Asserting Sovereignty through Reciprocity
By Shireen M Mazari
As a new elected parliament has come into play and a new government will soon follow, the new bonhomie between the major political parties has been welcomed by the nation as a first step in enforcing the national consensus on crucial issues such as restoration of the judiciary, civilian supremacy and a free media. However, there are two very important issues relating to external policy that will require immediate attention and some distancing from our past policies will now be possible so that our national sovereignty and lost political space can be reclaimed. Equally important, we need to reclaim the principle of reciprocity which has been lost on both counts.
The first is the issue of the terrorist threat that confronts us post-9/11. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, hurried and expansive concessions were made to the US which made us a frontline state in the US-led war on terror. Subscribing to the US's military-centric approach, we have seen an increasing space created for terrorists within Pakistan and equally dangerous, we have seen the US shift the center of gravity of the war on terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan's tribal belt. Discussing the whole range of issues which necessitate our delinkage from the US-led war on terror to a more national strategy is not the intent of this column although one has written and spoken extensively on the issue. However, it is worth drawing attention to some aspects that are now arising in connection with terrorism. On the issue of reciprocity, the US, along with its allies in the EU, has not shown an iota of reciprocity even at a basic level of declaring certain groups wanted in Pakistan for terrorism as terrorist groups. Worse still, the US has shown no sensitivity to our relations with Iran as they continue to use parts of Balochistan to destabilize the Iranian state through Iranian Sistan.
Beyond the reciprocity principle, the US is deliberately undermining our policy of attempting to adopt a more holistic approach towards dealing with the terrorist issue by increasingly conducting predator and missile attacks on Pakistani territory -- without even notifying Pakistan let alone seeking its permission. Yet, without a holistic approach which should include dialogue with the extremists who are prepared to talk, the isolation of the terrorists cannot even begin to be achieved -- and that after all is the desired strategy of a war against terrorism. Ironically, it was the US which compelled the British government to talk to the extremists and terrorists at the time, the IRA, in order to conclude a political deal and peace in Northern Ireland. The Philippine government has been doing the same in dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), so that now the terrorists on the fringe have become increasingly isolated. Yet we in Pakistan have not begun to move effectively in this direction. The result has been an increase in terrorism all across Pakistan, especially in the urban centers.
In fact, there are some interesting facts that have come to light in the case of the attacks against the FIA in Lahore and the targeting of a restaurant in Islamabad -- and these facts highlight the US linkage that is exacerbating violence in Pakistan. The terrorist attack in Model Town F block was intended to target a building which had been habited by the Punjab Special Investigative Unit (SIU). A terrorist mastermind, Qari Zafar, who had been behind the attack on the US Consulate in Karachi was being interrogated in that building but managed to escape. He had vowed to get back at his interrogators. Since the building could not be easily accessed directly from the front, the terrorists chose to go behind through the servant quarters of the building behind. It is believed that the FBI had sent a special anti-terror unit to Lahore at around the time of the terrorist attacks against the two FIA targets -- on the assumption of a close link between the FIA and the FBI, although FIA sources have denied this latter assertion.
The attack on the restaurant in Islamabad seems to have been more in the form of a targeted killing of FBI personnel since one injured eyewitness has stated that he saw something being lobbed across the wall. Look at the data available: The attack was not on the main building but on the terrace behind. The timing was precisely when the FBI personnel were eating there and the destructive capacity was just enough to target these people. The method and weapon used is not the usual Al-Qaeda hallmark, so one has to wonder whether the excessive number of US intelligence and military personnel in Pakistan are going to offer another form of targets for terrorists -- and in the process result in innocent Pakistani deaths as is happening in the tribal belt at the hands of predator attacks. Any way one looks at it, Pakistani lives are being lost in callous collateral damage. Let us hope the new government in Pakistan will do a thorough examination of the war on terror so far, our alliance with the US and more viable alternatives. At the end of the day, preservation of Pakistani lives and territorial security must be the main priorities.
Which brings me to the second issue that requires the implementation of reciprocity. The Indian government, media and civil society is building hype about the impending operationalisation of the death sentence of Indian spy Sarabjit Singh by Pakistan. Some are taking the humanitarian posture while others like the BJP are demanding that the Indian government talk "sternly" to Pakistan! What an irony. Where were the humanitarian voices in India when their government callously killed an innocent Pakistani and dumped his body at Wagah border -- this being just one instance of the brutal way the Indian state deals with its Pakistani prisoners -- even as Pakistan chose to release an Indian spy with compensation?
Now suddenly Indian MPs, including Rahul Gandhi, are opposing the execution of the Indian spy. Why have they maintained a complete silence on the treatment being meted out by their government to Pakistani prisoners and to the killing of Khalid Mahmood? Even now, as Indian voices rise in support of their spy, no one has deemed fit to condemn what their state just did to the innocent Pakistani. Under these circumstances, if the new Pakistani government -- one has little expectation of anything sensible from Ansar Burney after his grandstanding with Indian spy Kashmir Singh -- succumbs to Indian pressure it will send wrong signals to India and reciprocity will be buried as a guiding principle for future Pakistan-India dealings. Surely no new government, no matter how strong its proclivity to reach out to India, should succumb to the pressures of public relations which will impose a heavy cost for Pakistan in future dealings with India.
Let me state that I am opposed to capital punishment in principle on a number of counts and have written numerous times on this issue. However, equally, I feel if we are to stay executions, we must not do so only for foreign nationals – as we did for the British citizen who killed a taxi driver in Rawalpindi. Are foreign lives more precious than Pakistani lives for our state? As for Manmohan Singh talking "sternly" to Pakistan, the very fact that the BJP can make such a statement shows the perception of Pakistan in New Delhi presently: Seeking concessions through diktat!
This is what we have been reduced to, thanks to our non-reciprocal mode of cooperative behavior with the US post-9/11. Our new and assertive democratic dispensation must restore our sovereignty and national dignity by retrieving the reciprocity principle.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)