
Such a lavish confection in the city of flies brought into focus the disparity between the increasingly rich and the increasingly poor in Pakistan. It is a void that government legislation cannot fill. It is met by the law of insatiable demand and inventive supply.
An incongruous analogy sprang to mind — of overpriced arms obtained over the years by Saudi Arabia from the United States and other arms-exporting countries. What can be the justification for such an extravagant outlay of petrodollars except an insatiable demand by a chequebook-happy kingdom and a supply of the latest inventive toys by the world’s armaments industry?
No one is quite sure how much Saudi Arabia and now the United Arab Emirates spend to intimidate their neighbours. Arms supply is a secretive business, and the Gulf Arabs can be more reticent about their business than most. Actual figures are hidden behind a smokescreen of intent. For example, President Donald Trump announced that his son-in-law Jared Kushner had brokered an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $110 billion. The original Saudi demand for $15 billion was not enough for Kushner. He remonstrated in the National Security Council that the US needed “to sell them as much as possible”.
While a fool and his money are soon parted, Kushner found it difficult to winkle such a large sum out of the Saudis. The final purchases in 2018 were closer to the Saudis’ original demand. In 2019, Trump expressed his determination to push through an arms deal worth $8.5 billion to Saudi Arabia.
With Saudi Arabia awash with so much lethal hardware including sophisticated surveillance systems and attack aircraft, it came as a surprise that, on September 14, a number of unmanned drones and missiles were able to penetrate Saudi defences with impunity and attack its Abqaiq plant and the Khurais oilfield. The Saudi oil company Aramco admitted that, as a result, it had “suspended production of 5.7 million barrels of crude oil”. This represented 60 per cent of the kingdom’s total oil output. The Saudis and the US blame the Houthi rebels and Yemen (and by association, Iran). The Iranians deny any complicity.
Regardless of who pressed the button, there was a parallel absurdity of this episode with the solo flight made by the young German Mathias Rust who, in May 1987, flew a single-engine Cessna from Helsinki to Moscow. Rust managed to dodge the Soviet Union’s radars en route and to land unchallenged in Moscow’s Red Square. He became famous not only for the audacity of his feat but for having exposed (single-handedly) the uselessness of the Soviets’ expensive defence systems.
The casualties of Rust’s escapade were the Soviet minister of defence Sergei Sokolov and the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Air Defences Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov, They were dismissed by Mikhail Gorbachev (then general secretary, CPSU). One wonders who in Saudi Arabia would dare dismiss the current Saudi minister of defence? (It happens to be Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.)
By arrangement with Dawn...