The evolution of sovereignty in Pakistan has not been a smooth curve. The country’s external sovereignty has too often been put at stake by governments keen to foment alliances with powerful states for acquiring security, international approval and finally, legitimacy for their unpopular rule. Sovereignty, therefore, has always been in crisis whenever dictators at home have tried to cosy up with the United States, leading to unnecessary interference and intervention with promises of ‘aid.’
This ongoing crisis of sovereignty became critically intense when Pakistan, following the September 11 attacks, allowed the United States to conduct military operations in Afghanistan from Pakistani territory and dramatically increased the influence of the United States over national policy making, against the popular will. According to Ajay Behera writing for The Hindu, “Such developments have led to a dilemma regarding a clash between Pakistan’s national security policies and its very sovereignty. This development, however, is entirely self-generated,”1 as a result of critical foreign policy choices made by the Musharraf regime after 9/11.
Musharraf, flaunting his ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’ credentials, wanted a pretext to break free from the country’s ties with the Taliban regime, and , at home, with Islamic groups hitherto supported and sustained by the military and intelligence. 9/11 provided Musharraf with the pretext to achieve this by force and with support from the country’s Western allies and its secular-liberal elite. However, while this was to be done in order to restore sovereignty ‘for the supreme national interest’, in actuality it undermined the internal sovereignty of the state. Pakistan’s engagement in the US-led War on Terror and its operation in Waziristan leading to civilian damage was widely opposed and decried for being done under ‘diktat’ from the United States.
The War on Terror came home, but was seen as America’s war imported to the country by a sell-out pro-Western regime. Regular drone attacks by American spy planes resulting in huge collateral damage reinforced the image of the US as “an ally with a predatory footprint on sovereignty… The US-operated drone has become a powerful symbol of US violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity.”2 A backlash from the fiercely independent tribal areas began, engulfing the entire country, with suicide attacks and targetted hits on security and law enforcement agencies. In the midst of it all, a clumsy, failing government seemed utterly helpless to stem the tide, at best ‘looking Westwards’ for assistance in doing the West’s ‘dirty job’. Pakistan was at war with itself, its very sovereignty and national integrity at stake. It must be added, however, as Ajay Behera wrote in 2002, that the situation is inherently paradoxical, as “Pakistan has been forced into this situation by the Americans, yet it depends on their support to overcome it… While Pakistan tries to restore its internal sovereignty from the militants, it is gradually losing its external sovereignty to the United States… And, as the state is perceived to be losing its external sovereignty to the US, anti-US and anti-ruling class feelings are bound to grow. Pakistan’s self-generated dilemma will persist.”2
The United States needs a rethink on policy vis a vis Pakistan, disassociating it from its strategy in the occupied state of Afghanistan. If the United States truly wants a stable Pakistan, as it has claimed too often, it needs to look for options that respect the sovereignty of the country and take into account public unease against alliance with “a partner that makes a target out of another partner.”2 Carrot and stick tactics do not work, and the massive public disapproval of US aid through the Kerry-Lugar bill should send that message to Washington. Washington’s policies have invariably centred around sitting regimes, the military and the intelligence, which is one reason that explains public disquiet over alliance with the United States. With all the frills and flounces of a ‘change’ in policy towards Pakistan, none seems to be on the horizons any time soon: “For now, the broad dynamic of seeking a partnership on strategic goals with reference to terrorism remains the same as under Bush. It remains driven by military tactics and the diplomatic management of negative outcomes… the Pentagon still remains the font of policy planning as well as execution.”2 The war in Pakistan, however, is not winnable by military might_ just as it never was winnable in Vietnam, or Iraq, or in Afghanistan.
There are lessons, on the other hand, for policy makers in Pakistan. To rescue diminishing sovereignty, the ‘democratic’ representatives of the people must realize that true sovereignty, (in its temporal aspect), in any democratic state, resides in the people, and that public sentiment must be taken seriously. The spontaneous outpouring of public anger over the government’s role in the War on Terror expressed during the visit of Interior Minister Rehman Malik to the International Islamic University after a terrorist attack should be a wake-up call. Pakistani leaders need to see how the Kerry-Lugar Bill is in fact a litmus-test for the state’s representatives to salvage its threatened sovereignty. They need to rise to the occasion and reject the unpopular Bill with a single voice to “prove their worth as people who are capable of promoting and protecting the interests and dignity of the citizens of the country. Otherwise, whether democracy or dictatorship, Pakistan’s parliament is merely a rubber-stamp which follows the will of a handful of individuals who exercise their authority overlooking constitutionally defined institutional mechanisms.”3
To surmount the challenge to sovereignty, we need to redefine it and see for ourselves where it truly lies. Does it, as Washington’s neo-imperialists would have it, lie with the most powerful in might and main in the global arena, legitimizing military adventurousness and aggrandizement? Or does it, as our own ideological guides would tell us, lie in honouring and living by the ideological premise that defines us, and in empowering the people to whom the nation belongs? It is in reaching our answers through the signposts all along history’s boulevard that hope for winning back true sovereignty lies. We have arrived at the crossroads, where the ‘two roads diverge in the wood’, and the fatal choice confronts us. It is to be Now or Never.
- Ajay Behera, ‘Pakistans Dilemma’, The Hindu, May 22, 2002. [↩]
- Sherry Rehman, The News, May 14, 2009. [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Nasim Zehra, ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill: A Critique’, The News, October 17, 2009. [↩]