Honour and sovereignty

If Pakistan is internationally isolated, any proud assertion of sovereignty will be of no use.

Editorial May 06, 2011
Honour and sovereignty

Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, through his Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing, has hit back at the US in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, warning of “dire consequences” if the country’s sovereignty is violated again. He said that “any similar action violating the sovereignty will warrant a review of military and intelligence cooperation with the US”. He has already asked the US to reduce the strength of US military personnel in Pakistan.

The tough reaction is clearly in response to the aggressive opinion in the US Congress and the western press, calling in doubt Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, with the innuendo that the ISI could have been actually involved in providing a safe haven to Osama. The charge was not accepted in the partial GHQ rebuttal, which was that the CIA had taken the ISI’s initial intelligence on Osama but withheld further developments from the ISI.

More indication of the source of this aggressive stance was contained in two references made in the statement: 1) Pakistan’s nuclear assets were in safe hands, and “unlike an undefended civilian compound, our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place”; and 2) any similar attack or raid undertaken by India “will be responded to very strongly”.

The Foreign Office has spoken along the same lines, making it manifest that the government of Pakistan stands together with the GHQ. It warned India about a “terrible catastrophe” if it mimicked US ‘unilateralism’. As if on cue, the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association (Pesa) has declared its intent to stand firmly with the people of Pakistan who, it said, are “deeply humiliated” by the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US. Earlier, the Foreign Office, too, referred to the compulsion of the army and the government ‘to stand with the people’. Similarly, the army chief had said that he would not accept “welfare of the people at the cost of national honour”.

Popular obsession with honour expressed through ‘state sovereignty’ is quite manifest. In the aftermath of Osama’s death, the media has given it the hype it did not deserve. While internal affairs have to be dealt with under the law, foreign policy is always allowed some elbow room for realistic adjustment to the exigencies of power relationships in the world. Going with the passions of the people may not be the right course in the current situation. If Pakistan is internationally isolated, any proud assertion of sovereignty will be of no use. Therefore, the Pesa ‘advice’ on the launching of a diplomatic offensive on an already angry world is beside the point.

First of all, when democracy is in place, no direct reference to the people is either necessary or correct. Secondly, if the elected government de facto abjures the domain of foreign policy and is forced to go along with whatever the army thinks, the principle of ‘indirect democracy’ — representative and not ruled by the mobs — is violated. Thirdly, in the eyes of the world, Pakistan’s sovereignty is violated not by the US as much as by the foreign warriors brought in by al Qaeda after 2001.

The army and the Pesa cannot explain why the jihadi militias linked to al Qaeda are operating in Pakistan with their banned publications poisoning the minds of an already brainwashed public. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa, banned by the UN but not by Pakistan, has held posthumous funerals of Osama all across Pakistan — it held a similar funeral for the al Qaeda senior operative Abu Musab alZarqawi in 2006 — while the world accuses the Wahabi outfit of being affiliated with al Qaeda.

Honour is an extremely isolationist concept, like the plight of the Greek hero in classical literature who had to die after completely isolating himself, for the sake of attaining honour. As far as the Pakistani people are concerned, nothing could be more is more dishonourable than being poor. Their welfare should be sought at all cost and honour should not be made to weigh against it.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.


SharifL | 13 years ago | Reply A very good editorial. I agree that: “Honour is an extremely isolationist concept“. If anything army has to answer a lot of questions to all of us. After the trade talks with India, General Kayani said, ‘The nation’s honour and integrity will not be traded in exchange for prosperity’. That statement is very disturbing. Whose honour is he talking about? The generals? There are millions of Pakistanis who have escaped to other countries for prosperity, sometimes, at the cost of dignity and honor. Many more are willing to join them. Many more are living under the poverty line; all they want is a better standard of living. Perhaps he should move to live in a hut without electrify, AC and toilets and earn a few hundred rupees a day to find out what honor and dignity is. I am sure the top brass did not know about OBL’s whereabouts, but some at the lower levels did. They must be traced and punished and given early retirement. What the world is afraid of is that one day those sympathatic to Al Qaida ideology might get into driving seat in the army and government and that would be a catastrophe fort he world at large and liberal society in Pakistan.
harkol | 13 years ago | Reply Honor is what makes warriors commit harakiri. Honor is a nebulous element that means different things to different people. For an impoverished farmer, being able to get two square meals and cover his family in clothes is dignity and honor. He doesn't care what he needs to do to make that happen. But, a Mafia lord may find someone disagreeing with his opinion is dishonor and order his killing!! Pakistan has become a swamp that breeds mosquitoes. Talking of ownership of a land breeding mosquitoes that go out and bite the entire neighborhood is not only silly, it is self-defeating. People won't stand by such breeding of mosquitoes and will come in and clean the swamp, if the owner refuses to do so. Best thing for pakistani civilians is to rein in its military, which can't think beyond honor. Pakistan badly needs to focus on peace, tranquility and economic growth.
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