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Red Lines in the Sand

by Ejaz Haider
Courtesy ISPR

Courtesy ISPR

What is the military planning on doing to restore the sovereignty of Pakistan?

Army chief General Raheel Sharif spoke to the media Wednesday after a joint session of Parliament. He said U.S. drone attacks violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, were regrettable, and detrimental to relations between the two countries and the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan.

Gen. Sharif also said that failure was not an option in the war on terrorism, and that internally displaced people will return before the year is out.

TV channels went into high gear, splashing as ehum tareen khabar (most important news) the highlights of what Gen. Sharif said. No one asked whether giving a policy statement on relations between Pakistan and the U.S. is, or could be, part of the general’s remit.

For good reason too, perhaps. Given the long and checkered history of civil-military relations in this country, as also the military’s de facto dominance, there seems to be an acceptance of such anomalies, even inoculation to the basic principle of civilian supremacy. How long can one keep up the de jure refrain when the reality subsumes the rest?

One could make that utilitarian point, surely. One could cite other, important factors that must be kept in mind and which must caution us against invoking certain principles at certain points in time.

Yes and no. Yes, there are times when one might have to overlook certain principles. The absolutist would say that certain principles, like justice and morality, cannot be balanced against anything. I don’t entirely subscribe to such absolutism, even as I deeply appreciate the constraints it is supposed to put on human behavior and action. But no, while acknowledging that there will exist variations on principles, at no point must one lose sight of, or become indifferent to, them. That is just a free fall into the utilitarian pit.

So, while the Army controls the security policy, as also core aspects of foreign policy, and while this has resulted in the security policy driving the foreign policy, the anomaly this has created can neither be ignored nor not talked about.

First and foremost, therefore, the Army chief, according to the accepted principle of civilian supremacy, was way out of line when he held forth on Pakistan-U.S. relations. That point needs to be flagged.

But let’s now play on the Army’s turf, accepting, given the reality and begrudgingly, that this is the Army chief’s domain, not the foreign ministry’s. Some questions need to be asked.

Drone attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. They do. In fact, opinion is sharply divided among international law experts on the very legality of the use of drones. But leaving that aside, and having accepted that this is the Army’s domain, would Gen. Sharif tell us how he intends to respond to this violation of sovereignty beyond, of course, making a statement about it and giving TV channels a point to talk about cacophonously?

When Parliament passed a resolution, declaring such attacks to be a violation of sovereignty, the military said that it could take action if the civilian government ordered it to do so. That was, as it is now, disingenuous because we have already accepted that the core aspects of Pakistan’s foreign policy are controlled by the Army. Clearly, the Army can’t control the core aspects and the turn around and ask the civilian government to bear the cross of its policy approaches. And going by what has happened in the past 15 years, we know that it is a very heavy cross to bear.

I would, therefore, like Gen. Sharif to tell this hapless nation the exact measures he intends to take to restore the sovereignty of Pakistan that has, going by the number of drone attacks since 2004, been repeatedly violated by the U.S. and with nary a thought about it.

I would also like to know, given Wikileaks’ revelations, why Pakistan has been a party to such violation, condoning it privately while making noise about it publicly—from Gen. Musharraf to the PPP government/Gen. Kayani to now this government and (possibly) Gen. Sharif? Or, is it because this time the U.S. military crossed a red line, attacking in Balochistan? Unlike FATA, where we gave drones the air corridors to operate in, Balochistan was kept off limits. The problem is, once you let the camel’s neck into the tent, before long the camel pushes the rest of him in.

There’s another problem too, with red lines. When you establish one, you have to make the other respect it or face the consequences. In other words, you can’t draw a red line in the sand.

Which is where we come to Gen. Sharif’s statement about Pakistan-U.S. relations. Those relations, even at the best of times, were transactional. And these aren’t the best of times. Pakistan’s inability to make itself useful to the U.S. and Afghanistan means the duo will pressure Pakistan. The movement away from talks to the strategy of degrading the Taliban leadership is that signal, Quadrilateral Coordination Group or no Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The U.S., far from being restrained by Gen. Sharif’s statement, is likely to rev up drone attacks. Would that mean more statements about violation of sovereignty until the statements become as hollow in meaning and intent as Pakistan’s sovereignty has been divested of any substance?

Then, of course, we have the issue of dependence on the U.S. in various fields and certainly not least on the defense side. Gen. Sharif, like his predecessors, knows that. When you need this and that and the rest and have to sojourn in Washington D.C. with a list for grants and subsidized shopping, there’s not much you can do about sovereignty, beyond making TV headlines through newscasters that deliver their lines like shrieking banshees.

That is not good sense and makes for even poorer foreign policy.

There’s much else but we shall leave it for another time.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider 

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect, in part or whole, those held by Newsweek Pakistan.

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BasicFact June 1, 2016 - 6:50 pm

The military is busy counting the money transferred by the Americans to their individual accounts

Azzy June 1, 2016 - 7:39 pm

The author is needlessly rude.

maverick65 June 5, 2016 - 6:54 pm

Would you also dare to ask the politicians regarding their pathetic performance,corruption and misuse of powers also????

maverick65 June 5, 2016 - 6:55 pm

Do you have proof or have some other motives my dear ☺

Zehra June 6, 2016 - 10:23 am

i second the above comment.. “The author is needlessly rude.”
i don’t understand that when u don’t want him to comment even, why you want him to react?? the drone strikes within the boundaries of Pakistan would be dealt under DEFENCE of Pakistan.. and i believe defence of our country is his head ache. let him do his work mr hate monger

Aamir Umar June 8, 2016 - 1:20 am

Newsweek is an international magazine with language ethics and not a “tabloid”. I agree with Zehra and Azzy… Mr Ejaz has been needlessly rude. The article stinks of malafide intentions.


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