By Utpal Kumar
20 October 2013
Pakistan remains an enigma the world over, particularly in India. Husain Haqqani, a prominent Pakistani author and former Ambassador to the US, tries to explain some of the riddles in an interaction with Utpal Kumar
It’s incredible to see how a small country like Pakistan, surviving primarily on American aid programmes and Arabian petrodollars could loom so large on India’s national agenda. Even after joining the big league, and despite the emergence of China as a bigger, more menacing challenger, India still finds it hard to get over the great Pakistani riddle. The more it tries to untangle it, the more entangled the scenario appears. Atal Bihari Vajpayee discovered this to his utter disgust in 1999 at the Kargil heights, soon after he visited Lahore on a peace mission. Manmohan Singh is still trying to figure out, even when the Pakistan Army is not afraid of beheading Indian soldiers and facilitating cross-border terrorism.
But then why blame the Indian leadership? Pakistan has been an enigma worldwide. Americans found it to their dismay and disbelief when they traced Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison town of Pakistan merely 40 miles away from Islamabad. Incidentally, Pakistan has been one of the principal allies of the Americans in their war against terrorism!
The story of Pakistan’s doublespeak is as old as the history of that country. Just look at Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Not in any way a practising Muslim, he used to drink alcohol, eat pork, smoke 50 cigarettes a day, and dress like a English gentleman. Yet, it was he who created Pakistan in the name of Islam. In the early 1970s, it was a socialist in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who introduced radical Islam in the country — a trend which gained momentum under Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Then there was Benazir Bhutto, one of the most liberal Prime Ministers in the history of Pakistan, who presided over the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan. Gen Pervez Musharraf “did not blanch at whiskey, danced when the mood was upon him”, as Steve Coll describes him in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Ghost Wars, and yet he believed firmly in the necessity of the Taliban. And today, there is Imran Khan, once a playboy cricketer, who wants us to negotiate with the Taliban!
In all this, there are a few people who have stood their ground, called a spade a spade, and fought Islamism head on. Husain Haqqani is one such person. Former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Haqqani was close to Benazir Bhutto when she was assassinated in December 2007. “Benazir Bhutto would have a very different Prime Minister had she got a third chance,” rues Haqqani. He, however, is not too enthused by Nawaz Sharif and his call for peace in the subcontinent. Excerpts:
What made you write the book, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding?
The general view in Pakistan is that the United States has deserted Pakistan. No doubt, we are sometimes victims of injustice or wrong policies of others, but we must know the sequence of events. It is important to know that the US has always been a reluctant ally with Pakistan; it was Islamabad that would actively seek its support. Above all, it’s important to know what various Pakistani leaders have said in private to American leaders. Those documents are now available; some of them have been declassified, while others can be found in presidential libraries, etc. This book is an attempt to put the complex US-Pakistan relations in a proper perspective.
You have said recently in an interview that the United States and Pakistan should stop pretending to be allies. Why do you think so?
Pakistan and the United States should be friends and not pretend to be military allies. And once we are more realistic in our approach towards one another, then the cycle of engagement and disenchantment will end. Then we will have a more realistic basis for our partnership.
I remember an American official telling me how countries with whom America has close ties have 70 per cent of their partnership in the private sector, business, trade, education, etc. This is not the case with Pakistan. The number of Pakistani students in American universities is less than those coming from Nepal. There are very few American academicians who come to Pakistan to do research works. American investment in Pakistan is confined to consumer goods. So, the foundation for a strong US-Pakistan partnership is missing. In fact, for me, the military alliance is misleading. What is this alliance all about? America provides Pakistan weapons, but Pakistan uses these weapons for military purposes that the US does not approve of. So, it is a relationship based on a mirage.
In the book, you mention how every country which has close ties with the US has done well economically, but not Pakistan. Why?
Almost every American ally post-World War II has done well economically. Germany and Japan, the two countries which were America’s rivals during the war, became its allies afterwards and turned modern, prosperous nations. South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, all these countries were in alliance with the US and developed economically. Several Latin American countries, too, did well. Pakistan, in that way, has been an exception. Since 1947, it has received up to $40 billion in aid — an amount which is more than what has been given to Taiwan or South Korea. Still Pakistan remains a dark spot. My answer to this is that because Pakistan and the United States have an on-again, off-again relationship, and while they had military ties periodically, there was no consistent acceptance that the two countries had shared values and interests.
Why could Pakistan and the US not develop anything more than military relationship?
Look, the Americans were short-sighted in believing that just by providing aid they could get Pakistan to join their global plans. Pakistanis, on their part, were mistaken in thinking that if they just kept offering America help in one thing or one specific objective, then the US would enable it to gain military parity with India. Pakistan did not get what it wanted because America gave assistance only when Islamabad was doing what Washington wanted it to do. Once the job was done, or when Pakistan wasn’t doing what the US wanted it to do, then they would part ways. Also, to America’s failure, it could never get Pakistan to move away from its India-centric policy.
