What if Pakistan was one of 196 boys at a certain school? What would he be like? Teacher’s pet? Back bencher? Academic genius? Sportsman? Or none of the above? Whether or not we are able to accurately imagine and then report on his abilities, one thing we know for certain is that he would take numerous holidays. Who studies on Mondays and Fridays when Eid holidays fall on the three days in between? A ridiculous idea! And in any case, Pakistan is not interested in catching up with the rest of his peers.

Another certainty is that his parents would almost never be home on holidays and that’s the only time he would get three meals a day. On regular days, he would experience only bouts of energy, which would mean his concentration at school would suffer, subsequently affecting his grades, sports and extra-curricular activities.

Consequently, the Headmaster’s comments on the annual report would probably read as follows, ‘Pakistan has sporadic energy – just when he was about to win a 100m dash on the sports gala this year, he shut down without any apparent reason.’ Later, the Headmaster would share notes with other teachers and say, ‘I don’t get Pakistan; undernourished child of an exceptionally obese set of parents’.

For a meagre and meek Pakistan, who seldom makes it to school, the parent-teacher meetings would probably be a series of unavoidable disasters. Pakistan’s parents would blame everything on an equally malnourished but relatively popular class fellow, India. ‘He pokes him, steals his food and drink, calls him names, fights him.’ Every time the Headmaster would hear this he would retort, ‘we have a gifted class monitor, America. I’m sure he can take care of this’.

America would be the boy with rich parents. His parents would have bought managing shares in the school so that they are able to handpick the Headmaster and help young America blossom under the right guidance. America’s parents would practically own the school and all the malnourished boys would love America for his biscuits.

What lovely biscuits. They revive the boys. Reinstate forgotten energy. Help them finish their races and assignments and chores. But there’s a catch. Once you eat from the bowl of biscuits, you must only play the sports and study the subjects America approves of. After all, as class monitor, America understands your potential best.

Unfortunately, since Pakistan only has his parents to look up to, he would want to be obese just like them. It would be no surprise then that he will have too many biscuits and take too many holidays to do well in any sphere of engagement at school. His grades, sports, extra-curricular, everything would plummet and on top of that, Pakistan would still have numerous biscuits to return.

One day, when Pakistan is mulling over his predicament with his head in his hands, America would press his hand on Pakistan’s shoulder and say, ‘It’s OK buddy. I don’t want any of the biscuits I ever gave you.’

‘You. Me. Best friends. And best friends protect each other.’ ‘I help you when you are down. And from now on, you do the same.’

‘So let’s talk about Afghanistan. He sits to your left. Rowdy, unkempt guy’

‘He’s been talking to Russia about challenging my position as class monitor. They’re against my biscuits.’

‘Next time Afghanistan says anything of the sort, I need you to slap him across his face. You have my permission. I will not detain you, best friend.’

Soon after fighting America’s battle, Pakistan would find itself sandwiched between belligerent India and Afghanistan, while best friend America, would work through Russia’s group of friends, dismantling, disarming and neutralizing each one with clinical precision.

Neither India nor Afghanistan would be easy opponents. Pakistan would fight bravely for his friend but harmless poking would soon escalate to punches and jabs and then one day both India and Afghanistan would bring knives to school and Pakistan would lose a limb. After years of skirmishes, Pakistan would catch an unidentifiable illness that would travel through his body without any qualms. Sometimes it would attack the liver. Sometimes the heart. And every time it would be inexplicable. The best doctors from around the globe would comment on Pakistan’s condition but they would be too afraid to take him on as a patient. No doctor would want the blood of a tired and frail and broken Pakistan on their hands. While Pakistan suffers flat on a stretcher, America would send truckloads of branded morphine for momentary, symptomatic relief.

‘An expensive friendship’, China, the certified nerd, would often empathize with Pakistan while remotely copying America’s notes with an invisible camera.

‘I want a swimming pool like yours in Gwadar. If you let me swim I’ll share my notes with you and we can both graduate with honors – I can even give you a brand new limb.’

‘What do you say? You. Me. Best friends?’

Pakistan, a crippled boy of minor age, would think he could not have wished for a better deal. His parents would also be hugely satisfied. What Pakistan suffers beneath the skin, however, in mind, spirit and health, would still be unknown to his parents and his friends. While China copies and shares notes on technology, Pakistan’s other bosom buddy, Saudi would promote religiosity and extremism – split a grey world in black and white – and even further distort Pakistan’s reality. Both would fail to see that Pakistan’s left hand is not in agreement with the right and the same would apply to his legs, eyes, ears and brain.

‘The boy has serious existential conflicts,’ the Headmaster would report to Pakistan’s parents.

‘India’s parents are offering a shrink for Pakistan’s mental issues. Technology will mend his limbs but the mind still needs repairing. I can broker the deal if you like. No need to be awkward. Your child needs all the help he can get.’

‘What do you say? You. Me. Best friends?’

Ultimately, will Pakistan fall for the same spiel a second, a third, a fourth time? Will he gain a friend to lose a limb? Who knows. After all, he’s just a schoolboy. How much could a schoolboy possibly know?

   The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.