You are here:

The slow and inevitable isolation of Pakistan

Washington: When the game has changed, it is pointless to play by old rules. Pakistan’s impossible demands and exaggerated expectations, which may have been met once upon a time, have a strange dissonance today.

Pakistani leaders – whether prisoner of politics of their own making or compelled by domestic demands – want the United States to respect their country’s sovereignty. They angrily denounce US drone attacks and feel insulted by Washington’s refusal to reveal the targets. The chasm deepens, the distance between Pakistan and the world grows, and the once enviable leverage shrinks.

Here’s the deal: the more Pakistan paints itself into a corner by dissing its largest benefactor, the more it is isolated and the more it undermines its own sovereignty. After all, at its barest, sovereignty is preserved and enhanced by a country’s ability to build relationships, maneuver greater space for itself and create more latitude to make its own decisions. To break those links – especially with a bad economy and power shortages – would amount to a continuous self-goal.

Besides, in a world torn by terrorism, the concept of sovereignty can be even more elusive, especially for a country indulging as lavishly as Pakistan does in using terrorists as a tool. Yes, thousands of Pakistanis have also died as a result of terrorism and the world is sympathetic but only up to a point. Countries aren’t lining up in the United Nations to condemn violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistani leaders – whether prisoner of politics of their own making or compelled by domestic demands – want the United States to respect their country’s sovereignty.

President Obama has made a cold, calculated judgment on Pakistan. He stopped buying some of the logic that determined decades of US policy where the worse Pakistan behaved, the more rewards it got. The gravy train was thick and luscious. Unlike his predecessors, Democrats and Republicans alike, Obama seems willing to detach, decide and execute a pretty ruthless policy on Pakistan of drone strikes and public snubs. He is unwilling to reward perfidy and he won’t stop drone strikes.

The fact remains that drones have killed many top al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorists, which in turn has had an impact on the capacities and reach of the “enemy.” In their more honest moments, Pakistani leaders agree that absent their own capacity to take on the extremists, drones are the next best option. Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, who was removed at Pakistan’s insistence always told the Americans they were fighting the war in the wrong country.

Notice that even Pakistan’s most important friend, China, has done nothing more than make a perfunctory call to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. In the intricate games countries play, China won’t spend its political capital vis-à-vis America for Pakistan. Heck, China made a quick deal with the US on letting the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng leave rather than stand on ceremony. Far more important issues were at stake.

Surely, Pakistan’s civilian leaders realize that the real violation of their country’s sovereignty was planned and performed by their own military and intelligence services -- by breeding terrorists. The slow burn is a full-fledged fire today. And drones are one way to limit oxygen for the blaze. Sovereignty or not.