Steady economic and military dependence on the West, made Pakistan incapable to protect its national interest
When Pakistan emerged as a new state on the map of the world 74 years ago, sovereignty was not the issue. With the passage of time, it appeared that freedom to make and implement decisions by the state of Pakistan was gradually being compromised. Steady economic and military dependence on the West, particularly the United States, made Pakistan incapable to protect its national interest and national security from foreign influence and interference.
In 2021, Pakistan is the world’s fifth most populated country and the only state in the Muslim world with nuclear weapons, yet its capability to assert its position and guard its sovereignty from external threats is limited.
According to the Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, “Sovereignty is often regarded as enabling concept of international relations where states assert not only ultimate authority within a distinct territorial entity but also assert membership of the international community. The doctrine of sovereignty implies a double claim: autonomy in foreign policy and exclusive competence in internal affairs.” Sovereignty is however compromised when the state is dependent either on global financial institutions for loans or relies on financial assistance from various states. Pakistan’s sovereignty predicament is getting serious with each passing day. Two major sources of financial dependence of Pakistan to meet its budget deficit and arrange funds for development are: World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank and funds from China under CPEC. Borrowing from the governments of China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also deepened Pakistan’s vulnerability in resisting foreign pressures
Sovereignty is a double-edged sword because it stresses on the country’s independence on making and implementing decisions, and on how a state has to compromise on its ability to take a stand on issues which runs contrary to the interest of donor institutions and states. Seventy-four years after gaining independence, Pakistan’s nightmare is submission of its sovereignty to foreign institutions and powers who may dictate terms against financial assistance. When 50% of Pakistan’s GDP is under foreign debt and in order to pay interest on more than 100 billion dollars of foreign debt, Pakistan has to take more loans — something which means mortgaging state assets for money. This vicious debt trap is a major reason behind the erosion of our sovereignty.
One can figure out three major dimensions of how the sovereignty of Pakistan has been compromised and why the country has not been able to act independently on issues which are critical in nature.
First, in real politic, there is no such thing as free lunch. Donors always have an upper hand on the recipient state which is the case with Pakistan. A country’s sovereignty is fragile and is compromised when it is on dole. Economic space comes when the country is strong in its exports, foreign exchange reserves, value of its currency, per capita income and economic growth rate. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s economy has remained import-driven and devoid of self-reliance. When Pakistan’s federal budget is announced, statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of revenue is consumed for debt-servicing and for meeting defence expenditures. The remaining one-third is used to pay amount to provinces as it is conditional according to the 18th constitutional amendment. As a result, in order to run the country’s administration and launch development programmes, Pakistan has to borrow from internal and external sources. Pakistan’s total public debt is around $200 billion which is augmenting with each passing day. If the IMF dictates enhancing power and gas tariffs and oil prices and ending subsidies, the outcome is enormous escalation in prices of essential commodities. Sovereignty of Pakistan is compromised when the state is unable to say no on matters detrimental to the country’s national interests. Otherwise, the government would have resisted conditions imposed by the FAFT under the cover of controlling money laundering. No sovereign state will accept such conditions unless it is economically weak and politically fragile. Sovereignty of Pakistan is coerced from two sides: Multilateral financial institutes and donor states and FATF.
Second, there is a history of the erosion of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Ten years ago, three back-to-back events seriously undermined the sovereignty of Pakistan. In January 2011, Raymond Davis, an American CIA contractor, was arrested from Lahore on charges of killing two Pakistani citizens and was sent to prison on judicial remand. The case was filed in a court and the trial began. In the meantime, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton approached the Pakistan government for his release but since it was a murder case and Davis had no diplomatic immunity it was very difficult to release him. But, in March 2011, Davis was released by staging a drama of paying blood money to the heirs of the two people killed by him — something that poorly reflected on the sovereignty of Pakistan which came under pressure from Washington to release an American national who was under trial in a murder case. The second event which highly undermined the sovereignty of Pakistan was ‘Operation Gerimino’ of May 2, 2011 when US navy seals in two helicopters sneaked into the territory of Pakistan, reached a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad, and killed Osama bin Laden, who as an international terrorist with a head money of $50 million. Violating the airspace of Pakistan and launching an operation 200 kilometers inside the territory of a sovereign country led to an outrage but nothing happened. The third incident, which exposed Pakistan’s sovereignty, took place in November 2011 when US forces deployed on Pak-Afghan border opened fire on Pakistani forces and killed more than two dozen soldiers. In retaliation, Pakistan temporarily suspended Nato supplies but took no concrete step to prevent similar acts, like drone attacks on its tribal areas.
Third, in prevailing circumstances in Afghanistan, Pakistan has refused to provide logistical support and bases to the US to launch its air operations against the advancing Taliban forces. But the US air raids in Afghanistan against Taliban fighters continue to violate air sovereignty of Pakistan. The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan may claim that it is sovereign and doesn’t come into pressure from any quarter but the reality on the ground is different. Respect of a country is granted when its sovereignty is intact and is not subservient to foreign dictates.
By Dr Moonis Ahmar
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2021.