Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said this past week that Pakistan will protest to Afghanistan against the intrusions into its border territories by the Taliban abased in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. The matter also came up during a round of strategic talks that began over the weekend. Pakistan will obviously argue from a position of weakness both in terms of internal complications and its external posture.
The most glaring weakness in the formulation lay in the words Ms Janjua used when she said that Afghanistan was “unable or unwilling” to prevent groups of Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan from carrying out attacks on Pakistani border checkposts. The weakness springs from the fact that Pakistan is clearly unwilling — and in fact says so — to control the Afghan warlord presiding over the so-called Haqqani network and prevent him from launching attacks on the international troops in Afghanistan.
Instead of applying the mind to tackling this weakness, the Foreign Office decided to go on the offensive against the American plaint that Pakistan was reluctant to go after the Haqqani network, and hid behind the fig-leaf of the cause of counter-terrorism: it warned that “such claims (sic!) could undermine anti-terror cooperation between the two countries”. Was this our reply to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s warning that the US would take “unilateral action against the deadliest Afghan militant group believed to be based in the North Waziristan Agency”?
Pakistan cannot take a rational stand on this cross-border politics, something which it developed long ago with India as well. With New Delhi it kept denying that it was sending ‘freedom-fighters’ into Indian-administered Kashmir till no one believed it any longer. It is following the same reflex as a device to control the endgame in Afghanistan, this time not with its ‘freedom-fighters’ but with Afghan warriors who are notorious for not honouring their pledges to their host country. The latest charge from the US is that terrorists from the Haqqani network have staged last week’s 20-hour long assault on the US embassy in Kabul accompanied by violence and mayhem. The Pakistani response to this accusation is most unconvincing. The Foreign Office spokesperson rejected the charge, saying “terrorism and militancy are complex issues”. There is no doubt that the way Pakistan is fighting its own terrorism and helping the US tackle terrorism in Afghanistan is complicated and difficult to interpret rationally.
There is someone very naïve in the Foreign Office in Islamabad framing statements that the spokesperson has to deliver to justify what Pakistan is doing at home and in the region — or perhaps these are framed elsewhere. Ms Janjua insisted that “Pakistan’s cooperation with the US was based on respect for its (Pakistan’s) sovereignty”, warning that any unilateral move could damage the relationship. She further added: “Pakistan’s cooperation is premised on respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and entails joint actions.” The last reference was certainly to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad which the entire world celebrated except Pakistan as if bin Laden was a guest.
First of all, it is Pakistan’s sovereignty that the world is worried about. And it is not Pakistan’s external sovereignty so much as it is internal sovereignty. No state that is internally out of control and without its writ running in all of its territory can be accepted as externally sovereign. While it is true that under the UN Charter Pakistan is theoretically sovereign and should be treated as such, the reality is that even states with full internal control are at times less than sovereign in global politics. The truth of the matter is that the state’s write is severely compromised in much of Fata, parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and, one could easily argue, even in many parts of Karachi. And even in the remaining parts, the executive exercises, by and large, weak control.
The Foreign Office must wake up to the reality of the state’s internal crisis and not formulate unrealistic statements that the world can only laugh at. The biggest threat to Pakistan is self-imposed isolation in a situation where it needs help from whichever part of the world it comes against terrorists it is seen to be harbouring.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.
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