The deaths of Mian Tufail Muhammad and Farrah Fawcett Majors may have evoked the spirit of the 1980s, but it was the succeeding death of Michel Jackson that really brought that era to an end for many. However, politically, the 1980s had not only long been past, but the political actors of that era were long gone, not just in Pakistan, but also abroad. It is almost as difficult to evoke the era of the breakdance, which has not just entered our vocabulary, but the dance vocabulary of the world, through the late Michael Jackson, but the fears that were evoked in Pakistan by the existence of the Cold War. The first fear that had to be handled was that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the prelude to the USSR pouring troops over the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, on its way to the 'warm waters' of the Arabian Sea, off the Makran Coast. Pakistan then could not contemplate attending a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting along with Russia (shorn of Central Asian, Baltic and East European republics, which Czarist Russia had spent the 19th century adding) in Russia itself. Russia's firm alliance with India was symbolised by a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, and while Russia was India's prime arms supplier, Pakistan had to turn to the USA for help. The USA might have produced Michael Jackson, but Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 to 1989. Many of the leading figures of the younger Bush's presidency were there, not least the vice-president of those years, George Bush, whose eldest son had a drinking problem. But while Reagan had a lot of defects, not the least the hearing lost in a filming accident during World War II, he was an enthusiastic Cold Warrior. Though the USSR formally unravelled during his successor's tenure, he had laid much of the groundwork in Afghanistan. That was where the Red Army was defeated for the first time, and the USSR found itself unable to provide it the logistical support it required. The Taliban were well into the future, but considering who had beaten the Soviets, they were probably an inevitability. In Pakistan, the 1980s may have seen Ziaul Haq ruling when they started, but when they were over, Zia was no more. He had been replaced by Benazir Bhutto, the first woman PM of an Islamic country, who had spent the earlier part of the decade in jail or in exile, but who had returned to Pakistan in 1986 to a massive welcome, still the biggest crowd in Lahore's history. Both Zia and Benazir are dead, though not naturally, Zia having died in a 1988 air crash that is still controversial, while Benazir was gunned down much more recently, in December 2007. At the same time, the PM when she arrived, Muhammad Khan Junejo, had also died, but the Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, had emerged as her great rival, serving once as Leader of Opposition while she was PM, and serving longer in his two terms than she had. He also was removed, but only by a military coup. The 1980s had seen the military re-emerge from the shell it had gone into in 1971: the first two martial laws, followed by the shameful defeat in East Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan came after the military coup of 1977, but the Reagan Administration preferred dealing with the military regime as it dealt with it to help it deal with the Afghan situation. Though its rhetoric demands it to prefer democracy, even now, while fighting the War on Terror, the USA finds it convenient to work with military regimes. Military regimes manage the mullahs well. And, first in Afghanistan, and now in the War on Terror, the USA has need of the mullahs. Under democracy, the mullahs are not in office, and thus democratic dispensations find them difficult to control. Conversely, by giving them scraps of power, military regimes obtain their support, especially since Ziaul Haq. Though Musharraf did not complete the process because of 9/11, the Mullah-Military Alliance was quite strong in his period. Because of this, there is a distinct possibility that the next military coup will see a renewal of the religious element, if the USA needs this strand to fulfil its purposes, which would be connected to the War on Terror. The 1980s was a simpler era, for it did not have personal computers or mobile phones. However, both were present, computers as programme tapes which could be run at a pinch on tape-recorders, while mobile phones were still mainly car phones. Phone connections were obtained with great difficulty, and were the butt of jokes. And cars used to be imported assembled, under the baggage scheme, not as kits to be assembled. And that now almost obsolete item, the VCR, reined throughout the 1980s, though in most Pakistani drawing-rooms, it was the main vehicle for Bollywood movies, which ultimately sounded the death knell for the Pakistani film industry, which chugged along in the 1980s. However, the VCR introduced the Pakistani audience to the Hollywood it had been cut off from, and thus, almost unbeknownst, Pakistan once again slipped into the world culture that was then busy incorporating Michael Jackson. While Zia and Mian Tufail belong to Pakistani domestic history and the Afghan Jihad, Michael Jackson belonged to the world, but the world of music, of showbiz. He was such a famous figure because he was an American, but being American did not make his music (or his music videos) popular. And he was not a particularly patriotic figure, though he avoided any blatantly anti-American gestures, which a Vietnam generation had allowed itself. Michael Jackson's popularity probably lay in his not being overtly political, to the extent of his apolitical-ness being his politics. That was the kind of politics that was required under Zia: which reached its zenith with the partyless elections of 1985, as well as the 1979 and 1983 partyless local body polls which the regime conducted. However, the Pakistani polity has not developed on those apolitical lines, and it is often not remembered that the 1988 elections were not partyless because of two cases in the Supreme Court by Benazir Bhutto, whereby parties were allowed to contest elections. Of course, Zia intended partyless elections. The 1980s were not really a good time to be young in Pakistan. But perhaps the consolation that can be offered is that no time has been good, including the present. So perhaps Michael Jackson, with all his confusions, was as apt a figure for the era as Mian Tufail or Zia. E-mail: maniazi@nation.com.pk