You have often said that negotiating with the Taliban would be a grievous mistake. Why?
I am not against negotiations per se. I only oppose negotiations that will help the Taliban create the illusion of a peace process without conceding peace. The Taliban have done that before. Their belief system is antithetical to compromise. These are the people who beat women if they do not wear the clothes they prescribe for them. They are the ones who slit the throats of those whom they suspect of representing ‘un-Islamic’ views. Compromise and negotiations take place among those who can find a common ground. What will be the common ground between the Taliban and the United States? I am at a loss to understand this.
There has been a lot of talk about good and bad Taliban. Do you believe in ‘good’ Taliban?
I don’t think there are good or bad Taliban; they are equally bad. I accept that there is a room for conservative Islamic ideology in the political sphere. In every society there are some conservatives who articulate a rigid, orthodox vision for society, but what set the Taliban apart is their insistence on being totally exclusive. They do not accept even other Islamic groups. They are totally wedded to violence. They just don’t have a 21st century outlook. It is one thing to say that we want to live according to conservative religious principles; it is quite another to say that we want to recreate the seventh or the eighth century.
Nobody with a modicum of modern education will accept the ideology of the Taliban. They were the ones who destroyed 2,000-year-old statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, which were part of human heritage. When they were destroying these statues, I wrote an article saying the Quran clearly wanted Muslims to learn from the remains of those who had come before them. These Buddhas, I wrote, were not just idols that people used to worship; these were the artefacts of history and should not be eliminated. How can anyone negotiate with people having this kind of mindset? The only way I see the Taliban negotiating is when they feel that they will be physically eliminated.
What scenario do you foresee once America leaves Afghanistan in 2014?
I am concerned about what might happen once the US leaves Afghanistan in 2014. I don’t want Kabul to become a battleground for regional powers again. I hope Afghan leaders will be able to make policies for their country themselves. They will have some disagreements but they should resolve them amicably without any interference from outside. From Pakistan’s point of view, the best way to have a friendly government in Afghanistan is to become friends with the Government of Afghanistan whosoever it is.
This is my hope. But my fear is that there will be people in Pakistan who will think that they need to push Afghan elements that are more ‘friendly’ towards Islamabad. Likewise, India, Iran and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours will try and resist a Pakistan-backed Taliban push for control of Kabul. If the external actors get involved, then Afghanistan will not find any stability.
Pakistan, as you say, had a “false start” and yet it managed to turn things around in its favour. It dealt with the the West, particularly the US, better than its neighbour, India. When you look back, do you feel Pakistan has lost a genuine opportunity to have a greater say worldwide?
I believe that Pakistan’s founding leaders made a good choice in reaching out to the United States. Had India’s leaders done the same, India would also have had the advantage of closer ties with the US. It was Pakistan’s first military dictator, Gen Ayub Khan, who undermined a healthier Pakistani relationship with the United States. He joined American-led military alliances knowing fully well that Pakistan will not send its troops to any of the American-led conflicts — whether in Korea or Vietnam or anywhere else. And yet he wanted American arms which he could use against India, and which he eventually did in 1965. So, the year 1965 was a turning point.
According to me, the ideal outcome for India would have been to embrace the United States a little more than its leaders were willing to do, while maintaining non-alignment. As for Pakistan, it should have accepted non-alignment publicly without jeopardising its ties with America. Pakistan should also have realised that fighting with India wasn’t in its interests. So, it was the case of very smart people making not-so-smart choices.
You call America’s aid programmes a ‘curse’ for the Pakistani state and people.
Sometimes America’s aid programmes are the result of an analytical exercise in Washington, totally cut-off from ground realities in Pakistan. Also, one needs to understand that for any assistance programme to be successful there has to be popular support. America’s aid programmes were hardly targeted at socio-economic uplift of the masses. There were no population control programmes. Educational programmes were quite marginal in terms of their qualitative effects. And, worse, the United States never asked Pakistan’s leaders not to persist with their hyper-nationalist narrative that created national identity based on the idea of an existential threat to Pakistan.
The Americans mistakenly thought that having a good relationship with the Pakistani military will enable them to influence Pakistan. And in that they just didn’t pay any attention to what children were being taught at Pakistani schools, and what thinking process was emerging in that country.
Gary J Bass has recently written a book called The Blood Telegram, wherein he blames the Nixon Administration for turning a blind eye to the genocide in East Pakistan. You take this argument further when you say that it was the American support that made Pakistan overconfident enough to commit killings in East Pakistan. Can you explain this further?
