What sovereignty?

May 14, 2011

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WHO owns Pakistan? Successive administrations have evoked the idea of the country's sovereignty, loudly decrying perceived transgressions. What is the citizenry to think, then, when it finds that land and assets have been passed into the effective control of foreign powers? On Friday, parliament was informed by the deputy chief of air staff that Balochistan's Shamsi airbase has been operationally controlled by the UAE since the 1990s. It was from here that the US drones took off. No doubt it was the sheer enormity of the Osama bin Laden debacle that forced the military to make this admission; otherwise, it is unlikely that the citizenry or its representatives would ever have known. The idea of Pakistani soil being leased out to foreign operators is not new. Last August, a senior health ministry official informed a Senate Standing Committee on Health that flood relief operations in Jacobabad were not possible because the only airbase was under use of the Americans. For some time there were suspicions that floodwaters had been diverted to save the Shahbaz airbase. The PAF later reiterated that the airbase was under its control and the few Americans present there were providing technical assistance. Nevertheless, the murkiness remained. Similarly, in 2009, there were reports that the federal investment ministry had given the green signal to the federal food and agriculture ministry to offer Arab countries about one million acres in Sindh on lease for cultivation. This plan reportedly failed on account of the worsening security situation.

Where, then, does that leave the country's sovereignty? There can be reasonable grounds to put land under the operational use of a foreign power, such as political expediency or earning. If so, the administration ought to take the citizenry into confidence. Shady deals serve no purpose but to raise suspicions. It is important for the administration to clarify its position.