Sam Trammell as VP Benjamin Hayes in Homeland (Photo Courtesy: Sifeddine Elamine/Showtime)
It’s a blundering new president not familiar with foreign policy and he’s just issued a threat to a subcontinental country. No, we’re not talking about President Donald Trump and the supply of a certain hydroxychloroquine, but of fictional president Ben Hayes in the final season of Showtime’s Homeland. Enraged by the Taliban ostensibly violating a ceasefire they had agreed to with America and shooting down a helicopter carrying the presidents of the US and Afghanistan, the new president declares war on Pakistan. His demand: if Pakistan does not give up Jalal Haqqani, Taliban’s new leader who has admitted to shooting down the helicopter, they will go to war with them. Of course, Hayes, buoyed by a neophyte national security adviser who may or may not have been modelled on a famous son-in-law, presumes that Pakistan will back down. Even though they are a nuclear power.
So despite the advice of the national security adviser Saul Berenson, who says India is “not stupid enough to invade” (implying America is), Hayes puts America within striking distance of a war with a country they have never quite known how to deal with. Our woman in Pakistan, the very tough and the very smart Tasneem Qureshi (played by Nimrat Kaur) goes to Junior Haqqani to tell him to back down and reveal the truth―that the Taliban did not violate the ceasefire. After all, she says, with a nice touch of subcontinental dynastic politics, “my father (former Pakistan army general Bunny Latif, played by Art Malik) created your father” and “I picked you up from the gutter where your father had thrown you and bandaged your feet.” But what she finds is a newly confident leader backed by his army of believers who seem ready to kill a few hundred American soldiers. As Jalal tells her: “You think you control us but you have that backwards.”
Which is pretty much what Hayes realises too as he steps into the war room and finds the Pakistanis preparing for war. It’s a fantastical idea but given the inexperience of Trump in White House, not entirely unforeseeable. It also takes us back to the fictional conflict in Homeland’s Season 4 where its lead character, Carrie Mathison, was the Central Intelligence Agency station head in Kabul and then Islamabad, and was known as the Drone Queen.
It is in the nature of things that this being Homeland’s final season, everything comes full circle. America, which was once at war with Haqqani, tries to save him from being executed by the new Afghan president, and Pakistan which once created the Taliban, ends up losing control―yes, yes, cue Hillary Clinton and her famous 2011 statement, you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. The woman she was alongside of at that moment, Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister, whom clearly Tasneem is based on.
Where once Carrie and her former boss Saul Berenson were at war with Taliban, they are now helping them to keep the peace. But then the world that gave birth to Homeland in 2011 was a very different one. It was a world post 9/11 where it was clear who the friend was and who the enemy was. Nine years on, Islamic terror is only one of the many threats facing the world, and certainly Afghanistan is only one of several battlefields. Being aired as it is during the height of coronavirus (by the way, Homeland had covered a biological attack on a Berlin train station in season five as well as an attack on America by a virtual Russian enemy that undermined its electoral process), it is only understandable that peace between old enemies seems the only possible solution.