The Many Faces Of Pakistan's Sovereignty By Ayaz Amir

The mother of all embarrassments was the taking out of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. General Headquarters went into deep shock and commanding generals lost the use of their tongues. Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s killing, by comparison, is a smaller embarrassment. Yet we are going through the motions of mourning.

Interior Minister Nisar can’t help himself. He wept copiously at the death of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, so profound his grief that it felt as if he had lost someone dear. He’s again into mourning over the death of Mansour.

A few hundred maulvis and seminary students can’t be managed when they head towards Islamabad and occupy D Chowk, Islamabad’s apology of the Place de la Bastille. A lone gunman, Sikander, comes along and makes a comic spectacle of the entire Islamabad administration for hours on end and the interior minister is hard put to handle that. But he must speak out on foreign policy and take fierce jabs at the United States, holding out vague threats about the future impact on Pak-US relations.

The army chief, Pakistan’s shadow Mustafa Kemal – because most power is in his hands now – has also spoken aggrievedly of violated sovereignty, in a meeting with the American ambassador who called on him at General Headquarters, now a more important fount of foreign policy than the Foreign Office.

When you have nothing to say it is best not to say anything. “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence”, said General de Gaulle. It would have been better at this time not to have given time to the American ambassador. If we were really aggrieved and not putting on a sham that would have been a clearer message than the sound of empty words.

On sovereignty indeed the Pakistani governing classes need to take a basic lesson in gynaecology. Sovereignty is a bit like virginity – once lost it is lost forever. Pakistan has been losing its sovereignty for as long as one can remember. So getting worked up about it from time to time is not without its share of comedy.

For no valid reasons we gave away parts of our sovereignty by joining the West’s anti-communist alliances. We gave the Americans the use of the Badaber airbase near Peshawar from where the Americans flew U-2 spy-planes over the Soviet Union.

We lost a huge chunk of our sovereignty in 1971 when India attacked East Pakistan and helped create Bangladesh.

We gave the run of our country to the Afghans in the post-1978 period, no questions asked. They could go anywhere, settle anywhere, bring any amount of Kalashnikovs and heroin into Pakistan – in the spirit of Islamic brotherhood our generals-in-command opened the country’s arms and bosom to them.

Post 9/11 there was a double attack on our sovereignty: from the Americans on the one hand who established bases in Pakistan and got land access to Chaman and the Khyber Pass; and from the TTP and Al-Qaeda on the other, which established their writ over the tribal areas, ousting the jurisdiction and authority of the Pakistani state.

When an American Navy Seal expedition penetrated right up to Abbottabad in the darkness of the night and attacked the compound in which Sheikh Osama was holed up, our generals were red-faced. There could be only two explanations for the Sheikh’s presence: we knew not or we were complicit. Neither was very flattering for us. Instead of answering these questions, the military establishment went into deep mourning and raised the banner of violated sovereignty.

If the Americans had abused our sovereignty, which they did, was the Sheikh strengthening our sovereignty?

The same question can be asked with regard to Mullah Mansour. What was he doing in Pakistan and how did he have a Pakistan ID card and passport on him when he was killed? Mansour was commander of a force waging an insurgency in Afghanistan. Whatever his status to us, his status for the Americans was that of an enemy. If he was not coming to the negotiating table and we despite our empty and foolish boasts were unable to drag him there, if he had lost his utility as a peacemaker in American eyes, and if they had him in their crosshairs and got him out, why are we beating our breasts?

Suppose Mullah Fazlullah instead of being our enemy were an enemy of Israel. Would the Israelis hesitate for a minute to kill him if they had the opportunity? If Fazlullah is out of our reach, the Americans do not suffer from the same constraints regarding their Akhtar Mansours.

What world are we living in? Haven’t we suffered enough on account of our disastrous Afghan policies? Our own house is not in order but we must fight for influence in Afghanistan. Why are we still holding on to Taliban ‘assets’? Is there such a thing as the Quetta Shura or is it a figment of the world’s imagination? What are we hoping to gain from the presence of these warriors on our soil?

This doesn’t mean we declare war on the Afghan Taliban as the Americans want us to do, doing their business for them even if we get burnt in the process. Pakistan has enough on its plate. But why are we still hosting such elements in our midst? What are we hoping to gain from their presence? Whether we are playing a double game or not the presence of phantoms like the Quetta Shura lend strength to such accusations. The Afghan Taliban are an Afghan problem and we should leave it at that. We have no business fighting them or protecting them, or pretending that we can bring them to the negotiating table.

Gen Raheel Sharif was the main mover behind this approach to the Taliban. He should be rethinking his priorities.

Rhetoric aside – and there is no one to beat us when it comes to rhetoric – our problem is that we are a begging nation, living on alms, whose security establishment suffers a nervous breakdown if the US withholds eight F-16s. The Americans wanted Turkish land access for the invasion of Iraq and the Turks, after considering the matter in their National Assembly, put forward a compensation tag of 24 billion dollars. For the invasion of Afghanistan we gave much more than land access and settled for ridiculous terms.

And we call ourselves a Fortress of Islam. Let us be what we are but why give Islam a bad name?

When the Americans want to talk sharply to us they remind us of the 20-30 billion dollars in various forms of aid given to Pakistan since Sep 2001. What they tend to ignore is the close to 800 billion dollars spent in Afghanistan over the same period.

But then we have generals content with small American favours like education for their kids in American colleges…and a prime minister desperately shuffling notes in front of TV cameras as he tries to stammer a few words to President Obama in the Oval Office. Are such heroes capable of sharp rejoinders?

Our ruling elites are corrupt to the bone, lords of overseas wealth and properties. Politicians, bureaucrats and generals have families permanently settled abroad. Should such tainted brass-pots be reading us lessons in sovereignty? If we had a proper legislature the word sovereignty would be banned from their lips.