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    South Asia
 
     Dec 16, 2008

COMMENT
A novel way to tackle Pakistan
By Sreeram Chaulia

A new study entitled "World at Risk" by a bipartisan American Congressional commission reveals that if one were to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) today, then "all roads would intersect in Pakistan". It warns that the next attacks on America might originate from Pakistan and urges the US president to take steps on a priority basis "securing" Islamabad's biological and nuclear weapons. Paraphrasing the report, the New Yorker magazine commented that Pakistan as a "nation itself is a kind of WMD".

Coming on the heels of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were planned and organized by Pakistani fundamentalists, the American warnings reflect a major dilemma facing international
policymakers - how to make the world safe from Pakistan? The nature and extent of this challenge has been summed up by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, "Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons, it has terrorism, extremists, corruption [and is] very poor ... "

What options does the world have to counter the multiple threats to international security and peace being posed by a dysfunctional and dangerously adrift country? Should a country that is itself a WMD be allowed to possess actual WMDs, which are not only liable to fall into the "wrong" hands but also be used by the "right" hands for emotional blackmail?

Irfan Hussain, a leading Pakistani newspaper columnist, recently bemoaned that "Pakistan was the only country in the world that negotiates with a gun to its own head. Our argument goes something like this: If you don't give us what we need, the government will collapse and this might result in anarchy, and a takeover by Islamic militants. Left unstated here is the global risk these elements would pose as they would have access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal." A state which threatens to explode and destroy everyone else on the planet unless it is pampered is akin to a suicide bomber whose message to his enemies is to change their policies "or else".

The issue to ponder for world leaders is whether an "international migraine" and "suicidal" state should be allowed to possess WMDs or, for that matter, be self-governing? Sovereignty, as an organizing principle of world affairs, is not merely a bestower of rights but also comes with certain responsibilities towards one's own people and to other sovereign countries. Pakistan's track record is one of waving the red flag and screaming SOS to assert its rights as a sovereign country, without fulfilling the corollary obligations.

While many developing countries may have failed to live up to the expectations of their populations to improve living standards and governance, Pakistan has the extra cachet of exporting terrorism and extremist religious values to other countries. The controversial call for "international humanitarian intervention" over the failure of a state to protect its own people from grave human rights abuses is premised on what is happening within a country. To be fair, Pakistan has not fared worse than many other developing countries on domestic human development indices. Albright's mention of corruption and poverty as causes for concern about Pakistan is not relevant as these are not unique failings.

What stands Pakistan apart, though, is its ability to breed terrorism, extremist ideology and nuclear fecklessness and project these outwards at the rest of the world. The correct international response to this should not a "humanitarian intervention" but one based on global collective will, represented by the United Nations. Given the sui generis mixture of threats presented by Pakistan, an equally novel response is warranted. Since Pakistani sovereignty has been misused to impair the sovereignty of its neighbors - Afghanistan to the west and India on the east - the first strategy of an international collective will should be to circumscribe the country's sovereignty and place it under custodianship.

After World War I, when a transfer of colonies occurred between the losing German and Turkish empires to the victorious European ones, a mechanism called "mandate" was introduced at the League of Nations. Mandated territories were deemed unfit for self-rule by the victors of the war and taken over as de facto colonies "until such time as they are able to stand alone". After World War II, successors of the League mandates were rechristened "Trust Territories" and passed on to the UN to be "prepared for independence and majority rule".

Although mandates were thinly disguised veneers for colonial aggrandizement, they contain the germs of an idea for application to the now universally acknowledged "Pakistan problem". Both mandates and trusts were believed by practitioners at the time to be temporary waiting phases before a land could earn the spurs of a fully sovereign state. Although the judgement of whether these wards had the attributes of sovereign states was left to imperialist calculations, the notion that an international legal agreement could decide when and whether a country should be allowed to be sovereign is informative.

For Pakistan to be rid of its WMDs, hate preachers, terrorists and their infrastructure, only a handover of its sovereignty to a UN-designated custodian authority will be effective. Since sovereignty is closely associated with nationalism, such a grand experiment will undoubtedly meet fierce resistance within the Pakistani establishment and society. But there is no other way for the country's Augean Stables to be cleaned. Washington's pressure and protestations from Kabul or New Delhi have come and gone in vain for years without any concrete change in Pakistan's behavior.
A spell of international custodianship over Pakistan is the only feasible means for long-term transformation of the sub-continent's problem child. Those representatives of the Pakistani state who wish to strengthen moderation will benefit from a handover of sovereignty to the UN because the move promises to enhance civilian power and demilitarize policymaking. For Pakistani civil society, which has been struggling to counter what Harvard University professor Jessica Stern called the "jihad culture", a decade or so of international custodianship would open the space needed to rebuild the country with the cement of civic consciousness and religious tolerance. Pakistani activists should welcome coming under a UN trust and ally with like-minded forces pressing for this solution.

Besides Pakistani nationalism, an international campaign to bring the country under UN custodianship is bound to run into two stumbling blocks. The 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is likely to vote as a bloc in the UN General Assembly to stymie efforts to constrict the foreign and domestic powers of one of its members. Pakistan is no ordinary member of the OIC because of its possession of the so-called "Islamic bomb" and losing a nuclear-armed Muslim power will rankle with the OIC.
The other hurdle is China, for which the temporary loss of Pakistan's sovereignty will be a big blow to its strategic vision of dominating Asia by tying down India. The Chinese veto has been used sparingly in the UN Security Council, but it will definitely come down with a thump on the table if Pakistan is proposed to be delivered to international custodianship.

Can the OIC and China be convinced by a determined international movement to vest Pakistan's sovereignty in the UN's trust? Can Pakistan as a nation come around to accepting this bitter medicine as a necessary prelude to renaissance? These questions need to be answered soon for the sake of world peace. The longer the delay in legal takeover of Pakistan, the greater the chances are that the "WMD nation" will explode.

Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, New York.

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