Sovereignty and Double Standards
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

It was not my intent to discuss the abuse of Maulana Samiul Haq's parliamentary status by certain EU states since I hold no brief for him. However, having seen some Pakistani newspapers get their facts wrong on the case, including an English daily from Lahore which surely does know better, I felt compelled to state some facts relating to the issue.
One, it is every country's sovereign right to refuse a visa to anyone they find undesirable. We in Pakistan may not do so and, therefore, we are made to suffer diatribes from biased and often dishonest American academics. If we were to refuse a visa to some of the undesirables who manage to enter our country we would be well within our rights as a sovereign state. This is what France decided to do in the case of Maulana Samiul Haq -- while not refusing the visa, they made it clear that that is what would happen if he applied. The Belgians, on the contrary, allowed him to enter the country and then abused his status. This cannot be condoned especially since he was part of an official parliamentary delegation.
Why our diplomats failed to anticipate this abuse is incomprehensible. Ideally, our delegation should have turned back the moment the Maulana was taken away for questioning at Brussels airport, but all this does not detract from the fact that the Belgian government was in the wrong and Pakistan should make a big issue out of it. Similarly, the British government's abuse of the Maulana on his departure was equally wrong and mala fide --given that they had no problem with allowing him into the country in the first place. In fact, the British government has been increasingly imperious in the manner it handles Pakistanis and, much to our shame, we have done nothing to represent forcefully against this abuse. Surely, we should, at the very least, scrutinize visa applications from countries such as Britain and Belgium more carefully since some undesirables, who continuously abuse Pakistan, manage to get entry into this country. After all, at least some level of reciprocity is part of interstate behavioral norms.
Two, it is totally incorrect to equate the US refusal of a visa for Gujarat Chief Minister Modi with the treatment meted out to Maulana Samiul Haq by Belgium and Britain. Why? Because Modi as a representative of the Indian State was party to the massacre of Muslims in his state of Gujarat. The Maulana has neither held such a position nor used his position to order the massacre of any minority -- no matter how distasteful his politics and religiosity may be for many in the country and outside. Of course, what purpose his inclusion in a Pakistani delegation going to Europe serves, is another question altogether.
Bearing these facts in mind, the antics of the Belgian and British immigration officials are condemnable and their governments' silence on the issue unacceptable. What makes the Belgian government's position even more untenable is that their abuse of the Maulana was the result of the histrionics of Birmingham's Nina Gill, who is of Indian origin and a member of the European Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee. We know Ms. Gill's agenda and one assumes so do the Europeans. Therefore, there should be some substantive response from the Pakistan government. The absurdity of the Belgian posturing on the Maulana was further exacerbated by their parliamentarians' stance that they would receive the Pakistani delegation sans the Maulana -- a wish the Pakistani side sensibly chose to deny.
Linked to the principles raised in this episode are other questions of sovereignty and why the Pakistani state is allowing its sovereign rights to be trampled on by Western powers -- within the territorial confines of Pakistan itself. For instance, there is the access to data on all Pakistanis leaving and entering the country being supplied to the US with no reciprocity from the US government on Americans coming into Pakistan.
Then we now have a member of the British government at the exit point of the international departure gate, at least at Islamabad airport, scrutinizing all the departing passengers' passports, and the Pakistani passengers, in a servile fashion, submitting to his demands. While recently departing for the UK, I refused to be party to this unacceptable foreign scrutiny in my own country, but it was sickening to see the servility to which the ordinary Pakistani has been reduced to -- as a result of state submission to external powers. If we are so submissive at this micro level, it should hardly surprise us to find ourselves submitting to the will of external powers on macro issues also.
That is why we fail to protect our own citizens from abuse outside the country. In fact, such abuse hardly makes it to the press nowadays since we have become so used to horror stories of abuse and unfair detention that has destroyed the lives of many innocent Pakistanis. Even the killing of Pakistanis in hate crimes abroad rarely elicits our response, let alone regret. Pakistani life seems to be cheap both at home and abroad, especially in the post -9/11 era.
The war against terrorism has become a pretext to abuse Pakistanis at will abroad -- whether in Guantanamo Bay or detention centers in the US and Britain. Yet the US continues to allow certain terrorists to roam free in its country -- as long as they have committed "correct" acts of terror.
The war against terrorism continues to see its credibility undermined by such double standards and a total neglect of state terrorism. As other states continue to assert their sovereign right in defense of double standards, where do we in Pakistan stand today?
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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