The question of Pakistan’s sovereignty

By Adrian A. Husain


CRISES are a part of the national diet. However, that does not mean that crucial national issues suddenly go away. At most, they recede temporarily. Pakistan’s sovereignty is one such issue.

It was on account of this that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani lately came in for a good deal of flak. His trip to the US clearly elicited far more negativism than he had evidently bargained for. It was, rightly perhaps, described as mismanaged, ill-coordinated — in short, something of a PR disaster. Above all, though, the prime minister came under fire for undertaking the visit without a specific mandate from parliament.

Members of the PML-Q were, as usual, at the forefront of the grandstanding at the expense of the PPP government. The cardinal grouse was that during his stay in the US, Gilani did not put up enough of a fight over the issues of the country’s sovereignty or its prime intelligence asset, the ISI.

Obviously, he had not been properly debriefed. Nor did he have the native guile to hold his own. However, even a more agile mind may have been at a loss as to how to handle some of the obfuscations and sensitivities inherent in the two issues adequately.

The question of Pakistan’s sovereignty is fairly complex. It has an elaborate history and a bit of a chequered past. The era of Cento and Seato and of course the infamous U-2, entailing some of the more notable compromises in this regard, comes readily to mind.

More recently, a kind of oxymoronic situation arose when, in the aftermath of 9/11, we acquired ‘key ally’ status in relation to the world’s sole superpower. To save ourselves from retribution at the hands of the US, we effectively put the integrity of our state on the line. Our long-fostered, if idle, dream of ‘strategic depth’ and considerations of sovereignty both went by the board.

Force majeure was invoked largely because of a possible chance of an economic bonanza such as had been reaped in the earlier anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.

The war on terror was cynically allowed to come home to Pakistan. That it was further permitted to come to stay is equally pertinent. With a touch of reversibility about their respective roles, terrorism and counter-terrorism became an accepted way of life. And if there are militant sanctuaries throughout our tribal belt today we have only ourselves to blame. Consequently, almost all expressions of dismay on the subject of sovereignty in the present context smack just very slightly of coy posturing.

The government-sponsored gambit of ‘appropriation’ with regard to the war on terror has likewise proven counterproductive. The shibboleth — ‘Pakistan’s own war’ — was far too independent and indeed wilful to have gone down particularly well with Centcom, the Pentagon, the CIA or the White House itself. Its glib exclusivity doubtless led to the US smelling a rat and intuiting its threatened ouster from strategic control over the region.

So, in a sense, such wild allegations as the CIA levelled against the ISI would already seem to have been on the cards. The charge as to ISI involvement in last month’s attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul which was responsible for numerous casualties was, quite obviously, a convenient frame-up. It would not make any sense for Pakistan’s intelligence network to have been complicit in a suicide bombing that was bound to have had the opposite camp leaping to implicate it. The act was gauche and ill-conceived and ultimately merely a rather crude form of ‘scapegoatism’.

At the same time, it is clear that the government of the day cannot be made to carry the can for the sins of an earlier dispensation. If militancy is alive and well rather than being on the run, that is the sole fault of our previous rulers. If they did not facilitate it, they certainly did little to stem the rot. Lal Masjid is a case in point.

Even today there seems to be a chilling irony about the fact that the remedy for that could have been nothing other than terminal. The extremists secreted there were wantonly allowed to be hoist on their own petard. So those governing at the time must at the very least be made to face the charge of collusion by default.

Certainly, the people of Pakhtunkhwa and indeed the nation at large must not be held to ransom on account of militancy indefinitely. The threat to the settled areas of Pakhtunkhwa is all too real even though the ‘quasi takeovers’ by various militant factions come across — hazards on the ground notwithstanding — as curiously symbolic and just a trifle surreal. It is also intriguing that since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the incidence of suicide bombings has perceptibly decreased despite the low frequency detonations in Karachi and the bloodier drama of Islamabad in early July. Given time, it is hoped that this enigma too will unravel.

Needless to say, vigilance is of the essence. The nation is alert. And while nobody believes that there are rogue elements in our ace intelligence network, common logic suggests that there are anonymous saboteurs and agents provocateurs at work in our midst.

Under the circumstances, what is the way forward? Security is not the preserve of a ruling coalition but a matter of national importance, one indeed that calls for time-bound guarantees on its part. If the current coalition is to succeed in providing these, it must look beyond the show-window of the one-time peace agreement or military operation at a possible long-term political solution.

But for this it must first — when the present clouds roll over — seek a convincing national consensus. Such an initiative would entail taking all key players on board including not just relevant tribal elders but also the country’s political parties and, with them, prominent members of civil society and the media and, of course, leaders of the lawyers’ movement. Then alone could our government hope to move ahead credibly towards reversing the cycle of destruction set in motion by those who both lacked in political wisdom and did not have the country’s good at heart.

Source: Daily Dawn, 11/8/2008

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