COMMENT: Pak-US relations: the issue of sovereignty —Shahab Usto - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The rising anti-US sentiment is increasingly merged with the public discontent on the deteriorating socio-economic and security environment in the country, providing an easy handle to the rightwing politicians and the hardline Islamists to beat the US and the coalition government with 

The debate about protecting our sovereignty vis-à-vis the US had long been going on in the media, particularly with respect to the CIA-launched drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) causing ‘collateral damage’, a euphemism for killing innocent civilians. But the debate received a new spurt by two recent events: the killings of two Pakistani citizens in Lahore by a CIA-contractual operative, Raymond Davis, and the death of 45 people in North Waziristan by a drone attack.
As a result of the enormous public pressure that developed after the killings, the government had to ignore the US demand for an early release of its operative and took a faulty but legal recourse, and when the deadly drone attack was carried out in North Waziristan on the day Raymond Davis was released, the government (read COAS) publicly declared halting of the ISI-CIA cooperation in the war on terror until recently when the heads of the two agencies ‘sorted out’ matters as regards the parameters of the CIA operations in Pakistan.
But would the US now respect our national sovereignty by avoiding unauthorised actions in the country? Not really. Sovereignty in its pure form has already been lost to the myriad international laws and trade, commercial and financial imperatives. No country enjoys absolute sovereignty. Not even the US, which is indebted to Chinese financial capital. Yet sovereignty in international law still remains the basic plank on which rests states’ legitimacy to exercise a ‘monopoly of power’ within and conduct relations with other states.
Indeed, the modern concept of national sovereignty developed after the rise of the nation-state in Europe following the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Previously, rulers had received legitimacy either from the Roman pontiff on the jurisprudence of ‘divine right’ or from their own national power base as in the case of Henry VIII of England.
Modern international law recognises both the right of national self-determination and inviolability of territorial boundaries. But that is theory. In practice, the quantum of sovereignty is determined by the sum total of a state’s military, economic, technological and leadership assets. Just as Popes in medieval times removed and installed kings using excommunicatory edicts and investitures, now it is the US president who installs and removes rulers using ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power.
To be fair, the US is not alone in exploiting its disproportionate economic and military advantages in the world. There are many countries that dominate the smaller and dependent states. For example, India impinges on Bhutan’s foreign policy. Russia treats Central Asia as its sphere of influence. Pakistan has also unsuccessfully tried to control the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
However, only those states are amenable to external domination that lack an able leadership, stable political institutions and sound economies. Therefore, one can count many former ‘basket cases’ — China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Indonesia — which have now earned a ‘place in the sun’ thanks to capable leadership, which brought about a socio-political transformation.
Take Cuba, a resounding example of effective leadership. Under the popular Castro brothers, this tiny island has preserved its sovereignty for more than 50 years despite living under the nose of its huge adversary, the US! Iran presents an example of national unity deterring foreign intervention. Iran’s nuclear (weapons) programme is still alive only because the people in general support it despite the fact many of them question President Ahmadinejad’s dubious election.
Even a collective and consensual resistance put up by a small community or organisation can thwart a mighty threat. Cases in point are a non-state organisation, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and a proto-state dispensation run by Hamas in tiny Gaza. Both have valorously stood up to the combined US-Israeli might.
Thus, the least that is required to protect sovereignty is a commonality of will among the people and the rulers/leaders. No wonder politically disjointed and socially disconnected states are more prone to foreign meddling and aggression. Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and now Libya are the current examples. Pakistan is no different.
Historically, the US has dominated Pakistan’s external affairs and internal politics, of course in collusion with its ‘obliged’ civilian and military leadership, thanks to a political vacuum created by authoritarian regimes. As revealed by WikiLeaks, the US continues to play a key role in our national affairs, be it the PPP-Musharraf deal, restoration of judges, or the recurring patching up of the civil-military power centres. No wonder the CIA-run drone operations go on unabatedly, disregarding the parliamentary resolution against them.
True, in the recent Pasha-Panetta talks, Pakistan has sought to work out a narrow framework within which to restrict the CIA’s drone and other operations in Pakistan. But it is unlikely that the Obama administration would scale down the drone attacks, which are billed as the ‘most lethal weapon’ against terrorism.
But the US unilateral actions are bound to prove counter-productive for the war on terror and political stability in Pakistan. If the Gallup polls are any indicator, there has grown a groundswell of anti-US public opinion, which in the coming weeks and months may prove too difficult for both the US and the civilian-military leadership to ignore. Already, the Raymond Davis case has vividly exposed the combined government-US power vis-à-vis public opinion.
More alarmingly, the general perception is gaining ground that Pakistan has suffered $ 68 billion in economic losses and more than 30,000 civilian and military causalities because of this ‘US war’. Moreover, the rising anti-US sentiment is increasingly merged with the public discontent on the deteriorating socio-economic and security environment in the country, providing an easy handle to the rightwing politicians and the hardline Islamists to beat the US and the coalition government with. The circumstances require that the US must dispel these impressions. It must realise that the war is pushing the country to an economic abyss and needs massive economic assistance, a la Marshall Plan.
Our leadership should also be realistic. Riddled with a leadership crisis and eternally tied to the US economic lifeline, the country cannot possibly have an equal say in prosecuting the war but it can protect its own interests within the mutually agreed strategic framework. Remember, at the first war-time conference in Tehran in 1943, even Winston Churchill, the prime minister of a declining imperial power, was chafed at being ignored by Stalin and Roosevelt, the leaders of the two rising powers, which prompted Lord Cadogan, a British civil servant, to quip, “the ‘Big Three’ have become the ‘Big Two-and-a-half’”.
Neither secret back channels nor the ‘agencies war’ will protect Pakistan’s sovereignty. Only an open and vibrant democratic culture, with its enormous public groundswell, can keep an arrogant world power within national and international laws. That is the lesson of the recent history of Latin America, East Asia and now the Middle East.

The writer is a lawyer and academic. He can be reached at

Source :\04\19\story_19-4-2011_pg3_3

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