From friendship to fiendship. An interview with Hussain Haqqani
Husain Haqqani, the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and India and Pakistan: Is Peace Real This Time has just published his latest work, Magnificent Delusions, Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding which might receive a mixed reaction in different domestic circles, but will no doubt be read by all those interested in analyzing and understanding Pakistan’s current dilemmas. The politician-turned-academic, and a former ambassador to the US, is no stranger to controversy here in Pakistan, but is highly regarded in Washington, as a shrewd observer of the Pakistan scene.
‘Pakistan has not yet faced America’s animosity or the kind of sanctions that have been imposed on, say, Iran or Syria in the past. I do not want that to happen but I must recognize that there are some scenarios in which they could be likely.’
Haqqani takes us into the complex maze of the US-Pak relationship, its idyllic past and stormy present, and cautions his nemesis, the Pakistani establishment, against unilateral and unwise steps.
Q: You’ve been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s “Islamo-nationalist” ideology, what according to you needs to be propagated as Pakistan’s raison d’etre?
A: Pakistan may have needed an Islamo-nationalist raison d’etre for its creation, it does not need one for its evolution into a functional state. Most nations and countries have evolved through a process of history, not through propagated ideology. Ninety-five per cent of Pakistan’s current population was born after 1947. We are Pakistanis because we were born Pakistani. The need to explain Pakistan’s raison d’etre may have been relevant to those who were born in British India and found that after August 15, 1947 they had become citizens of Pakistan. It also mattered to generals like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq who joined the British Indian army and needed to explain to themselves and others what Pakistan meant and what made them eligible for leading Pakistan. We need to go beyond the ideological nation paradigm and figure out how to make the nation we were born into secure and prosperous. We need to debate policies, not ideology. As long as we keep feeling the need to ideologically justify our existence, we will be psychologically insecure.
Q: Where do you see Pak-US relations going in the next decade or so?
A: Unless Pakistan’s establishment revises its definition of national interest, I do not see a convergence of interests between Pakistan and the United States. The Americans are not interested in Pakistan’s competition with India or in enabling Pakistan to have paramountcy in Afghanistan. Once American troops leave Afghanistan, the US will also no longer be dependent on Pakistan for logistics. Already, public opinion in the US clubs Pakistan with Iran and North Korea as its least favourite countries. Iran is trying to mend fences with the United States but in doing so it is diluting its past ideological fervor. The reverse is happening in Pakistan. The relationship will be far less enthusiastic than in the past, unless we become relevant for American investors and transform ourselves from a warrior state to a trading state.
‘Iran is trying to mend fences with the United States but in doing so it is diluting its past ideological fervor.’
Q: Dan Markey’s book, No Exit from Pakistan makes a lot of the suggestions you’ve made in Magnificent Delusions. Have you gone through the book? What do you make of it?
A: I have browsed through Mr Markey’s book only recently but had never discussed its contents with him before he wrote his book or I wrote mine. Magnificent Delusions is a book of political history. Mr Markey’s book is a policy book. Both are contributions to much needed analysis of this troubled relationship.
Q: Markey asserts that the US announcing the timeline for military departure from Afghanistan from the very outset was a crucial blunder. Would you go along with that?
A: Yes. I have independently written the same thing in many articles. By announcing a schedule for withdrawal, the US gave the Taliban a timeline for how long they have to wait out the world’s sole superpower before trying to capture power again.
Q: You recently wrote a rebuttal to Mr Ansar Abbasi’s article that accused you of being pro-US and anti-Pakistan. Do you think there’s a general trend of equating self-criticism with treason? How do you think this can be overcome?
A: Unfortunately, we have a long tradition of attacking the motives of critics and describing them as traitors or unbelievers. It is meant to impose conformity in thinking and does not encourage analysis or introspection. Vibrant nations encourage self-criticism and adjust policies based on different ideas. We have a long way to go as a nation in creating that environment. Until we do, such labeling will continue to undermine debate and discussion.
Q: Jinnah said in 1947 that “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.” Do you believe that statement still holds true?
A: It was an erroneous calculation that resulted in several cycles of engagement and disenchantment. The Americans can afford to walk away as they have done several times. By telling our people that we are more important we set ourselves for unrealistic expectations, which are simply not fulfilled. We don’t discuss 1965 or 1971 – the two India-Pakistan wars – much but our exaggerated view of our centrality to others’ policies brought us harm in both wars.
Q: Was 2011 the lowest point in Pak-US relations? Can it get worse?
A: It was and it could get worse. Pakistan has not yet faced America’s animosity or the kind of sanctions that have been imposed on, say, Iran or Syria in the past. I do not want that to happen but I must recognize that there are some scenarios in which they could be likely.
Q: Why do you think President Obama wanted/wants to keep Islamabad in the dark regarding the Abbottabad raid?
A: President Obama’s decision regarding the Osama bin Laden raid reflected the depth of American mistrust of Pakistan, especially our intelligence services. The Americans felt that between the moment they informed us about their planned raid and the actual occurrence of the raid, someone might leak the information or even tip off bin Laden. Our refusal to conduct a full and proper investigation on who helped bin Laden and our failure to punish anyone for protecting him or failing to find him has only reinforced their suspicions.
‘Vibrant nations encourage self-criticism and adjust policies based on different ideas. We have a long way to go as a nation in creating that environment.’
Q: Magnificent Delusions was supposed to be written from the Pakistani viewpoint. Why the most quoted sources are American?
A: I have used American sources only to establish the sequence of events, not to determine their outcome. Americans are meticulous record-keepers. Every time one of their officials meets a foreign official, they take notes and put them on file. These records are available after a few years. In Pakistan, record-keeping is not as elaborate and there is no practice of making records public. In any case, the sources only help establish who met whom when and discussed what. Just because I have not accepted the myths circulated for public consumption throughout our history does not mean my viewpoint is not Pakistani. Don’t forget, on December 17, 1971, a day after thousands of our troops had surrendered at Dhaka our newspaper headlines were “Victory on all fronts.”
Q The much touted ‘Memogate’ affair only has a passing mention in the book. Wouldn’t you have wanted to clear your side of the story?
A: The book has been written for an international audience. For most people around the world, so-called ‘Memogate’ is irrelevant and unimportant. Most people understand that an ambassador of my standing had access at all levels of my host country and I did not need to use a dubious businessman to convey any message to any American official. My side of the story is clear and simple. An individual made a false claim, using unconnected communications in which I was mostly a passive receiver of text and messages to fabricate a story. As far as Pakistan is concerned, I am reconciled to the fact that ours is a polarized society. People believe what they want to believe and those who want to believe in false accusations against me won’t be swayed by anything I write. Similarly, those who agree with my worldview won’t believe the one-sided propaganda against me. So, I decided to focus my book on what the world is interested in – the Pakistan-US relationship – and mentioned the absurd episode that caused my resignation only in passing.
‘The PTI campaign will also just increase domestic frenzy without altering American behaviour.’
Q: What is your take on the PTI blocking the NATO supplies protesting against drone strikes in Pakistan? Is there any practical way of halting the US-orchestrated drone strikes in Pakistan?
A: However problematic the drone strikes might be, they are the result of America’s belief that it must use them to root out terrorists located in a region where the local government is either incapable or unwilling to act. When Pakistan suspended NATO supplies right after I resigned as ambassador over the Salala incident, our government thought the US would settle the matter with an apology within two to three weeks. The suspension lasted several months and ended after a face-saving compromise. In my humble opinion, the PTI campaign will also just increase domestic frenzy without altering American behaviour.
Agha Akbar is Associate Editor, Pakistan Today.