Pakistan’s Culture Of Compromising Sovereignty


When a joint communiqué issued after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States squarely accuses Pakistan of sponsoring cross border terrorism, it constitutes an attack on the country’s sovereignty. When the Taliban regime blames Pakistan for erecting a fence along the Pak-Afghan border, it means challenging the writ of Islamabad to protect its borders from terrorist attacks and smuggling. When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) levies severe conditions on Pakistan for releasing a $1.2 billion tranche of a bailout, it signifies a lack of trust and confidence in Islamabad’s economic management.

What is sovereignty and how does its erosion take place? According to Britannica, sovereignty means, “the ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order.” Derived from the Latin word superanus through the French souveraineté, the term was originally understood to mean the equivalent of supreme power. The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations defines sovereignty as “authority within a distinct territorial entity, but also to assert membership of the international community. The doctrine of sovereignty implies a double claim: autonomy in foreign policy and exclusive competence in internal affairs.” The erosion of sovereignty takes places when states pursue a policy of interdependence and subsequently compromise on freedom to make and implement decisions independently. Therefore, in a classical sense, no state is totally sovereign. What is possible in the view of globalization is relative or limited sovereignty, because no state can make or implement decisions independently because of its compromising interests.

The history of compromises on Pakistan’s sovereignty is as old as the history of the country itself. Becoming part of Western alliance system of CENTO and SEATO during the Cold War and agreeing to become a front-line state to combat the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan came at the expense of sovereignty. Joining the War on Terror with the US after 9/11 also compromised the sovereignty of Pakistan, as did several hundred drone attacks in the tribal areas, targeting what the Bush and later Obama administrations called the presence of terrorist ‘safe havens’ inside FATA.

The year 2011 is notorious for Pakistan in terms of the state’s failure to protect its sovereignty. First, in January 2011, a CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested in Lahore on the charge of killing two motorcyclists. He remained in prison for around one month, set to face trial, but because of a high level of American interference, the regime and court released him after the payment of blood money. Raymond Davis has narrated his story of that episode in his book The Contractor in which he made it clear how Pakistani authorities came under pressure from the Obama administration for his release. Failure to uphold the rule of law and compromising by releasing a killer was tantamount to a breach of sovereignty.

The year 2011 is notorious for Pakistan in terms of the state’s failure to protect its sovereignty

On May 2, 2011, Pakistan’s sovereignty was openly violated when US Navy Seals, under Operation Geronimo, sneaked 250 kilometers inside Pakistani territory and reached a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad, killing global terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden, who along with his family, was hiding in the premises for years. The open violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by American military helicopters carrying Navy Seals and reaching Abbottabad meant the failure of Islamabad to establish its writ. In order to investigate that dark episode in Pakistan’s history, the Abbottabad Commission was formed, but its report, like other investigations, was brushed under the carpet.

Another incident undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty happened in November 2011, also known as the Salala incident, in which US forces killed several Pakistani soldiers on the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan merely launched muted protests against that heinous attack inside its territory by the American military. In order to placate local opposition against blatant American aggression and the killing of several Pakistani soldiers, Islamabad merely suspended NATO supplies for some time, but lifted the ban when Washington expressed superficial regrets over the incident. There are several other examples to prove how the power elites of Pakistan have routinely compromised on their country’s sovereignty since the 1950s.

The launching of drone attacks on the tribal areas of Pakistan since 2004 till 2010 on the pretext of targeting what the US alleged were terrorist ‘safe havens’ caused hundreds of innocent casualties. Protests by Pakistan’s Foreign Office against drone attacks had no impact on the US and their frequency increased since 2007.

The breaching of the sovereignty of Pakistan on the Pak-Afghan border, and repeated Indian threats by its Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, to absorb what New Delhi calls “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,” namely Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, reflects how vulnerable Islamabad is as far as protecting the country’s sovereignty is concerned. The more the state is powerful in economic, military and technological terms, the more confidence it gains in asserting its sovereignty. This is very much true in the case of Pakistan’s only eastern neighbor India, as with each passing day, its tone vis-à-vis Islamabad is becoming more and more aggressive.

For the elite, mortgaging the sovereignty of Pakistan was no big deal in order to ensure foreign economic and military aid.

Coming back to the question why sovereignty is not the issue in Pakistan, one needs an examination from three angles. First is the feudal and tribal culture of Pakistan, which has absolutely no regard for democracy, rule of law, accountability, social justice and better governance. Those who have wielded power in Pakistan since its inception have never owned their country and have instead looked for opportunities overseas for increasing their personal wealth and perpetuating their hold over power, privileges and perks. For the elite, mortgaging the sovereignty of Pakistan was no big deal in order to ensure foreign economic and military aid. Unlike Pakistan, which compromised its sovereignty by allowing the US to establish military bases, India was not a part of any military alliance and maintained a non-aligned foreign policy. When India focused on the policy of self-reliance, instead of running an import driven economy, Pakistani elites had no commitment to refrain from foreign dependence. As a result, India has managed to emerge as the world’s 5th largest economy, whereas Pakistan is now the 44th largest economy globally.

The feudal culture of Pakistan has its roots in the British days, when big landlords in Punjab collaborated with the East India Company to crush the War of Independence in 1857. When the mutiny was suppressed, the British, who took direct control of the Indian Subcontinent, rewarded the big landlords of Punjab by granting them huge pieces of land called jagirs. Since then, the culture of Punjab, which is under the tutelage of feudal landowners, the bureaucracy and military high-ups began to appease the Americans and the West in order to keep them in power. The US and West knows very well that Pakistani elites will not be able to take an independent position because of a possible visa ban which will deprive them of their children’s education, their assets through money laundering, and their future interests in settling in that part of the world.

When a country lacks vision, prudence and integrity to excel in the economic and technological realms, lacks good governance and rule of law, the result is the erosion of its sovereignty.

When PTI Chairman Imran Khan says that the mindset of elites of Pakistan along with the establishment is to toe the American and Western line, it has much to do with the culture of Punjab, which is status quo oriented, with no history of defiance against injustice and exploitation.

Second, when a country lacks vision, prudence and integrity to excel in the economic and technological realms, lacks good governance and rule of law, the result is the erosion of its sovereignty. When austerity, self-reliance and focusing on creating an export driven economy is not a priority for the political, bureaucratic, military and economic elites, how can a country expect to compete at the international level? The more economic dependence there is, the greater the compromises on sovereignty become a reality. When the government celebrates getting $1.2 billion from the IMF tranche and similar bailout packages from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China, one cannot expect such a country to assert its position. It can never take and implement decisions independently, and will always remain the influence of external forces.

If the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F are blamed for appeasing their foreign masters in order to protect their looted money and assets abroad, the PTI under Imran Khan failed while in power for around four years in their goal of promoting a culture of self-reliance, austerity, zero tolerance for corruption and nepotism. Now Imran Khan claims that his party is being cleansed by those who are abandoning him, because of their corrupt practices. According to one school of thought, the politics of opportunism and the pursuit of self-interest by those representing a part of Punjab is a major impediment for establishing the culture of self-esteem and accountability in the country.

Lessons must be learnt from other states that fiercely guard their sovereignty, and the Pakistani elite, particularly those from Punjab, must understand that an unprincipled and interest-oriented approach only leads to acquiescing to foreign pressure at the expense of the country’s integrity. If Pakistan’s passport is at the bottom of every ranking and index, it is because of the country’s dwindling economy, dismal rule of law, poor governance, rampant corruption, and the behavior of those citizens who travel abroad and are frequently involved in fraud and criminal activities.

Unless there is a radical transformation in mindset among those who wield power, there is no likelihood of protecting the nation’s sovereignty.__Courtesy The Friday Times