Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Stateless actors" - born on a desert island?

Asif Ali Zardari has said he very much doubts that the captured terrorist in Bombay is a Pakistani. So far, so good - he's free to express his doubts. The terrorist may after all still turn out to be Indian, or in principle he could be a citizen of Sri Lanka, Sweden, South Africa, Nagorno-Karabakh or any other country.

But then Mr Zardari extends this doubt to a suggestion that defies logic: the terrorists who attacked Bombay were "stateless actors". I ask myself, how does one end up being stateless? By being born on a desert island not claimed by any of the world's 203 sovereign states? So perhaps these terrorists hail from the Niue and Cook islands off the New Zealand coast? Or from an unexplored part of Antarctica?

Though stateless, they're not in the least bit weapon-less?

Well I'm probably being too harsh on Mr Zardari who has to dig himself out of a tough situation. Perhaps his statement is to be interpreted as code for "even if they come from, and are armed in, my country, I don't recognise them as Pakistanis". If so that's a good beginning, though there's a very long way to go from there.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I thought this post was a bit unduly harsh on Zardari, especially in light of your other extremely balanced and laudable posts. The operative words in Zardari's statement were, "stateless actors", not merely, "stateless". I think this is a crucial distinction. The terrorists were "stateless actors" in the sense that, you would have been one if you had been arrested for theft or murder in say, NYC.
Whether or not the terrorists were infact "stateless actors" remains to be seen, but what Zardari precisely means by this term is very very obvious to me.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Anticargocultscience: If I had been arrested for theft or murder in NYC, I would be an Indian and not a stateless actor. But perhaps what you say would apply if a group of miscellaneous people (linked perhaps by a common religion) had a murder syndicate in the US. Then indeed they could be called stateless actors.

Your basic point is well-taken: I was indeed being unduly harsh on Zardari, whose position (we tend to keep forgetting that he lost his wife to terrorism) is unenviable. If he were replaced by someone from a military or religious fundamentalist background, that would be a lot worse for all concerned.

Ramanan said...

I think "non-state actor" is a technical term :

Cheeta said...

I admit I don't know what President Zardari may have meant by the term "stateless actors", but from Ramanan's helpful reference it's indeed likely that what he wanted to get across was that the terrorists, regardless of their nominal, assumed or actual citizenship, were acting not on, for, or on behalf of any state. In other words, please do not blame Pakistan (the country) for the actions of certain groups and/or individuals (who may well be Pakistani, but not doing what they do on behalf of their nation).

That apart, to answer Sunil's question as to how anyone can end up as "stateless"; believe me, it's not very difficult. Just ask any one of the 300,000 stateless living in Sri Lanka.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tells you about the problem of statelessness: