Pakistan’s gradual assertion of sovereignty amidst deep rooted dependence on foreign loans and aid got noticeable on April 5 when Islamabad delayed the signing of a revised trade agreement with China and refused to grant it zero duty concession on the import of Chinese goods. On April 10, Pakistan ordered the deportation of five Chinese engineers who had misbehaved with the police in M-4 project near Kabirwala, Punjab. Earlier in November last year, Pakistan had turned down Chinese request for the use of its currency in the Free Trade Zone under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Like many post-colonial states Pakistan is grappling with the issue of sovereignty because of its heavy dependence on external financial assistance and loans in order to meet budgetary deficits and to carry out developmental projects. In the recent past, CPEC provided Pakistan a window of opportunity to modernise its infrastructure, overcome energy shortfalls and provide employment to hundreds and thousands of people. Starting from 46 billion dollars in 2015, CPEC investment will touch 62 billion dollars upon its completion in 2030. Yet the gigantic amount of $ 62 billion will not be in the form of grants but loans given to Pakistan which it needs to return in coming decades. Sovereignty means ability, capability and capacity of a state to make and implement its decisions independently ie without fear, coercion and pressures. In a world which is interdependent because of globalisation and connectivity, it is not possible for a state to be totally sovereign. Its decisions are bound to be influenced by external factors. What is the price for a country if it is buried under debt and lacks the resources to repay? Will heavy reliance on foreign loans compromises on the sovereignty of a state? How fragile is Pakistan sovereignty in the backdrop of its depleting foreign exchange reserves and a huge trade gap? Pakistan cannot protect its sovereignty unless those at the helm of affairs continue to compromise on national interests and allow outsiders to meddle in the country’s internal affairs Pakistan’s sovereignty is always a subject of debate since its joining the Western alliance system during 1950s. Assuming the title of a ‘front line state’ during the cold war in 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan during 1980s and in the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan undoubtedly paid a heavy price in the form of losing its sovereignty and becoming a pawn in superpower rivalry. Whereas, post 9/11 alignment with the United States for the sake of monetary benefits exposed Pakistan to extremism, radicalisation, violence and terrorism. It is not only dependence on foreign aid and investments, but sovereignty of a country is also compromised when bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF) is repeatedly sought and short-long term loans are taken from various international financial institutions like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and other foreign banks to meet essential expenditures. There is a saying that ‘there is no such thing as free lunch’ and whatever amount Pakistan has borrowed from various international financial institutions and countries has a price tag. Three realities may be examined while analysing the issue of sovereignty as far as Pakistan is concerned. First, all the way since mid-1950s till today, no government in Pakistan has been able to be independent of foreign influence while formulating its domestic and foreign policy. Even the government of ZA Bhutto, which was termed as the most assertive regime in Pakistan failed to prevent those external forces who were trying to meddle in the country’s internal affairs during the agitation of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) after the alleged rigged elections of March 1977. It was not only the interference and influence of the United States but Arab sheikhdoms, including Saudi Arabia are termed as major actors in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. Furthermore, how can one forget the fragile sovereignty of Pakistan when Saudi Arabia forced a deal on the then President Gen Pervez Musharraf in late 2000 to release the deposed PM Nawaz Sharif and send him along with his family in exile for 10 years to Saudi Arabia. In 2007, Saudi Arabia again forced President Musharraf to allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan before completing 10 years of his exile. Second, Pakistan compromised on its sovereignty in the post-9/11 period by allowing United States to use its airspace and airbases to launch attacks on the Taliban targets in Afghanistan. The sovereignty of Pakistan was the issue when the United States began to launch series of drone strikes on the tribal areas of Pakistan since 2004 of what it called ‘safe heavens’ of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Third, the erosion of Pakistan’s sovereignty reached its peak when on May 2, 2011, US navy seals in two helicopters sneaked into Pakistan and launched ‘Operation Geronimo’ where in a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad they killed Osama bin Laden, a global terrorist figure with an American head money of 50 million dollars. They not only killed Osama bin Laden but also took his dead body and his family in the remaining one helicopter to Afghanistan violating the sovereignty of Pakistan. There was a hue and cry in Pakistan that why and how a foreign country was able to violate its airspace and sneak 150 kilometers inside the territory of Pakistan and launch that operation. The Salala incident of November 2011 when US forces deployed in Afghanistan killed several Pakistani soldiers and Islamabad was unable to do anything except to stop NATO supplies for some time which were resumed later on. And who can forget severe violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty when Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, who was arrested in Lahore in late January 2011 while killing two motorcyclists, was released after government failed to resist American pressure, including Hilary Clinton, the then U.S Secretary of State. Ironically, on April 8 this year, the US military attaché in Islamabad hit a motorcyclist killing one person and injuring another. Instead of handing over the killer to the foreign office, the police set him free. A major reality concerning the breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty could be found in the much publicised CPEC. Enormous concessions given to China by Pakistan by leasing the strategic port of Gwadar to China under 40 years lease will undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty. Not only that, there is no legal obligation on the part of China to pay for the use of roads/highways from Gwadar to Khunjrab for the shipment of Chinese goods. The federal government now intends to handover the management and distribution of Karachi electric to Shanghai electric company which will further compound the miseries of consumers as the existing management is also from a foreign country and in the last several years of its takeover it made the lives of people of Karachi miserable because of frequent load shedding, inflated billing and lack of customer care. By selling national assets to foreigners, the government is further compromising on the sovereignty of Pakistan. Pakistan cannot protect its sovereignty unless those at the helm of affairs continue to compromise on national interests and provide space to outsiders meddle in the country’s internal affairs. Sovereignty would remain at risk as long is Pakistan is on dole and heavily dependent on the outside world for providing loans and aid in the form of bailout package. Corruption, nepotism, bad governance, absence of the rule of law, violence and terrorism also questions the ability of state to gain a respectable position at the international level. The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, April 13th 2018.