Most of us sleep sound at night, never having experienced the reality of war and bloodshed, thanks to the protection provided to us by the nations we live in and their military forces. Available in case of threats, these forces could be considered representatives of a state’s sovereignty.

In recent times, the U.S. has begun pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, having almost completed its objective of incapacitating al-Qaeda, and plans to finish its combat operations and withdrawal by December; roughly 10,000 troops will remain to provide assistance and training for the Afghan forces. The already existing friction between the brother nations of Pakistan and Afghanistan – not helped by the Afghan government’s accusations that Pakistan is aiding the Taliban, nor Osama bin Laden’s death, nor the assassinations of various Afghani figures – has increased as the Pakistani government has begun discouraging the immigration of Afghans into the country. The fear is that a potential increase in violence in Afghanistian following the U.S. forces’ withdrawal might cause a rise in Afghans fleeing into Pakistan, adding to the millions who have sought refuge there, both legally and illegally. Besides affecting the economy as people search for jobs (measures are being taken to bring Afghan traders that do not pay taxes into the network), the influx of Afghans raises opportunities of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, compromising security.

While the entire situation is endlessly complex and cannot be fully elaborated upon in this piece, it is possible to see these conflicts as examples of state struggles for sovereignty. In simple terms, when it comes down to it, a nation strives for what is best for itself, as demonstrated by the efforts of the U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan to fight terrorism after being subjected to it: they fight not only for some measure of peace, but also for individual security.

In his work “What is a Nation?,” Ernest Renan points out that neither race nor language nor religion are the organizing principle of nationhood; there is, he claims, instead a spiritual desire for people to continue living together in the present and sharing moments of the past. Perhaps, then, it is this spiritual desire that encourages states to cultivate their sovereignty. Physically, a nation is always undergoing small changes in the form of people immigrating, being born, or dying (as well as many other factors), but these are only a part of the conceptual “nation,” if not individually insignificant. When it comes to emigrating, the sense of nationality and patriotism depends upon each person, as all feel differently, but despite constant myriad changes, the “spiritual desire” of all states to be sovereign seems somehow to be just as constant.

When Afghan refugees flee to Pakistan, their patriotism is split, and the same goes for Afghans born and raised in Pakistan. They preserve their culture, and though Pakistan is their home, only some are more loyal to Pakistan, while others are to Afghanistan. Collectively, the spirit of each country is unimpaired, and each maintains same desire for sovereignty, but these relatively smaller, individual ideas of nationalism impact the idea of sovereignty, which is more convoluted than what someone might see on a superficial level. If we divide populations between civilians and terrorists, then generally, for the sake of humanity and moral principles, a country is willing to house the civilians of another nation and use their military to fight terrorism. The extreme ideals of terrorists are, after all, generally considered wrong to the majority – though of course, when it comes to morals, just like a sense of “nationality,” all people are different, and what one may dub a terrorist, another may dub a hero. This is an important distinction: Afghanistan accused Pakistan of aiding terrorists, and meanwhile the U.S. is not fighting Afghanistan itself; only individual elements within it.

When the sovereignty of a state is threatened, such as Pakistan’s situation with the Afghan refugees, it seems something like the biological process of negative feedback. A mix of organized sovereignty and moral correctness thus appears to be important for nation-states, and a clear threat to such sovereignty – like terrorism – is demarcated by the involvement of other countries, such as Canada, Australia, and France, to name a few, during war. Nations are generally depicted with boundary lines, but what is a nation whose boundaries are cluttered with various refugees, or in other cases, external parties, with individual views on nationality that add up to create a notable dissonance?

Essentially, it seems to be human nature to desire comfort, and due to this phenomenon we spiritually long for sovereignty even while some run back and forth between borders. This is, however, a contested issue, either amongst other nations or organizations with different ideals, like the Taliban, and even as our states fight with their forces.

Leaving these hassles to be dealt with by various representatives, however, we mostly are able to sleep soundly at night.

This article was written by Ferwa Razzaq. Send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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