The rest comes after
Today’s date – May 20th – is profuse with notable events. On this day, in 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, a program designed to grant public land to small farmers at low cost (of $1.25 an acre); in 1956, the United States dropped a hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll; in 1990, the Oyoun Qarra Massacre took place, in which a 100 Palestinian laborers were made to kneel down, in three lines, and fired at by Israeli soldiers; in 1996 the United State Supreme Court, in Romer v. Evans, struck down a Colorado statute against gays and lesbians, deeming it violative of the equal protection of law; and a far away friend of mine celebrates birthday on this day (Happy Birthday!).
But last year, on this day, another startling event was added to the list: on May 20th 2011, WikiLeaks disclosed that according to US State Department cables, Pakistan’s army chief, General Kayani, asked Admiral Fallon, the commander of U.S. Central Command, for increased surveillance and “continuous Predator coverage” over North and South Waziristan strongholds for Taliban militants. For those less familiar with the “Predator”, they are the workhorses of the United States’ unacknowledged remotely-piloted drone campaign in North-West Pakistan. The report went on to describe that Admiral Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request”, but offered US personnel to aid Pakistan in command and control for its attack aircraft, which General Kayani said would “not be politically acceptable.”
As expected, in the aftermath, the Pakistan army released a statement denying the contents of the cable, and asserting that they had only been sharing “technical intelligence in some areas” and “no armed drone attack support has ever been asked for our operations which have been conducted using own resources.”
A year since, and many drone-attack-deaths later, as government officials and foreign dignitaries muscle out the details of restoration of the Nato supply lines through our land, rhetoric from Pakistan has tied the issue with three broad demands: i) stoppage of drone-attacks, ii) reimbursement of funds under the coalition support program, and iii) an apology for the dreadful incident last November at Salala post, along with an assurance of it not being repeated.
But it is important to backtrack for a moment and put this in perspective. When exactly was the bold step of blocking the Nato supply lines through Pakistan taken? Was it a consequence of stoppage of US funds? No. (The Pakistan army claims that it does not need US support for its operations). Was it then a consequence of the persistent drone-attacks that have massacred several hundred civilian lives? No. (Drone attacks have been carried out in Pakistan for several years now, with only token protests from our leadership and establishment. Civilian lives, it seems, are most dispensable in Pakistan). Was the blockage of the Nato supply line a result of the tragic death of soldiers at Salala, and a US infringement on the Pakistan army? Yes, bingo! And therein lies the essence (problem?) of our national security doctrine. Our national security ideology is focused around the interests of our armed forces, and views the citizenry as only incidental to such interests.
The obvious first: there is no justification, nor can there be, for the Salala incident. And the tragic loss of our soldiers was a national loss – one at which the entire nation grieves. And it rightly deserves a proportional response that asserts our sovereignty and holds the culprits accountable. The problem, however, is that this principle is only applied to the loss of a soldier’s life, and not across the board. In terms of violation of territorial integrity of Pakistan, or loss of Pakistani lives, is a drone-attack (allegedly without the consent our government) that kills innocent people, any different from an attack on our army check-post that claims a soldier’s life? Keeping aside the rules of military engagement, do both not involve a violation of our territorial boundary and death of our citizen? Does the constitution, or our religion, or our morality distinguish between a soldier’s life and a civilian’s life? Is one less than the other? Should our national response not be similar (if not the same) to both these events?
The fact that our foreign policy and national security places a significantly higher premium on soldiers than civilians stems from a fundamental fracture in our policy construct: the khakis, and not their civilian masters, are the sole custodians of our national security doctrine. (Also evident from the issues before the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case, where select members of the Khaki empire took blatantly unconstitutional steps under the garb of ‘national security’). The decision to block the Nato supply lines was not deliberated at length in the parliamentary halls or the public spheres. It was a knee-jerk decision, concluded within the corridors of power at GHQ, and then projected as a populist defiance of American hegemony. And the back-paddling taking place today, with no room for saving face, bears testament to the decision’s folly.
A simple truth needs to recognised: till such time that defining national security remains the exclusive domain of the uniformed personnel, there will be disparity between the khaki and the civilian ranks. And such disparity violates the very fundamental value of equality that forms the bedrock of our democratic system.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]