Sovereignty (10-04-09)

Everybody talks about sovereignty of the country and sovereignty of the parliament these days. While the first is a cherished goal, the second is a debated slogan by the jurists who believe that in any polity the real sovereignty has to be of the constitution. (An issue I might take up some other time). The troubling issue is why after over 61 years we have not been able to achieve both the objectives. Let’s examine briefly the two issues.

Whether it is an issue of unabated drone attacks or the frenetic diplomatic activities every time we have a political impasse in the country, we shout from the pulpit that our sovereignty is being violated by the big powers. But very seldom these protagonists of sovereignty mull over the fact that why our political and territorial boundaries are breached by other countries.

We have so far failed to manage our affairs in Pakistan. It has resulted in the US drones’ incursion, assistance to disgruntled armed groups by India and intervention of the US, Britain and Saudi diplomats in our politics. When we speak against the drone attacks or the interference of foreign powers in our politics, and rightly so, we should keep in mind the basic principle of international laws regarding sovereignty. These laws have evolved over the last many centuries.

The concept of sovereignty of state is roughly 400 hundreds years old. For centuries many states felt free to invade and conquer other states to establish their empires – the Roman, British and Muslim empires are some examples. But in 1648, over 130 European Princes resolved to stop intervention of states in one another’s domestic affairs and signed the Peace of Westphalia. This brought an end to the bloody Wars of Religion. Most scholars like Morganthau Carr and Fowler agree that this resolution was the first formal acknowledgement of state Sovereignty. Ideally, this theory has come to express the idea that the state “is a final and absolute authority in the political community.”

Students of political science know that sovereignty is based on the democratic principle of equality of states. Both the concept of sovereignty of states and evolution of a democratic state have grown together drawing strength from each other. Hence sovereignty of a state is closely linked with the sovereignty of an individual’s human rights.

According to Professor Dr. Douglas Stuart “state sovereignty still remains an ambiguous and convoluted theory. As one looks at the role of state sovereignty in today’s international system it is important to set some basic guidelines.” He argues that “the empowerment of local movements by strong international non-state actors poses a serious challenge to the theory of state sovereignty.”

This is where Pakistan’s predicament begins. We have been working on secession of Kashmir from India since 1948. Though our claim is that Kashmir should have come to us because majority of the population residing there was Muslim, the main concern of the government is the control of India over water resources. Pakistan has not accepted accession of Kashmir with India and thus feels justified in supporting the local movements to further its own territorial interests.

This is a legitimate concern, but not a typical problem. Many states in the world share the rivers and the lower riparian states have been wary of the advantages of the countries from where the rivers originate. In the case of water distribution between Pakistan and India the issue was resolved under the Indus Water Treaty which was signed by both the countries. This treaty has survived the two wars between the two countries. But in the last couple of years Pakistan’s concern that India would eventually deprive it from its due share of water has gained ground. India has started constructing dams on the rivers assigned to Pakistan, claiming that these are for producing electricity and not for agriculture. Owing to the trust deficit between the two countries Pakistani establishment is seriously worried that India might use these dams to twist our arms by diverting the water flow.

This fear is coupled with the paranoia about India. These apprehensions are the logical outcome of the basic political formulation on which the edifice of Pakistan was built. In reaction the establishment has always felt the need to nurture militant “non-state actors.” Now the problem is that instead of finding a solution to the problem remaining within the norms of the international law that govern the sovereign states, our governments have been happy over “non-state actors” intrusions in India. Dictated by the same sense of insecurity and myopic view our establishment has got itself stuck in the quagmire of Afghanistan. The desire to have a client state in Afghanistan which shuns Indian overtures has made us pushy to the extent that most governments in Kabul have remained unhappy with Islamabad.

Pakistani establishment has not been able to win any war against India, but has been successful in engineering resistance against the Afghan and Soviet army. And it has the Indian army bogged down in Kashmir. At the face of it this looks like a great victory that our short-sighted nationalists love to celebrate. But the fact is that such a policy has given an opportunity to the US & NATO forces to violate our sovereignty; and to the Indians to fuel the nationalist upsurge in Balochistan. If we want the drone attacks to stop, we should stop our land from being used by the militants who want to capture the government in Afghanistan. We will have to deal with the Kashmir and water issue politically, remaining within the norms of international law. And not through breeding a number of Frankensteins, who are now up to tear our social fabric and dictate a belligerent foreign policy.

Those who support the establishment’s national security policy argue that Pakistan can only check-mate Indian influence in this region by keeping these trouble-makers alive. They forget that the best recourse for smaller and weaker sides in any conflict is to invoke the laws that are made to protect their interest. These laws are needed by smaller countries and if they violate them the other side gets the chance to use power. States like Pakistan cannot match the Indian economic and military power no matter what the protagonists of hidden support to the Muslims talk about. Some have blamed this realistic observation as a defeatist cry. These are the same people who were telling us in 1965 and 1971 that we are winning by shear will power, and were rudely kicked in the shin by the reality, when we lost half the country.

Our demand that drone attacks should be stopped is legitimate, but then what should be done with the local and Afghan terrorists who openly claim that they are using Pakistan’s territory to launch attacks inside Afghanistan. The obvious answer is we are fighting to hold them back. It’s true that Pakistan’s army is fighting against some of these elements in FATA and has lost many soldiers. But the world is not convinced that we are fighting the real Taliban who are interfering in Afghanistan. They know it well that we are upset about the growing influence of India in Afghanistan and their activities close to our Northern borders. We have never tried to hide it. And to check this growing Indian influence we keep our own favourite Taliban humoured.

That the Indians are making roads close to our borders is worrying our war strategy planners. What they do not realise that these roads look dangerous to us because we only think in war terms. We have never bothered to think about peace time relations, in which we can use the same roads to connect Pakistan with the central Asian market. We have never realised that if we allow the Indian goods to pass Pakistan by road how much money we can make. But then it is only possible when we stop thinking in military terms and start thinking about building regional economic cooperation in this region. One thing is certain that we cannot fight our way through; we can only take advantage of peace and subsequent economic development.

Now, on the issue of foreign interference in our politics. The concerns are genuine. But if we should stop and ponder on the issue, we would realise that these foreign diplomats get their opportunity because our politicians are like rowdy and brawling school children. The foreign powers’ role is that of a teacher of democracy and the army is a self-appointed monitor. Does the blame stop here? No. The reason that our political parties and political culture has not developed to establish the sovereignty of constitution and the parliament is that frequent military intervention has retarded their growth. If the political system is allowed to evolve through its natural course, I am sure our politicians will rise to the occasion and act with maturity required by a democratic society.

The moral of the story is that our sovereignty would only be respected if we start respecting the sovereignty of our neighbours. Similarly sovereignty of the parliament would only be established if the politicians would accept the sovereignty of constitution and respect each other. (

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