By Ikram Ullah Khan
Dec 19, 2013

Ikram Ullah Khan

Pakistan is a nuclear power and has one of the world’s largest armies. It spends a vast amount of money and effort in maintaining its conventional and un-conventional military capabilities, and the sole purpose behind this approach is to ensure its national security and sovereignty. However, despite Pakistan’s continual policy of credible deterrence, the violation of its territorial borders and sovereignty has become a recurring tendency.

Why are these violations occurring so often and how can Pakistan deal with this critical issue?

There can be three possible reasons behind these violations: the presence of terrorist groups inside Pakistan and their trans-border activities; states with malicious agenda against Pakistan and their coercive policies; and thirdly, the issue of Afghanistan. Other possible contributing factors could include Pakistan’s geographic location, dispute legacy with neighboring states as well as the great game being played by major powers in this region.

These violations have occasionally been incurred by extra regional and regional powers as well. The situation has become extremely sensitive for Pakistan, as almost all of its borders are now either being violated, or are in danger of being violated.

The US has been violating Pakistan’s sovereignty through drone strikes and through ‘Abbottabad’-like operations since 2004, despite the fact that Pakistan has been a front-line, non-NATO US ally the entire time, as is often declared by the US itself. Pakistan has categorically raised the issue of drone strike with US several times, but there has been no change. In fact the greatest blow to Pakistan security and sovereignty, and the event that set a precedent for other extra-territorial actors, was ‘Operation Geronimo’ that killed Osama-bin-Laden. Not only was Pakistani sovereignty overtly violated through this US covert operation, but the government and state machinery was humiliated internationally.

India has always had provocative military doctrines towards Pakistan.  When terrorists attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, India was quick to jump the gun and accuse Pakistan as the sole actor responsible for the attack. Furthermore, it has formulated a ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ as well as several other provocative military doctrines aimed at destroying ‘terrorist camps’ allegedly located inside Pakistan, irrespective of the implications this has in terms of the violation of Pakistani borders.

Furthermore, the country’s third neighbor – Iran – now also has adopted the same practice, as since October 2012 it has violated Pakistani territorial borders four times. This reportedly included a rocket attack launched inside Pakistan’s territory on November 26th, 2013 by Iranian border forces that killed a three year old girl, her parents and injured several others.  It was an open act of violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Now, the core question that arises is how is it that the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty has become a matter of ‘routine’, so much so that nothing the state says or does appears to have any impact in preventing such violations; and secondly, what are the motives behind these continuous violations? After careful analysis even a common man can answer of this question that apparently it seems that the sovereignty of Pakistan is on stake and the motive of these aggressor countries is to not only target the terrorists those are harming the national interests of these countries but violators also want to keep Pakistan politically and economically a destabilize country. And for some reasons Indo-US nexus is also aimed to desterilize Pakistan to neutralize its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan’s relevant authorities are not oblivious to the situation but they have been remained unable to deal domestic and foreign audience in an effective manner. Politicians only issue public statements to cool down both, the domestic and foreign audience. The confusion and fog has prevailed on all these happenings and the situation is complex. The allegation exist that Pakistani leaders publically condemns the US drone strikes but secretly endorse these strikes.

Islamabad denies over its secret understanding with US regarding drone strikes.  It officially against these drone strikes and it vigorously react on every single drone strike inside Pakistan. It considers the drone strikes counterproductive, illegitimate and foreign aggression inside Pakistani jurisdiction. It wants to deal the extremists accordingly to local culture and foreign

In the post 9/11 environment, Pakistan has made tremendous efforts for global peace as it joined Global War on Terror to fight against extremists. It changed its age-old pro-Taliban policy and helped US to target, kill or capture Taliban and other associated organizations including Al-Qaeda.

It has also strengthened the mechanisms already placed to ensure that no organization or non-state actors make use of its territory to launch attacks elsewhere. Pakistan has officially banned almost all extremist organizations inside Pakistan, strictly restricted illegal trans-borders movement and initiated small and large scale operations to kill and capture extremists.

Pakistan claims that it is strongly determined to deal with all terrorist organizations attempting to make use of its territory. However, it seems that the international community is not satisfied with Pakistan’s claims as they continue to observe terrorists conveniently launching attacks from Pakistani territory and harming foreign assets. This dissatisfaction on Pakistan’s method for dealing with terrorists and extremists encourages violators to further target suspected terrorists inside Pakistani territory, without fear of international disapproval or a national backlash.

This process of indigenously launched terrorist attacks and the resultant violation of Pakistani sovereignty is not only proving a major obstacle in designing a local, Pakistani counter-terrorism strategy, also harming regional peace and stability. Arguably, if Iranian border forces consciously remain involved in targeting suspected terrorists inside Pakistani territory, the actions could spark open hostilities between Pakistan and Iran.

Therefore, given the presence of the Indian threat on its Eastern border, Afghanistan (US/ NATO attacks) on its West and now an additional developing Iranian threat on the South-West, the security of Pakistani borders and its national assets has become the biggest challenge for the country.

Islamabad should deal with these existing and emerging challenges to its national security and sovereignty in a more vigilant manner. Islamabad’s current policy on such violations can be described in a few words – “there should be no physical retaliation to such violations”.

What this effectively means is that currently Pakistan is utilizing only soft power through diplomatic means when, according to John Mearsheimer, “soft power is power only when it rests on a foundation of hard power”. This analysis of soft power appears true in Pakistani case as it is continuously primarily reacting through its soft power.

In the future if this situation continues thus, Pakistan’s retaliation to any of such violation of its borders may become a possibility in the form of a skirmish, limited or even an all-out war? The likelihood of a nuclear war in this region is extremely unwanted for Pakistan, so it is focusing on dealing with this critical issue.

Pakistan should take concrete measures and make effective use of its hard and soft power to convince all violators of its territorial jurisdiction and sovereignty that this practice must come to an end.

Pakistan should review its current policy for safeguarding its national sovereignty which has been proven ineffective. The possible solution of this problem could be that it merge its hard power (nuclear deterrence, conventional force) with its soft power and convince relevant actors that they are playing with fire and should not attempt to corner Pakistan to a point where it finally feels it has no option but to attack its opponents with all available force in order to safeguard its sovereignty and borders.

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