By Aarti Tikoo Singh
February 15, 2019
Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of
Pakistan to the United States and director for South and Central Asia at the
Hudson Institute, a Washington DC based think-tank,
has been a critic of Pakistan’s establishment. In a conversation with Aarti
Tikoo Singh he talks about Af-Pak region and the current Pakistani
The Af-Pak region is at a critical
juncture with Pakistan leading peace talks with Taliban in Afghanistan. Can it
clinch a peace deal for the region?
Like three of his predecessors, US
President Donald Trump is seeking Pakistan’s assistance in bringing
Afghanistan’s Taliban to the negotiating table even though the US has
reservations about Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. But the history of American
negotiations with Taliban, going back to the mid-1990s, shows the chasm between
America’s and Taliban’s world views and Pakistan’s regional ambitions.
Pakistan wants to use the US focus on
withdrawal from Afghanistan to engage with Washington and to possibly reopen
the doors for US economic and military assistance. But if Pakistan gets its
bailout first, its interest in helping the Americans diminishes.
Taliban know they cannot get control over
Afghanistan until the Americans get out. I doubt they would be satisfied with a
minor role in the Afghan government. Their refusal to respect the current
Afghan government would be a deal breaker.
If there is to be a settlement this time,
it would have to involve verifiable guarantees that Afghan and Pakistani soil
will not be used to harbour or train terrorists responsible for attacks around
the world. No one knows how those guarantees can be ensured.
How is the Imran Khan government
different from its predecessors?
The Imran Khan government is more beholden
to Pakistan’s military than any other civilian government in recent years. Khan
is the product of the military’s aversion to a genuinely popular civilian
politician in power, backed by an electoral mandate, who might alter the
country’s overall direction.
What of the army’s control over decision
The Pakistan military has stopped even
pretending that elected civilians run the country’s affairs. ‘The military and
the civilian government are on one page’ is the new mantra in Pakistan. All it
means is that the civilian veneer has become thinner than before.
Military men seem to be directing all
aspects of policy directly – on India, Afghanistan, Jihadi terrorism and
relations with China, Saudi Arabia and the US.
Is PM Khan sincere about peace with
I cannot speak about sincerity or otherwise
of anyone. What I can say is that Imran Khan’s publicly stated views are
closest to the views of Pakistan’s anti-West, anti-India, and Islamic
nationalists than any other civilian prime minister in recent times.
Pakistan’s establishment defines the
ability to keep India engaged diplomatically as an accomplishment in itself. I
see Imran Khan’s pronouncements as a continuation in that direction. Genuine
peace would require shutting down of internationally designated jihadi
terrorist groups. We are not seeing that happen.
India remains front and centre in
Pakistan’s foreign policy and for the army, ISI and the Khan government. China,
Saudi Arabia and UAE are viewed as allies who will help ensure that Pakistan
does not collapse and has some economic assistance.
Given that the fundamentals of policy have
not changed, it is unlikely that instruments of policy would change any time
PM Khan identified as Pakistan’s closest
allies China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. What does it indicate?
As always, Pakistan seeks from its allies
what it is unable to do itself, namely build an economy. The men who rule Pakistan
refuse to understand that economic performance is often linked to political
stability and predictability as well as other things – like higher literacy,
quality of education, human capital, openness to new ideas, social trust, ease
of travel. Foreign relations are deemed a substitute for sound domestic
Imran Khan is also looking to Saudi Arabia,
Turkey and China for loans and temporary deposits in the State Bank of Pakistan
to stave off a budgetary and foreign exchange crisis. Beyond that there is no
great thinking involved.
He’s cancelled a power project of CPEC,
citing its financial non-viability. What does it indicate?
For decades, Pakistanis have believed that
China was Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’. The relationship has been based, since
the 1960s, on a shared interest of keeping India in check. More recently, China
has been gradually replacing the United States as Pakistan’s principal source
of hard currency loans and investment. CPEC has been billed as a ‘game changer’
for Pakistan’s economy without regard to its costs and the potential debt trap
Renegotiations and cancellations of
existing CPEC agreements will annoy the Chinese but seem necessary. But beyond
tinkering with CPEC, Pakistan’s leaders need to examine and remedy their
perennial governance problems. If they do not, China will discover what the
Americans did after many years of assisting Pakistan. No amount of aid or
development investment can get Pakistan’s economy off the ground unless the
economic fundamentals in Pakistan are addressed.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are
the author's own.