Sovereignty on sale?

When the October 2005 earthquake shook our world, the then American ambassador Ryan Crocker planned taking charge of relief efforts. He convinced the Musharraf government that the Americans were the best thing that could happen to Pakistan at their time of need! ‘We can do a better job than the Pakistanis’ was his loud message. Crocker and his team of army men landed at the PM Secretariat to set up their disaster management headquarters. “Big beefy colonels toting their cell phones and walkie-talkies roamed the corridors barking orders at us,” an eyewitness tells me. “We were running like scared chickens trying not to get trampled.” Fortunately, saner voices prevailed and the Americans were finally told to vacate the premises.

When army action began in Swat recently, the American embassy in Islamabad again approached Prime Minister Gilani. Ambassador Anne Patterson offered to help with the logistics. What the prime minister told her is not public knowledge. But if conspiracy theories are to be believed why did he give the NWFP government a carte blanche to deal with the issues of the IDPs (internally displaced persons). With much ado, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), a Geneva-based mediation organisation, hosted “Representatives of the government of Pakistan, politicians and non-governmental organisations from NWFP and FATA,” to meet with senior officials of UN Agencies and International Committee of the Red Cross.

The HD paid for the ten Pakistani participants, including their air fares and luxury hotel stay in Geneva. The weeklong workshop was arranged with the blessings of our ambassador, Zamir Akram, in Geneva. The Foreign Office, it appears, was bypassed. Whether Akram received censure from Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is not known. But what is known is that the role of the foreign secretary in the present political dispensation has considerably lessened. President Asif Ali Zardari is signing all kinds of agreements with his foreign hosts without the babus at the Foreign Office whetting them. On this subject another time…

The Frontier lawmakers going to Geneva were Sitara Ayaz, minister for social welfare, who ran an NGO before becoming a minister, and Senator Saleh Shah of FATA. Others in the group were Habibullah Khan, additional chief secretary of FATA; Jamil Amjad, relief commissioner; Jamaluddin Shah, commissioner for IDPs; Begum Jan of tribal women’s association; ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand; Mussarat Bibi Ahmadzeb and Shaukat Nawaz Tahir of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The press release from Geneva said: “The HD Centre was able to provide a unique environment for participants to discuss the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance and the security of humanitarian personnel. Participants were able to reach a consensus that effective humanitarian delivery depends on a transparent and structured dialogue with militant actors by humanitarian agencies with the full knowledge, support and agreement of the government.”

Just hold it right here! The government of NWFP in other words has signed away its sovereign rights to the UN agencies, allowing them unhindered access to the militants. The above line in italics was slyly slipped in the press release thereby authorising the UN to infiltrate and penetrate into the sensitive security issues which currently are no-go areas for even the media. A handful of civilians from NWFP went to Geneva, courtesy the HD with the help of ambassador Zamir Akram and some would see this as a slight on Pakistan’s sovereignty.

“It is clear that in situations such as this, when civilians are caught in conflict, there is a need for humanitarian dialogue with all the armed actors if safe humanitarian access and delivery is to be possible,” said Dennis McNamara, the HD Centre’s Humanitarian Adviser and organiser of the workshop. Let’s parse his words. McNamara is opening the door for the international donors working in Pakistan to enter into a “humanitarian dialogue” with the militants. If this is not surrendering the state’s sovereignty to foreigners, pray tell me what is it then? At the Geneva workshop participating were the UN agencies headed by Rashid Khalikov of OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs); Louis-Georges Arsenault of UNICEF; Janet Lim of UNHCR; Miguel Bermeo of UNDP; Charles Vincent of the WFP and Sandra Wirth of the ICRC.

Which country in the world would allow the above-named agencies to meddle in its security issues? Which country would like to share its classified information with Rashid Khalikov of OCHA only meant for our security agencies? And more importantly, how on earth can these foreigners of civilian UN agencies have a face-to-face ‘dialogue’ with cut-throats and hardcore terrorists?

It’s crystal clear that the sole purpose of this so-called workshop was to remove the barriers for the foreigners, letting them scout anywhere on the pretext of providing humanitarian aid while hunting for terrorists (actually our nukes) under America’s watch. Think about it soberly. The UN, if allowed free access across the countryside, may even hire helicopters from a private security firm. This is a scenario which falls fairly and squarely in the realm of possibilities.

Our government has already allowed air attacks by American drones, one now fears that the Zardari government in collusion with the NFWP government may allow foreign boots on the ground under the garb of UN humanitarian aid workers. Before the Pakistani public gets cuckolded by its leaders by selling Pakistan’s sovereignty, the 176 million citizens must wake up. “Pakistanis have no shame; nor do they care for their national interest,” says a government servant holding his head in utter frustration. He names the lawmakers, local NGOs and people in donor agencies clandestinely forming a troika.

Now connect the dots: IDPs figures are daily being hyped up by the NWFP government and the UN agencies. The former has doubled its earlier estimates, warning of an influx of 2.5 million IDPs, while the UNHCR puts it at a million plus. What both have done in their calculations is to include the old number of 553,929 IDPs who had already left their homes long before May 1 army action. These folks are regularly receiving their relief package as per the information put up by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) website. According to this website, the total number of new IDPs is just 56,298 individuals (living in camps) and 428,789 individuals (living outside the camps on their own).

Can all the three organisations please stand up and tell us which figure is correct? Why is there such a big gap between the NDMA and the other two? We need answers before we jump to the conclusion that someone, somewhere is making mega-bucks by presenting dummy IDPs who only exist on paper. Someone is skimming off their hefty relief package! Imran Khan where are you? Can you nail the culprits?

By: Anjum Niaz published in The News