VIEW: Whither the ‘s’ word? —Khalid Saleem - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The question that presents itself, begging for an answer is: whatever happened to our protestations regarding violations of our national sovereignty? Is it to be assumed, then, that we are resigned to the inevitable?

The prime minister, speaking in the National Assembly, is reported to have said that “the government is pressing the US through diplomatic channels to end drone strikes”. This statement smacks of a state of total helplessness against foreign high-handedness. It also exhibits striking shades of deja vu. The press, meanwhile, also informs us that the foreign secretary had lodged a protest of sorts with the US ambassador over the drone attacks. To what avail, it may be asked? The latest drone attack apparently comes as a response to this protest.

The foreign office appears to have given the matter a twist of its own. In the first place, it described the continuing drone attacks as a “core irritant”, whatever that means. Then the spokesperson disclosed that Pakistan was approaching “friendly countries concerned about counter-terrorism to prevail upon the United States to stop such attacks”. This is a convoluted approach to a straightforward issue. Have we finally decided to ‘outsource’ the sovereignty issue?

Whatever happened to the dictum: “Your liberty ends where my nose begins”?

No one talks of sovereignty any more. What was once considered sacred is now up for grabs. Our protests have long lost their tang. Have we now formally acquiesced in the moving of the goal posts? And where is the red line to be traced? A self-respecting country’s sovereignty, if one has got it right, is indivisible. It cannot be outsourced piece by piece.

A bit of recapitulation may not be out of place. Several months ago, a news item had claimed that the then US ambassador had been ‘summoned’ to the Foreign Office where she was reportedly informed that the continuing US drone attacks inside Pakistani territory, “which are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty (sic)”, should be ‘stopped forthwith’. This exercise in diplomacy was carried out after the unanimous resolution of the Senate of Pakistan.

In Washington, the White House press secretary, when asked to comment on the Pakistani demarche, had this to say, “Our ambassador will certainly go and see the Pakistanis any time they want to see her about these issues. We are committed to work with Pakistan to beat back what is a common enemy in terrorists.” For good measure, the press secretary had also added, “And the Pakistanis themselves — the innocent Pakistanis — they also deserve to be protected from terrorists and so we will continue to work with them.” The reader will have noticed the condescending tone of the press secretary. The whole diplomatic ‘episode’ had generated more questions than answers. In the first place, it must be stated for the record that this was far from the first time that a ‘strong protest’ had been lodged with the US embassy.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could very well have anticipated the fate of our so-called strong protests. It can safely be surmised that the State Department has a dormant file titled ‘Pakistani protests’. Our ‘protests’ merely disappear into the said file, going the way of earlier — and presumably later — similar protests and conveniently forgotten.

It is also to be noticed how cleverly the US had conveyed their reaction to our earlier protest, while skillfully skirting around the issue and without once mentioning the ‘s’ word. ‘Innocent Pakistanis’ may talk about their violated sovereignty till they are blue in the face, but the US ‘cooperation’ would continue unabated. And make no mistake about it; what the US wants it gets!

And now, even the pro-forma protests are more or less passé. The drone attacks and the resultant ‘collateral damage’ (read, innocent casualties) are now treated as facts of life — not to be challenged by lesser mortals — the prime minister’s assurance to the National Assembly and FO spokesman’s occasional brave words notwithstanding.

The question that presents itself, begging for an answer is: whatever happened to our protestations regarding violations of our national sovereignty? Is it to be assumed, then, that we are resigned to the inevitable? More likely, the erstwhile assertion of a section of the American press that there is complete coordination between the administrations of the two countries as regards these attacks would appear to be correct. While on the subject, the nation may wish to spare a thought for the hundreds who have been unceremoniously cut down as ‘collateral damage’. This is among the things that will continue to haunt the nation in times to come. Make no mistake about it.

Public memory is proverbially short. The man in the street, immersed as he is in matters of day-to-day existence, may not have the time or energy to agitate the subject but this is a matter that cannot be conveniently swept under the proverbial rug. Sooner or later, questions will be asked and answers will have to be given. Chickens have this uncanny habit of one day coming home to roost!

Meanwhile, the circus goes on as always. Pardon, did anyone mention the wretched ‘s’ word?

The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC. His first book is a collection of essays titled Halfway up the Tree

Source :\04\26\story_26-4-2011_pg3_6

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