[Reader-list] "The law, however iniquitous": Pakistan & UNSC

Rana Dasgupta rana_dasgupta at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 25 10:12:43 IST 2001

Menso was not particularly impressed by Bertrand
Russell's recommendations of submitting to
international law rather than using force.  Article by
a friend of mine in this week's Friday Times
(Pakistan) (see http://www.thefridaytimes.com/ -
Opinion section) gives some of the moral, political
and pragmatic advantages for Pakistan in looking to
international law rather than the US, Afghanistan or
any internal factions in its decision-making.


Pakistan’s choices 
Nudrat B. Majeed 
says Pakistan should insist that it will only take
action authorised by a UN Security Council resolution 
The situation for Pakistan is becoming more alarming
as the US faces domestic and international pressure to
defend itself against last Tuesday’s attacks on the
World Trade Centre and Pentagon. How Pakistan responds
to the pressure from the US on the one hand, and
prevents itself from being alienated from Afghanistan
on the other, is crucial and could determine the
country’s future in the short-term. 

This much is obvious: Pakistan has been forced into a
corner. If it allows the US to deploy its troops on
Pakistani soil and to use its airspace, it will suffer
on three key grounds. Firstly, Afghanistan and its
ruling Taliban government will treat Pakistan as an
enemy not of Afghanistan but of Islam, for seeking to
side with the US rather than its Islamic neighbour.
Already the Taliban have made it clear that Pakistan
will find itself in ‘extraordinary danger’ if it gives
in to the US demands. 

Secondly, the decision will fuel civil unrest within
the country. The country is already battered by
internal conflict and sectarianism. It cannot afford
to be further torn apart by its own people, the
majority of whom do not like the US and its policies.
Such civil unrest combined with the existing
precarious political situation could result in a
crisis situation. 

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, Pakistan will
lose its sovereignty in the long term if it accedes to
Washington’s demands. On the pretext of ‘hunting down’
Bin Laden, the US will deploy military troops in the
country. A foreign military presence in a country
effectively controls the defence of that country. Any
military strategist could validate that. US military
presence would mean not just temporary physical
presence of US troops, but the possible use of
Pakistan’s military infrastructure, access to
sensitive military information and inside knowledge of
the defence of Pakistan. Combined with the existing
influence of the US on Pakistan’s economic policies,
this could further serve to erode whatever is left of
the country’s sovereignty. 

But the other side of the picture is equally dismal.
If Pakistan does not go along with Washington’s
operation against Afghanistan and decides to side with
the Taliban, it will be branded internationally as a
“rogue state” that harbours and hosts terrorists. It
may even come under the direct fire of the US.
Further, the existing US sanctions will tighten and
more will be imposed. If the country is not
debilitated by direct attacks or possible bombing it
will suffer long-term damage by the withdrawal of
economic aid and assistance. 

In this regard, Pakistan’s expectation that it can set
conditions for the US in return for allowing
Washington to proceed with its mission, by demanding
international recognition of the Taliban and lifting
of US sanctions, is unrealistic and naïve. The US
already has a stranglehold on Pakistan’s economic
situation. It does not need Pakistan’s approval to
launch its military operation. 

Nevertheless, there is an immediate solution for
Pakistan: to buy time and legitimacy for any
responsive international action. This can only be
achieved under the umbrella of international law and
the United Nations. Pakistan’s unequivocal position
towards both the US and Afghanistan should be that it
will take whatever action is authorised by a UN
Security Council resolution. 

The Security Council is the proper forum to make such
decisions in any event. It has the power to do so
under the Charter of the UN, the provisions of which
deal precisely with such acts of aggression which
threaten or breach world peace. The US also needs to
be reminded that it is one of the most vocal members
of the UN, and will be violating the very charter that
it normally accuses other states of, if it launches an
operation without the UNSC’s approval. Article 51 of
the UN Charter does not impair the inherent right of
individual or collective self-defence if an armed
attack occurs against a Member State, but neither does
it affect the authority or responsibility of the
Security Council to take necessary action to maintain
international peace and security. 

Further, any such action allowed in times of war or
other public emergency threatening the life of a
nation, taken by the US or its western allies, would
have to be consistent with their other obligations
under international law. This is also enshrined in
Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The US and its allies by indiscriminately bombing
Afghanistan would be violating the fundamental freedom
of innocent people to life, which is enshrined under
the United Nations Charter and the European

The Pakistani government should focus its efforts in
involving the UN Security Council. If the Security
Council meets to consider the possibility of a
resolution, it would have a number of advantageous
implications for Pakistan. 

First of all, it would buy time. The US and its
western allies will have to abide by the process of
the UN and the passage of time to take stock of the
situation can only calm the increasing US impulse to
take military action. 

Secondly, a resolution will only be passed if there is
enough substantive evidence to link the attacks to Bin
Laden and Afghanistan. The fact that nobody, not even
the US intelligence, has a shred of proof against Bin
Laden would mean more time to gather such evidence.
Bin Laden’s open hostility or statements welcoming
‘any attack on the US’ is simply not enough to
legitimise a mounted military attack on an innocent

Thirdly, once the matter goes before the Security
Council, it is most likely that China will veto any
decision of the US to bomb Afghanistan. That deadlock
itself may help Pakistan to manoeuvre itself out of
the trap it is in. On Tuesday, 18 September, Xue
Dongzheng, the Deputy Director of the Crime
Investigation Department at the Ministry of Public
Security in Beijing made clear that China “was opposed
to the disregard of principles of international law in
launching armed operations or violence under the
pretext of anti-terrorism which infringes on the state
sovereignty of others.” 

Finally, if a resolution is eventually passed, at
least it will allow Pakistan to show the world and
more importantly, its neighbour that it is only
abiding by its obligations under international law in
allowing the US to use Pakistan as a military base.
Even if only cosmetically, violation of the Security
Council resolution will be tantamount to a flagrant
disregard of universally agreed rules of international
law which is visibly different from being seen to
succumb to US pressure. Also, even if such fine points
of international law do not deter the US from their
blind pursuit, it might pose some limits for the Bush
administration’s ‘wild-west’ style man-hunt for Bin
Laden: “Dead or Alive”. 

Whether collectively or individually, one always has a
choice. Let us hope Pakistan makes the right one. 

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