Tolerating External Abuse Ad Nauseum
By Shireen M. Mazari

The week began tragically for Pakistan with the beheading of one of its soldiers by a youthful terrorist. The brutality of the act should have evoked a strong reaction from all Pakistanis regardless of their political affiliations or proclivities. Yet, one barely heard a murmur of condemnation and that reflects our present national malady where political divisiveness dominates everything across the national landscape while the declared struggle for civilian supremacy and democracy is fast generating into multiple layers of deal-making and amnesty-seeking against past corruption.
As usual, the US is busy trying to engineer the democracy script for Pakistan -- lest the Pakistani public pull a Hamas-like electoral result! Already, we have learned of US NGOs not only sitting in on Parliamentary Committee meetings but also taking minutes of the proceedings!
It is absolutely unacceptable for anyone believing in national sovereignty to accept that three foreign funded NGOs are at work in the Parliament and that one of them has even been provided an office within the Parliament. Why do our legislators need NGOs to train them in democracy, democratic institutions and legislation procedures -- especially US NGOs, given that in the US a candidate acquiring a minority of the public votes can still be elected President of the country -– through the indirect electoral format of the Electoral College. In any case, given the level of money that comes into play in the US democratic system, the last thing the Pakistani public would want is to have our legislators exposed to this form of learning! What is surprising is that our legislators are putting up with what is a clear affront to their own political abilities by tolerating these foreign-funded NGOs in their midst. While Pakistanis may not have access to Parliamentary Committee proceedings, it seems US citizens have that access. Is this what our democracy is going to be all about?
More seriously, our domestic problems are now casting a debilitating shadow over our ability to respond forcefully to external challenges and threats -- including the one coming across from Afghanistan in the form of increasing violations of our sovereignty.
The Pakistan government has officially stated that it has given no understanding to the US to violate its territory or conduct military actions within Pakistani territory. Yet the US once again conducted military attacks against targets in Pakistan, killing 19 -– for which, according to the Foreign Office and the Military spokesman, no Pakistani authorization was given, despite US claims to the contrary. Of course, given the US record … in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, and the strong statements coming out from Islamabad, the GoP position seems closer to the truth.
However, the issue then arises as to what the Pakistanis now intend to do against this clear violation of Pakistani sovereignty by the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Worse still, even Afghan forces, belonging to a state still occupied by foreign forces, felt emboldened enough to fire across the international border into Pakistani territory. Clearly, Pakistan's continuing tolerance for such attacks on its sovereignty are sending the wrong signals to the Americans and Afghans -- unless we have decided to throw in the towel as far as assertion of national sovereignty and defense of border territory are concerned. If that be the case then what has been the purpose of decades of sacrifice for acquiring a strong conventional military capability alongside a nuclear capability? Hence, there is a need to show a strong, even if symbolic, response to the latest attack against Pakistan's sovereignty if there is to be any credibility to the State's capability to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As it is, sensing a certain give in Islamabad on external matters, even states that are normally cautious in their conduct of external diplomacy are being fairly reckless in their statements on Pakistan. A case in point is the Japanese Foreign Minister's demand, on Pakistani soil, that we sign the NPT. This demand came at a time when the Japanese Prime Minister was in India requesting India to become part of the Asian "arc of freedom". Prime Minister Abe uttered not a word on the NPT nor was he interested in commenting on the Indo-US nuclear deal -- so much for Japan's commitments to nuclear disarmament! Instead, Pakistan was singled out for the NPT demand and soon after conveying this to the Pakistani leadership, the Japanese Defense Minister joined her leader in India.
As for this so-called Asian "arc of freedom", it seems to be more of a military alliance initially involving the US, India, Japan and Australia and now also including Singapore -- all of whom will begin joint military exercises. Ostensibly, this is a club of "democratic" states, but Singaporean democracy is a uniquely engineered model! These joint exercises to be held in the Bay of Bengal seem more for the purpose of targeting China and Muslim states of the region -- otherwise why would the largest Muslim democracy, Indonesia, have been ignored.
The point is that Japan is moving away from its military restraints which is why its preaching to Pakistan on the NPT should have aroused a strong and unequivocal response from Pakistan. But once again, we absorbed the criticism with an unnecessary level of tolerance. No one publicized the fact that in an air exercise with the US in June 2007, Japan practiced dropping 500-pound live bombs on a small island in the western Pacific. Japan has also been acquiring weapons that cannot be classified as purely defensive and has developed a joint fighter plane, the F-2, with the US. Japan is also, along with India, a US partner in the development of the missile defense shield and their planes have been transporting US troops and "cargo" to Iraq -- no one knows whether the "cargo" was of a military nature but obviously troops are transported with their weapons. It is within this growing Japanese militarisation that one must examine Japan's extensive and so far peaceful nuclear capability. And it is within this new Japanese mindset that Pakistan should have found the Japanese demand of signing the NPT at least a trifle offensive.
Unfortunately, as I had bemoaned last week also, we are so caught up in our internal problems that we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to external pressures and threats -- or at least we seem unable to assert our national interest as forcefully as we should against outright provocations.
Some analysts of Pakistani origin living in distant parts of the world bemoan the fact that we are not relevant to the strategic concerns of states like Australia, but how relevant strategically is Australia to us in terms of our strategic goals? More relevant is our more immediate regional environment and it is here that we do need to reassert our national priorities and sovereignty. It is here that the political elites need to evolve a national consensus regardless of their factional political interests and while the civil-military divide and confrontation may be a central political theme presently, does that allow us to ignore the violence and abuse being perpetrated on our soldiers by terrorists? And does it absolve the political elites of their commitment to our national territorial integrity and national sovereignty? Of course, if external brokers are being sought to write our political script, then the centrality of national interest is moot.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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