Is Pakistan’s sovereignty under threat?

December 4, 2008

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said non-state actors may have been behind the attacks in Mumbai and therefore big nations shouldn’t allow themselves to be held hostage to their actions

But what is the world to do if such actors operate from the territory of a state and the state is unable or unwilling to act against them, especially because they were created by its intelligence agencies in the first place, asks leading U.S. scholar Robert Kagan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visiting the region to try and limit the fallout said even if non-state actors carried out the attacks, it would still be the Pakistani government’s responsibility to take “direct and tough action.”                                                                         


[U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Pakistan PM Yousaf Raza Gilani. Reuters photo by Mian Khursheed]

But Kagan isn’t sure the government in Islamabad could act and certainly not Zardari, who keeps saying he himself is a victim of terrorism, and therefore recommends foreign intervention.

The international community, he argues in a rather extraordinary piece for the Washington Post, must take matters into its own hands in such a situation and re-define the whole issue of sovereignty of a nation.

So in the present case, given that an outraged Indian people are demanding decisive action for the attacks, and Pakistan is unlikely to cooperate in the way the Indians want, the only way to forestall a conflict would be to “internationalise the response” to the attacks, he says.

Which means get the international community to declare that parts of Pakistan have become “ungovernable and a menace to international security.” Second, set up an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out militant camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas.

That way an India-Pakistan war would be avoided and Islamabad might even be able to save some face since the international forces will re-establish its authority in areas where it has lost it.

But what about Pakistan’s sovereignty? Yes it would be violated, Kagan says, but advocates the principle that the Bush administration has already been quietly pursuing: if a nation cannot control the territory from where militants, even if they are “non-state actors” operate, then it cannot justifiably claim sovereign rights especially over that part of the territory.

“In Pakistan’s case, the continuing complicity of the military and intelligence services with terrorist groups pretty much shreds any claim to sovereign protection,” he writes.

Hence the unrelenting U.S. Predator “drone” missile attacks into Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border over the past few months and even a ground raid by U.S. Special Forces in September. In the 21st century nations such as Pakistan will have to earn sovereign rights; you no longer can take them granted especially if there are militants operating from there, Kalgan says.

[Closed circuit TV footage of gunmen at a Mumbai station. Pic by Reuters TV]

Is this at all workable? As Bill Roggio writing in The Evening Standard said it’s not just Pakistan’s tribal areas and Kashmir that the militants are concentrated. They are in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. They could be in Islamabad as last year’s assault on the Red Mosque showed or in the teeming streets of Karachi and even the garrison city of Rawalpindi where former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack last year.

So where do you start?


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