A good friend always tries to correct you when you are wrong. In 1971, US President Richard Nixon chose not to tell Pakistani leaders that what they were doing in East Pakistan would be disastrous for them. In the process, American policy contributed to Pakistan’s first major national disaster — the breaking away of East Pakistan. If the United States had said soon after the beginning of military operations in Dacca that it was not acceptable, then Pakistan would have reconsidered its policy. That, however, was not the only occasion when America’s desire not to publicly berate Pakistan was misinterpreted in Islamabad. There are several instances where the Americans would privately disagree with Pakistani officials, but would publicly support Pakistan. The result was that Pakistan would see it as an endorsement of its policy.
How did the creation of Bangladesh impact Pakistani politics?
If Bangladesh had remained part of Pakistan, it might have had a moderating influence on Pakistani politics. More so because East Pakistani politicians were far more pragmatic and less militaristic in their thinking than their West Pakistani counterparts. The loss of East Pakistan actually hastened the process of militarisation and Islamisation in Pakistan.
The 1971 war was a disaster for Pakistan, no doubt. But it could have been a fresh beginning for it, had the then leadership thought imaginatively. Do you think Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could have done better?
I think Zulfikar Bhutto wanted to change Pakistan in the right direction, but was unable to do so because of various constraints. The United States, too, did not put its weight behind him, although part of the reason was Bhutto’s own socialist policies. But the fact remains that Pakistan did squander the opportunity to realise that religion-based nationalism was not enough for the country’s emergence as a modern nation state. As I have written in my first book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, the tendency to resort to religious demagoguery to forge national identity, define foreign policy and avoid serious policy-making at home got further accentuated after the independence of Bangladesh. This was tragic.
Now let’s come to “a most superb and patriotic liar”. Tell us how Gen Zia-ul-Haq shaped Pakistan and its future?
Gen Zia’s legacy to Pakistan is radical Islam and, of course, a very, very exaggerated Pakistani role in the global arena. He created an entire generation in Pakistan that today thinks in pan-Islamic terms and argues about religion without respect for diversity of Pakistan’s population. He also ended up militarising Pakistani society. Before Gen Zia there weren’t many armed groups in Pakistan. And in a way, some of the fires we are witnessing in Pakistan today were lit by none other than Zia-ul-Haq.
Most of us, thanks to Hollywood, regard the Afghan war as ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’. But you call it Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s war. Why?
The truth is that while American support enabled Pakistan to conduct a much larger operation against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the operation in that country was not conceptualised by the Americans. Pakistan already had an operation in Afghanistan. Mujahideen already existed and Americans were persuaded to bring in more sophisticated weapons and give more money to make it a bigger war to bleed the Soviets.
While the Americans think that they fought and won Charlie Wilson’s War, it was Zia-ul-Haq’s war that was already being fought and that continues to be fought till this day. So when the Americans left the region after the defeat of the Soviet Union, they thought they were doing the logical thing: After all, they had come to bleed the Soviet Union and once they were successful in doing that, they decided to leave Afghanistan. But the truth is that Pakistan’s plan was bigger than bleeding the Soviets; it wanted to have a pocket of influence, or rather a base of influence, in Afghanistan. Since 1989, Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan has been one of trying to achieve the objective for which Gen Zia had originally started the Afghan war.
You were seen to be very close to Benazir Bhutto. Do you think she had learnt lessons from her mistakes and would have a successful Prime Minister?
Benazir Bhutto would have a very different Prime Minister had she got a third chance. She had clarified her views on many subjects, and was very clear about the policies she wanted to implement. She had realised that in her first term most of her team was inexperienced; in the second term, too, she was trying to balance the complex coalition. This time she understood what her priorities would be. And among those priorities the most important was to de-escalate Pakistan’s tensions with its neighbours and to bring radical extremism to an end.
You have also worked with Nawaz Sharif. How different is he this time as Prime Minister? And how seriously you take his call for peace with India? After all, Kashmir has recently seen a spurt in cross-border terrorism...
I had worked with Nawaz Sharif long ago and for a relatively short time. I think he is essentially a good man who does not always understand complex issues well. Also, he sometimes carries contradictory ideas in his head. So, on the one hand he wants good relations with India, and on the other he does not understand that this can’t be achieved without tying the hands of people like Hafiz Saeed. He wants good relations with the United States, but he does not want to cross the line in terms of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. My fear is that he will not be able to bring any major change in national direction that Pakistan desperately needs today.
Do you see India and Pakistan ever live like normal neighbours?
When Jinnah was asked by Paul H Alling, the first American Ambassador to Pakistan, as to what kind of relation would India and Pakistan have over the long term, he said that it should be similar to what the United States had with Canada. The US and Canada, too, had their share of differences and disputes. But they are pragmatic countries that invest in the prosperity of their people, focus on their economic growth, and have learnt to live with each other. Pakistan and India should also figure out a way to live together in an amicable manner.
I think to refer to Jinnah at a time in his life when he was not religious, is unfair. Assuming what is said about him is true, how many of us can claim to be true practicing Muslims all our lives? Having gone through different phases, we may have changed and learnt and moved on !!