Pakistan’s foreign policy orientation — VII

Pakistan is abandoning US protection, in favour of protection from other countries

The day Pakistan allowed the US to fly its missions from its territory to spy on the former Soviet Union, Pakistan actually decided to tolerate the breach of its own sovereignty. Sometime after July 1956, Pakistan allowed its territory to be used to violate the sovereignty of the Soviet Union, till May 1, 1960, when the U-2 spy plane of the US intelligence agency was shot down by the Soviet Union in its airspace.

This was the first major peace time offensive launched from Pakistan’s territory. Interestingly, on May 2, 2011, Pakistan experienced the desecration of its sovereignty by US Marines who conducted a clandestine operation against Osama bin Laden was residing in Abbottabad.

This was the latest major peace time offensive experienced by Pakistan, which blatantly violated its sovereignty. Sovereignty means a state of affairs in which a political government is independent in taking its actions within a specified (or given) political territory.

This state of affairs also has to be recognized by other states. In this way, sovereignty derives the strength of legitimacy not only from its internal affairs but also from international affairs. When a state or country is sovereign in its actions both internally and externally, that state is called an independent state or country.

In the case of Pakistan, another concept also sounds relevant. That is, protectorate, a state which is protected and controlled by another state. Here, protection is a pre-requisite to control, whether lax or strict. The main constituent of protection is offering help in the areas of finance and defence. Interestingly, during the Cold War (1947-1991), one of the major countries from which Pakistan got both financial help and military aid was the US. The tyranny haunting Pakistan now is that the post-Cold War era is dictating Pakistan the concept of sovereignty different from what Pakistan learnt during the Cold War, which offered Pakistan the feeling of a de facto protectorate of the US.

In this sense of protection, Pakistan viewed its sovereignty, as the sense of protectorate suited to the obsequious set of mind colonially inherited by Pakistan and the sense of insecurity ravaging it after the partition. Sovereignty was seen in this sense of being protected. Pakistan valued the consequent protector- protected relationship embodied in various aid programs and defence alliances. The sense of being a de facto protectorate went so well with Pakistan that, in the post-Cold War era, when Pakistan got de-protected (or unyoked), Pakistan is still clinging tenaciously to the status of a protected state which is looking for a protecting state.

As Richard Haas argues in his book, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, published in 2017, if states are categorized into strong, weak and failed states, Pakistan may be subsumed under the weak-state category. A failed state could be that wherein the government authority breakdowns to open space for chaos caused by the actions of local gangs and armed militias in an effort to take control over their preferred area of monopoly.

Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda experiencing civil strife since the 1990s are perfect examples. However, a weak state is the one wherein the government authority exists preventing chaos along with the complementary military power defending borders, but it remains handicapped in capacity by enduring the existence of uncontrolled socio-political spaces for chaos and ungoverned territories within its borders for revolt.

Pakistan’s history is replete with examples when religious sentiment of people was exploited to stir them up creating socio-political space. Both Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in September 1988 and Muttahida Majlis e Amal (MMA) in September 2001 were perfect examples; incidentally, both were military sponsored parties.

Nevertheless, owing to the repetition of the practice, this kind of space is now yearning for perpetuity or at least it is resisting absolute closure. In the context of ungoverned territories, tribal areas of Pakistan offer a best example.

Since partition, these areas remained out of the writ of the government under the pretext that the people residing these areas wanted to live by their own cultural norm. However, over the years, these areas became a hotbed of proclaimed offenders, drug peddlers and arms smugglers, right under the nose of the government, even to the instant knowledge of intelligence agencies.

The next refugees to these areas were Islamic militants of various hues, both local and international. The areas which were left unattended deliberately in the name of respecting ethno-cultural diversity turned into a stranglehold of chaos inviting all types of breach of the sovereignty of the state. This is how the inviting factors to breach Pakistan’s sovereignty are more in number and stronger in intensity than those of the prohibitory ones.

Drone strikes since 2004 and subsequent hot pursuits by the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan are the best examples, though these were still minor breaches of sovereignty. Within the context of minor breach, the only exception to the principle of an ungoverned territory inviting sovereignty breach is the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Balochistan by a drone strike in May 2016.

A protectorate is a state which is protected and controlled by another state. Here, protection is a pre-requisite to control, whether lax or strict

On the eastern border, although the attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001 was carried out by five militants belonging allegedly to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), it led to Pak-India military stand-off in 2001-2002. The immediate effect of the crisis was India’s realizing the failure of the Sundarji Doctrine (1981-2004) to confront Pakistan.

In 2004, India popularized its Cold Start Doctrine which is pro-breach in details. On January 1 this year, the tweet by US President Donald Trump bespoke the kind of opinion about Pakistan pervading Washington DC. Trump declared Pakistan a perfidious ally, which was defying the past de facto protected status and its trappings, but was prone to be tweaked to listen to the US demands, whereas Pakistan has been searching for sovereign equality in Pak-US bilateral relations.

Pakistan thinks that coming out of the US fold betokens Pakistan’s independent status. Interestingly, at the same time, Pakistan is found yearning for donning some other fold (provided by either China or Russia) assuming that the subsequent fold would not make Pakistan compromise its sovereignty. In short, Pakistan is abandoning US protection, in favour of protection from other countries.


The writer can be reached at

Published in Daily Times, January 17th 2018.