When your political life is turbulent, it's difficult to keep your political problems out of you social life -- this goes for countries as well as people.
Last month, in Bogota, Columbia, the Embassy of the Dominican Republic tried giving a nice celebration of their independence day, only to have it interrupted by Colombian guerrillas who took over the embassy.
So one expected almost anything yesterday when Pakistan -- a country perched precariously between other lands racked by invasions, coups, and political dealings of various sorts -- hosted its National Day at its Massachusetts Avenue embassy. As guests began arriving, a bomb threat was received.
"What did we do? Exactly nothing," said the ambassador from Pakistan, calmly smoking a cigarette as guests wandered about. "Where would we look?"
The ambassador is Sultan Khan. "When in doubt about a Pakistani, call him Khan," he said. "Seventy -- maybe 80 -- percent will answer."
According to the ambassador's own calculations, roughly 400 people wound their way up the staircase into the rooms of the embassy, most talking cheerfully with each other, some gazing at the gray afternoon from the door-length windows. All ate heartily from the sizeable noontime buffet and drank soft drinks and orange drinks. In accordance with Islamic law, no liquor or wine was served.
The Pakistan National Day commemorates the Muslim League political party's declaration of independence on March 23, 1940, from the British who controlled India. ("What is now Pakistan was part of India at the time.) Seven years later, the British carved Pakistan out of their Indian territory.
The thought that anyone would come -- or not come -- to such a commemoration because they were a possible foe to Pakistan seemed beyond the realm of imagination for Ambassador Khan. The thought that some of those countries might be excluded from yesterday's event seemed even more impolite to Khan.
"If you made the yardstick for good relations democracy, human rights, and elections,' said Khan, "how many countries would you have good relations with? Perhaps 10 or 12."
So, even as tensions mount in the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan still invited Russia and India to their National Day. "Nations must still talk to each other," he said. As for now, "all the more reason,' he added.
So a sampling of representatives of the world -- or at least Europe and Asia -- was present. "The Russians, the Chinese, Arabs, Indians, British, Egyptians, Somalis . . ." the ambassador ticked them off on his fingers. "They were all here." The ambassador noted that the Russian charge d'affaires was there, although another Pakistani had said earlier he thought no Russians had been invited.
The Afghans were not there. They were not invited, the Pakistanis confirmed in lowered tones of voice, as if speaking of relatives who had disgraced the family.
The rest came prepared to talk about good relations with Pakistan.
When Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin was asked, through his interpreter, if he was having a good time at the reception, he replied, "very good, because we have very good relations with Pakistan.'
But some had the problems of Pakistan and the world on their minds.
"How do we get out of this mess?" an agitated Joseph Mileger, the publisher of a diplomatic newsletter called "Embassy Life," asked an army general point-blank. "The world, the Persian Gulf . . ."
Army Gen. John Cleland shrank back a bit, smiling tightly, "You have to vote to get out," Cleland answered, smiling and walking away. Cleland commands the Security Assistance Center in Alexandria. "I came because I've got a lot of respect for the Pakistani military attache," he said.
Indeed, there were many representatives of the American Army and Air Force and of course there were representatives of the Pakisani military.
Pakistan recently said 'thanks, but no thanks,' to an offer of $400 million in U.S. aid, half for economic assistance and half for military aid. "It was not sufficient," explained Ambassador Khan. "What does it buy? If some experts can say what $200 million will buy to face a threat (from Russia), I wish they would. Do you know the cost of high-performance aircraft? $10 million to $15 million. One aircraft."
Retired military personnel were there as well -- like the retired U.S. Navy admiral whom the ambassador goes goose-hunting with. Khan remarked that he would be buying a new Spanish shotgun.
But the frivolity was interrupted briefly when Mileger, on his way out, stopped to talk to Khan about the Pakistani army . . . "What army? It's not big enough to deploy," said Khan, looking tired. They talked briefly and Khan went on to the other guests.