On the foreign policy front, if Pakistan ever had aspirations to play the central role as the leader of Muslim unity, it had a salutary lesson in the way Egypt played its cards. Barely a week ago, Pakistan was looking forward to hosting Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was to be given the rare honour of addressing a joint session of parliament.
Mursi – the first president to emerge from the Muslim Brotherhood - was due in Islamabad for a summit meeting of the Developing-8 Islamic countries, which also includes Iran, Turkey and Nigeria among others. The Jamaat-e-Islami (which sees itself as the ideological sibling of the Brotherhood - both were founded in the first half of the 20th century as anti-imperial Islamist movements in British India and Egypt) proclaimed on its Twitter feed about how much it looked forward to greeting Mursi in Pakistan.
And then Mursi cancelled, his office saying he wanted to stay at home to monitor the ceasefire he had just brokered in Gaza.
These things happen; presidents and prime ministers change, or curtail, plans all the time to deal with unexpected crises. But something deeper was at play here in the way it illustrated the mismatch between Pakistan’s own aspirational approach to foreign affairs and the very real influence wielded by Egypt.
In the popular Pakistani imagination, Pakistan has bravely stood up to the “evil designs” of America and the war in neighbouring Afghanistan launched after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The narrative of Muslims as victims of the rest – one deliberately encouraged by al Qaeda and exacerbated by the responses of the Bush era – has taken deep root in Pakistan, so much so that many politicians now blame all the country’s problems on the United States.