By Nadeem M. Qureshi
6 September 2013
SOVEREIGNITY IS defined as the quality of having independent authority over a geographic area such as a territory or a state. By this definition, we need to ask ourselves, can Pakistan, or for that matter, any other less developed state be considered sovereign? The key word here is ‘independent’. It implies that decision making be the exclusive preserve of the state not subject to any external influence, pressure or coercion.
So is Pakistan a sovereign state? If the question were put to the general public the answer would be an unequivocal and resounding ‘no’. You might even be considered naive, or worse, stupid, for asking the question. The response would be some version of ‘don’t you know that all our decisions are taken in Washington?’ While this is clearly extreme there seems little doubt that Pakistan is not free to make all of its own decisions. The question of course is why? Why is an ostensibly sovereign state not entirely sovereign?
The answer lies in the triangular relationship between defence, industry and sovereignty. For Pakistan defence is of paramount importance. No other state activity can have priority over it. Whether it should be this way is another matter. The fact is that it is and any analysis must proceed from this basic premise.
Modern warfare is no longer a battle of strength and skill between men. It is a battle of industrial and technological prowess. Look at how air battles have changed. In the past, air superiority depended on the skill of pilots in dogfights. You had to outmaneuver the enemy and get close behind him to fire your machine gun.
Today air superiority depends on who has better technology. Developments in avionics and missile technology mean that a pilot, properly equipped, can shoot down an enemy plane ‘over the horizon’ with a satellite guided missile. This means that the hapless enemy pilot — not similarly equipped — would not know what hit him. The combatants, such as they are, do not even see each other. One executes the other by remote control.
The same applies in the sea and on the ground. Guided, either by lasers or satellites, remotely controlled torpedoes, missiles, shells, bombs, and drones can take out the enemy at the touch of a button, or by the flourish of a joystick. And just as technology has changed offense, it has changed defence. Anti missile systems can shoot down incoming ballistic missiles. Ships equipped with phased array radar linked to guns that fire hundreds of rounds a second can take out approaching projectiles.
All these systems call for the integration of a range of technologies and products. The development and manufacture of this complex military hardware, like any multi component commercial product, requires the existence of a solid and diversified industrial base. There are essentially four economic powers currently in the world who have this base. They are the US, Russia, China and the EU bloc of countries.
It is claimed that Pakistan now can manufacture a lot of its military hardware. Examples are given of indigenously developed missiles and aircraft. But anyone who has some familiarity with the nature of complex industrial products — such as missiles and aircraft — knows that Pakistan simply does not have the industrial wherewithal to ‘manufacture’ these. To build a missile or aircraft you need, for example, special metals for engine parts, chemicals for rocket fuel, electronics for control and guidance systems, and of course the technology needed to put all these together.
Pakistan falls short in all of these areas. We just do not have industries that produce high strength and lightweight aluminium, titanium and magnesium alloys, used in aircraft frames and skins. Nor do we produce heat resistant steels for engine parts. Nor can we produce the very special chemicals that are needed for solid rocket fuel or for radar reflective coatings. Nor do we produce the high precision valves, pumps and motors for airborne hydraulic systems. The list goes on. The upshot is that ultimately these materials have to come from outside.
Pakistan has historically depended on both the US and China as its principal military suppliers. It is this dependence and its vital link to our defence needs that undermines our sovereignty. If they want something from us we are not really in a position to say ‘no’. And they use this leverage to pursue their own interests regardless of the damage done to ours.
Pakistan’s sovereignty, and for that matter of any undeveloped country, is a myth. And myth it will remain until we put together a coherent industrial policy that aims eventually to give us the required industrial and technological base to really build our own missiles and planes. Then, and only then, will we be a sovereign state.
Nadeem M. Qureshi is Chairman of Mustaqbil Pakistan