26 October, 2010

In Pakistan, who is the sovereign?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

an edited version has been published in The Centre for Land Warfare Studies


Thomas Hobbes, the English political theorist, about whom even Karl Marx remarked that “Hobbes was the father of us all”; in his magnum opus Leviathan (1651) defined sovereignty as a monopoly of coercive power. Though he advocated that sovereignty be vested in the hands of a single ruler, he even preferred an oligarchic group or a democratic assembly as the form of government.

Andrew Heywood, in his Political Theory (Palgrave, 2004), asserts that “sovereignty means absolute and unlimited power”.

The term sovereignty is derived from the Latin word superanus, meaning supreme. O. P. Gauba (Macmillan, 2005) says that the sovereign—be it a monarch, chief executive or an assembly is able to declare law, issue commands and take political decisions which are binding on all individuals and associations within its jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, without getting involved in the definitional aspects of the term, it can be safely stated that the concept of sovereignty is in jeopardy in the nation-state of Pakistan. Why is one led to such an inference?

The answer does not lie in one incident or the other, but in the chain of events since the ‘loss of Tora Bora’. The gradual process of loss of sovereignty for Pakistan commenced once the US-led NATO forces lost sight of Osama, who was believed to cross-over to the Pakistani side of the border and allegedly still resides somewhere inside Pakistan, may be in North Waziristan or in Quetta or even in Karachi.

From the harsh rhetoric of ‘being bombed to stone age’ to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s present fiats, Pakistan has had to go through a string of dictates by its dominant partner in this ‘war on terror’ which, interestingly it has joined reluctantly.

However, a very recent incident ignites the dormant debate regarding authority in Pakistan. Hillary was at Brussels on 14 October to attend a NATO meeting. There she said: “It's absolutely unacceptable for those with means in Pakistan not to be doing their fair share to help their own people while taxpayers in Europe, the United States and other contributing countries are all chipping in.” Moreover, she added that “the government must require that the economically affluent and elite support the government and people of Pakistan.”

She was, in essence, proposing(?) solutions to the Pakistani establishment to mop up funds which it badly needs in the wake of the devastating floods. Her rhetoric probably also hints toward the US dissatisfaction regarding the lackadaisical approach of the Pakistan Army to wage a counterinsurgency effort in North Waziristan. Moreover, the recent closure of NATO supply line by Pakistan in retaliation to the air strikes by the former may have deteriorated the US-Pakistan bonhomie.

Whatever be the case, quite interestingly, the very next day and at the very same venue, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asserted, albeit with a façade of authority; “Regardless [emphasis added] of what Hillary Clinton says, we are going to do what is right for Pakistan and I think the tax system has to be more equitable.”

Are Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration framing the laws for Pakistan? Is the Zardari-Gilani duo a mere stooge of theirs? What is the role of Pervez Kayani and the ISI? We can very well forget the people of Pakistan in this regard as hardly Rosseau’s concept of sovereignty lying with the people can be affirmed in these circumstances.

Nevertheless, this is not an isolated incident. The frequent incursions of the US-NATO forces inside the de facto Pakistani territory in search of the Taliban-Al Qaeda insurgents and the killing of even Pakistani forces in the process raises serious doubts on the level of legitimacy of the present civil dispensation in the ‘land of the Quaid’. Furthermore, presence of private American militia like “Blackwater” dilutes the very concept of sovereignty in the six decade old nation-state.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the military-ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) nexus has always been a powerful coterie in Pakistan. It has in fact held the reins of government, either overtly or covertly. The apropos question at this juncture is: Has the military-ISI combo been subjugated by the Americans? Or is it simply lying dormant for the time being and pushing the civilian administration toward the American guillotine?

A year back, the Pakistan Army had launched a major ground offensive in South Waziristan, to flush out militancy. It also got entangled in Swat and presently is consolidating its position in those regions. But the US-NATO forces are pressurising them to conduct a major operation in North Waziristan where the kingpins are supposedly hiding.

As Pakistan is not exhibiting much resolve to go ahead with offensive operations in the area, citing commitments in South Waziristan and Swat, the Americans have taken up the cudgels. Thus they nonchalantly are going ahead with their ‘hot pursuits’ across the Durand Line.

Actually, the indictment of the ISI in the ‘war on terror’ according to the revelations by WikiLeaks in particular and several American think tanks in general set the tone for difficult times for the civil-military combo. However, the ISI went on playing the ‘double game’ unabated. The reasons were obvious.

Any punitive measure against the jihadis implied more fidayeen attacks on its major cities and hence destabilization. Pakistan was on the uncharted trajectory of a ‘failed state’. Thus, it was a sheer existential compulsion which forced the military-led ISI to chart the path of double-crossing the Americans.

However, at present, Pakistan is definitely at the cross-roads. On one hand, it has an uncomfortable ally: the US. On the other, it will be difficult for it to alienate the Haqqani or the Taliban and consequently the Al Qaeda. Furthermore, the paranoia of the Indian threat remains as a pathological case.

In such a scenario, it becomes imperative for the civil-military complex to set the house in order. Nonetheless, to do that, one serious issue needs to be resolved. Who wields the real authority in Pakistan?


  1. Pakistan military officer claims no resources left to attack Taliban in North Waziristan.


    "a position likely to anger Americans"

    How about moving all military away from LoC Kashmir? There is no Indian threat. The Haqqani in North Waziristan is their threat.

    Also, I wonder if there is still big military presence in Balochistan remaining. (Not the one which was supposed to be have destroyed Quetta Shura, instead one used to crush Baloch activists.) If yes, all that military needs to be diverted to North Waziristan instead.

  2. Also:

    It's hard to say who wields real authority in Pakistan. But I do know there are a number of intellectuals in Pakistan who see writing on the wall that Pakistan is a failed state. All of them have been clamoring for a revolution from within.

    (Had Faiz Ahmed Faiz been alive today, I'm sure he would have been ahead of all of these in today's situation.)

    Pervez Hoodbhoy - Nuclear physicist, polymath and great thinker. Loud critic of unjust Pakistan defence spending on "India threat" and nuclear arsenal ambitions.

    Sajid Hasan - Movie actor, political activist and humanist. Is from Shia minority community. Incidentally, his brother was killed in the horrible sectarian attack on Moharram procession in Karachi last December.

    Hasan Nisar - One of the loudest critic of malaise brought on by ISI-military neurosis. Prefers communication in Urdu as opposed to English. The biggest advantage of it is that he can reach more illiterate, less-educated masses.

    Najam Sethi - Journalist on Dunya TV channel. Belongs to Ahmadi minority persecuted community. Strong critic of deception and lies of Pakistani military establishment.

    Nadeem Paracha - An anarchist columnist. Says very much the same things as Hasan Nisar, but has an oddball satirical humour style of delivering them.

    I'm sure I'm forgetting some more names.

    These are the people India needs to reach out to. These people's voices need to be heard in Indian media, be it print newspapers OR more importantly the jingoistic TV channels in India. There needs to be a media blitz from India in Urdu/Hindi language such that it could reach masses in Pakistan, encouraging a revolution from within over there.