Crisis of Sovereignty in Pakistan

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.

  1. Ajay Behera, ‘Pakistans Dilemma’, The Hindu, May 22, 2002. []
  2. Sherry Rehman, The News, May 14, 2009. [] [] [] []
  3. Nasim Zehra, ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill: A Critique’, The News, October 17, 2009. []
Maryam Sakeenah is a student of International Relations based in Pakistan. She is also a high school teacher and freelance writer with a degree in English Literature. She is interested in human rights advocacy and voluntary social work and can be reached at: Read other articles by Maryam.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on October 24th, 2009 at 12:00pm #

    “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 ,,,”
    There’s the rub–the us doesn’t want a stable Pakistan. The us thrives on chaos and death and confusion. The more Pakistani’s suffer the more the us can claim to be winning the long war.
    the us is out to change the borders;
    the following 2 links contain powerful information that is not being headed.
    Blood borders
    How a better Middle East would look
    By Ralph Peters
    Armed Forces Journal – June 2006

  2. Max Shields said on October 24th, 2009 at 6:20pm #

    Sovereignty is a peculiar notion. Like so much it is not a given. It is not natural, it is created through arrangements by other states; with the possible support of a United Nations and International Law, all fortuitious and subject to the vagaries of power.

    Today, there is a sovereignty of convenience. As in: Here you be the president and we’ll call you our ally, and we’ll prop you up and depending where you are on the food chain or commodity chain we will determine our trade agreements. The US is the arbiter of such arrangements and has been for several decades. Invasion and occupation is made possible because sovereignty is an malleable idea, applied to assist power, not to protect those nation-states from such preditory power, that comes, creates mayhem and destruction in the name of whatever, occupies and eventually subsides like birds of prey (drones?)

    Pakistan is but a case among many.

  3. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 25th, 2009 at 8:14am #

    perhaps using different words to describe what is now going on int’l level might throw a different shade of light on the topic of the peace-war processes.

    First of all, peace processes cannot be separated from war processes; it is one entity; with many other inseparable aspects of it: ‘education’ , ‘religion’, disinformation, sanctions, threats of war, theft of land, lust for control, etc.

    Each of these aspects of one reality is run by selected-elected people; many of which we do not know. Since we don`t know them, we cannot contact them in order that we,too, cld participate in war-peace process.

    And i do not think any of them read anything else but cia, fbi, army reports or intergroup memos, news, directives, warnings, etc.

    Situation in france, canada, UK, australia, italy, germany, et al lands may be similar or the same: world`s richest lands and its richest people have by now united like never before to obtain their millennial dream to obtain permament plutocratic rule in every land.

    Only russia and china can stop the diabolics. Hope, they, along with india and a few socialist lands, succeed. tnx

  4. Shabnam said on October 25th, 2009 at 9:17am #

    Two suicide car bombs exploded in downtown Baghdad Sunday, killing at least 136 people and delivering a powerful blow to the heart of the fragile city’s government in the worst attack of the year, officials said.

    These bombings are designed and executed by the UNITED STATES and her allies including SUADI ARABIA. There is no Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is the United States. Only fools believe this lie.
    Iranian people are encouraged to leave classes and work for few hours on WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 4, 2009 to stage a protest against American terrorists and NATO criminals who have occupied the region killing hundreds of people every day. Americans and Europeans have duty to do the same; otherwise they will be remembered as nothing but war criminals that benefits from children deaths in the occupied region.

  5. Rana Eijaz Ahmad said on October 25th, 2009 at 10:33am #

    The problem lies with the U.S. government that has been under Jewish influence since the death of JFK, the last American president. Thus it is not the U.S. imperialism but the neocolonialism that the U.S. facing in the twenty first century. America is the only colonail power that facing neocolonialism. See The Obama Deception.
    Pakistan’s problem is leadership, vacuum is at the top, therefore, whosoever comes from outer world use it according to its own heart and leave it by giving its rulers a ‘tip’ along with set deal. Very unfortunate for you and for i that we are just writing, speaking at public gatherings and convincing others that we are being robbed, disrespected or deprived. Unless, we do not rise to the occasion Pakistan can never become a respectable country.

  6. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 25th, 2009 at 10:59am #

    Pakistan, as far as i know, appears as much disfunctional. Such an empire cannot last forever unless it is on its way in becoming more socialist and thus more egalitarian and equally protective of all its citizens.

    Pakistan like all muslim lands i know of is fiercely anti-egalitarian and -socialist. While islam may or may not shape such attitude, the fact appears that its society being much feudal and cultish is ripe for rape by external and internal forces.

    And the external forces know how to {ab}use such disfunctional societies.
    US is not doing anything that lands and empires since Urnanshe of sumer hadn’t done: steal as much land as possible.
    Lugalzaggisi, the last king of sumer was known as the ruler of “four corners of known world”. Had he known that there were defenseless people beyond mesopotamia, canaan, arabia, egypt, anatolia, persia he wld have marched on.
    Sargon of akkad was even known as a diety; not unlike amer prez’s who cannot be wrong no matter what crimes they commit in name of US ‘interests’.
    So, nothing has changed since at latest with Urnanshe ca 6k yrs ago. tnx

  7. Mista D said on October 25th, 2009 at 2:16pm #

    Some interesting comments here…. but it’s all a lot simpler than you think….. they are after Pakistan’s nulcear weapons. You see Israel is a little depressed at the thought of a muslim country with nukes…. so it sends in its bulldog… you know the USA, to do the dirty work. What you’re seeing now is the earlier stages of ‘higher’ agenda.