Questions of sovereignty

Published: October 2, 2010

Gilani threatens to go beyond ‘diplomatic condemnation’ and use ‘other options’ if cross-border strikes continue.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has spoken bravely. He has said that should Nato attacks continue, Pakistan has other options it can use to defend its territory and its sovereignty. As Nato supplies have been blocked, an apology for the attacks has come in from the International Security Assistance Force, but we really have no way of knowing if it is sincere or if it will lead to an end in the strikes by manned aircraft that have so far killed 33 people. Also, while the prime minister may have spoken fearlessly, it remains to be seen what, if any, action is to be taken by the government after the incursions into Kurram Agency – or whether it will wait for yet another one to take place, before exercising these “other options”.

The question of sovereignty is indeed becoming a very grave one. It concerns almost everyone in the country. In a way it helps explain why so many Pakistanis seem to dislike the US, despite its laudable assistance, for example, in the post-flood relief and rehabilitation effort. Of course, the drone attacks drive home this issue of sovereignty almost on a daily basis given that many Pakistanis seem to wonder how on the one hand Pakistani airspace is intruded so readily and how on the other, the government fulminates after each and every one and lodges a protest with the Americans. As far as the drone attacks are concerned, it really is no secret that in many cases the aircraft have taken off from bases inside Pakistan, bases in the US of American forces, or partially in their use, and that such an arrangement was obviously agreed to by the government as well as the military. Hence, in a very direct way, the issue of sovereignty is complicated by what seems to be the intelligent and informed observer of some element of double-speak on the part of Islamabad. Until and unless that ambiguity is resolved, or clarified as it were, this contradiction will keep surfacing every now and then.

Furthermore, the fact of the matter also is that a country like Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid and loans from international multilateral lending agencies. And the floods have made that situation all the more complicated given that the country may need billions of dollars in the long run just to rebuild the infrastructure that has been lost. Analysed a bit more in depth, one will see another contradiction in the whole sovereignty debate. This refers to internal issues. Consider, for example, the degree of sovereignty that the elected government and parliament enjoys in Pakistan. How representative is our foreign policy vis-a-vis America, India and Afghanistan? Who shapes this policy and what degree of control is actually exercised by the elected government and parliament? One is referring to the influential role of the military establishment in such decisions and this is just one of many examples. The meeting last week between the so-called troika is perhaps another, with several reports saying that the army chief more or less read out the riot act to the elected government’s leadership, to get their act together. In this aspect as well, the lack of sovereignty that the civilian politicians have may be partly their own doing. After all, when in opposition they seek the military’s help in coming back to power, and when in power, they do little to deliver on governance and other responsibilities for which they had been elected in the first place.

So when the prime minister says that there are “options”, it would be safe to assume that this is more for domestic public opinion and in practical terms the government can do but little. As long as we are dependent on aid for our survival, as long as our economy is dominated by vested interests and big corporate interests with deep ties to the government and military leadership and as long as the latter enjoys a dominant role in decision-making in practically all of the country’s major internal and external decisions, to talk of sovereignty is a non-starter.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2010.

Reader Comments (9)

  • muhammad sajid
    Oct 2, 2010 - 11:27PM

    pakistan should take a serious action against natoRecommend

  • Sami
    Oct 3, 2010 - 2:44AM

    If Govt. fails to take action , Nation should consider “Civil disobedience” and take the situation in our hands. We cannot wait for our Army and Corrupt Politician to take “No action”. This is really turning point and should be turning point and we must teach our enemies [ "US" ] good lesson this time weather its in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. US is taking advantage of our situation in our country after disaster and killing people within our territory.

    We can forgive our Army and Politician any thing they do ,but cannot forgive their in-activeness in this situation.

    My blood is boiling at 100 degree Recommend

  • Oct 3, 2010 - 5:40AM

    I think, the way Army and our Govt has struck back, it is very commendable. With a crippling economy like our, I guess it was a very bold reaction. Thumbs up for this one.Recommend

  • Oct 3, 2010 - 9:02AM

    In case,
    decision has been taken in this regard
    stay a firm on it.Recommend

  • Ahmer Ali
    Oct 3, 2010 - 11:34AM

    Assalam-o-Allaikum Warahmatullah.Apparently much the best step taken practically to stop the NATO shelling and to some extend our leaders are succeeded but the most burning question is why this courage is not being shown against the Drone attacks on Pakistani tribal areas in which only innocent and sinless Pathans are target if Pakistan is a real sovereign state in all its confidential and personal matters?Recommend

  • Oct 3, 2010 - 8:07PM

    If a sovereign state cannot enforce it’s laws the same for all, the claims of sovereignty is simply absurd.
    The lawless areas need to be made just as law abiding as any other part of the sovereign state for the state to claim it’s sovereign rights in those lawless areas. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 3, 2010 - 10:47PM

    How can Pakistan possibly take strict action against NATO, considering many of the NATO countries are some of the biggest aid givers for Pakistan?

    Only a few weeks delay in aid and Pakistan would be huffing and puffing for air.Recommend

  • Oct 5, 2010 - 1:56AM

    @ Anoop
    All the aid we have been given at the cost of our sovereignty.. We have a right to throw it back in their face.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 5, 2010 - 12:04PM

    @Mehr,

    Its not that easy as you might think. Pakistan has huge differences in the amount it spends and the amount it earns. US has been giving Pakistan $2 Billion every year as aid the things are getting worse still. Imagine if that aid were to be stopped alltogether.

    Chest beating cannot change economic realities.Recommend

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