By Raza Habib Raja
One of the most hyped up slogans on the media and the rightwing nationalist circles is of “National Sovereignty”. This slogan is so powerful that Pakistani leadership particularly that of PPP is always on the defensive. According to this “National Sovereignty” school of thought, Pakistan has sold its soul to the foreign powers due to personal greed of the ruler class and has compromised the autonomy by facilitating the drone attacks.
Currently the drone attacks are in full swing and almost daily we hear news regarding militants being killed. At the same time and not surprisingly these attacks, despite killing militants are continuously being cited as a “proof” of the great treachery. But then in the past, everything ranging from Nazam-i-Adl in Swat to Military action against Militants in tribal areas has been bracketed under the same category.
More than anything else, I find the whole issue of National Sovereignty, particularly the way it is interpreted and projected in the media as grossly irrational. It is in fact a manifestation of the worst kind of irrational patriotism. I would call it irrational patriotism because it is based on instincts and does not conform to rational self interest.
One has to just skim through recent past to actually assess how irrational the whole notion of this brand of national sovereignty is. Before the current wave of drone attacks which have evoked these cries of national sovereignty, we had the issue of military action in Swat and also the in the tribal areas. Swat is an interesting case because before the action began militants had been getting stronger, burning schools and despite increasing evidence that they were using violence to get their demands accepted by the government, the media and a large portion of urban middleclass was vehemently against any action because USA at that time was also urging Pakistan.
The insistence from USA became a propaganda weapon in the hands of the rightwing religious parties and ultranationalist conservative media and they were successfully able to portray any possible action from Pakistan military as being US instigated and hence a “covert” violation of sovereignty. The delay allowed militants to get complete foothold in the valley and gave them complete leverage to actually blackmail Government. The buildup to the eventual military action was a strange spectacle as the Government was in effect made impotent to launch a timely military action against the militants because it found itself on a very weak political wicket. Eventually the media woke out of its trance only after Sufi Mohammed gave a live speech in which he threatened to attack Islamabad. A lot of bloodshed would have been avoided had we used a little sense before. Just because US was insisting on action, we were adamant and consequently ended up paying a far heavier price.
Keeping in view this background, any action of conducted directly by US force such as drone attacks is bound to create even stronger criticism by media and its prime target market. I find it amazing that drone attacks actually draw far more condemnation than Taliban suicide bombings which until recently were just construed as a grand conspiracy of India, Israel and US nexus. It is only when the evidence has become too blatant to be dismissed as merely a grand conspiracy that the people have started to display symptoms of the next level of denial: apologetic defense by virtue of which everything is merely a reaction to US atrocities.
Come to think of it, the drone attacks though conducted by US forces are generally more accurate and end up killing some of the militants. The collateral damage is relatively less and yet they evoke huge condemnation from the ultranationalist circles. The sole reason is that US is doing it and even if it actually benefits Pakistan, it is immaterial. Attacks are negatively publicized as on the “people” of Pakistan without giving much critical thought to the fact that these may actually be benefiting the local populace under the militant hegemony and for that matter Pakistan itself through elimination of such elements. The attacks are targeted against those monsters who are guilty of gross crimes against humanity and yet we are just fixated with loss of so called sovereignty.
Let’s not forget that the tribal belt, where the drone attacks are taking place have never been completely under the Government’s control in the first place. The sovereignty does not even fully apply as the writ is not completely there and in fact ever been there. For me it is not a matter of “national sovereignty” but of rational national self interest. If viewed from the later perspective, the drone attacks target militants without engaging our military whose usage would have been far more costly, both in terms of human loss as well as from political ramifications.
On purely technical terms, perhaps drone attacks may be termed as violation of sovereignty though not the kind which is really injurious to Pakistan’s interests. Yes the attacks have their costs and to deny them would tantamount to intellectual dishonesty. But at the same time the benefits are greater in terms of elimination of militants in an efficient way with lesser loss of lives and with far less political backlash.
What we forget is that drone attacks, or so called violation of sovereignty, would not have been needed had we shown some political will to tackle the issue of militancy ourselves. We tried peace deals several times but always ended up appeasing militants. In fact militants broke such deals several times thus making a mockery of our “diplomacy” and negotiations. We conducted belated army action in tribal areas but that too was severely criticized by our media and media savvy urban middleclass and touted as “shameless” usage of our own army against our own people. The experience has shown that militants, by and large, represent nihilistic irrational philosophy, and cannot be trusted. Therefore military action unfortunately becomes the only option as appeasement has failed miserably in the past. And if we are so reluctant to use our own military against our “own” people than what is wrong with drone attacks?
The stance becomes even more illogical when seen in the context of our blames on US for being the perpetuator of the “original sin” of nurturing Jihadists in 1980s for the purpose of defeating Soviet Union. Keeping that historical perspective in mind, it would be only fair to ACTUALLY expect US to help clean up the mess they helped create in those times. It is also in this backdrop that drone attacks need to be assessed rather than on emotional and irrational grounds.
It is said the man is a rational being. However, we continuously prove ourselves as contrary to being one. The national mindset has become hypersensitive to politically hollow sloganeering and unfortunately continues to be nurtured in that direction by our media. This irrational mindset has developed a reciprocal relationship with the media- print as well as electronic- and both reinforce each other thus making sure that we spiral downwards into a state of complete intellectual bankruptcy.
Obviously this downward spiral is not merely intellectual as it is also accompanied by lack of public interest and participation in other and far more important issues such as education, law and order, poverty, healthcare and political reforms related to issues like provincial autonomy. Instead of debating on these issues and ensuring that the respective central and provincial governments are made accountable, the entire media thrust and the public attention is on these hyped up issues.