By Vidya Ram
October25, 2017 00:15 IST
Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S. Husain Haqqani left that
position six years ago amidst controversy over a memo he was accused of
orchestrating, urging U.S. help in preventing a military coup in Pakistan
following the Abbottabad operation that killed Osama bin Laden. An advocate of
civilian government in the country, he’s become a sharp critic of the Pakistani
establishment. Mr. Haqqani is based out of the Hudson Institute in Washington,
DC. Last year, he launched South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights
(SAATH), which earlier this month held a conference in London and issued a
strongly worded statement condemning the “widening circle of repression” and
attempts to mainstream extremist and terrorist organisations in Pakistan. His
book, Re-imagining Pakistan, will be published in 2018. In this interview, he
speaks about SAATH, Kashmir, and the impact of the recent change to U.S. policy
on Afghanistan. Excerpts:
Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S. Husain
What is the need for SAATH? And what can
There are many voices in Pakistan and of
Pakistanis living in the diaspora that can only be raised effectively outside
Pakistan and we hope that these voices will start having a resonance back home.
It is important that the discourse on Pakistan that has been streamlined and
subject to specific parameters defined by the Pakistani establishment opens up.
That people start asking questions that they are not allowed to ask.
What we are worried about is that a
hyper-nationalist discourse is being encouraged in Pakistan in the media and by
silencing dissent. At the same time, we already have school textbooks that
teach history in a particular way that only creates anger, bitterness, bigotry
and hatred. Unfortunately, that process is also taking place in India now —
that feeds off each other. The hardliners in India say all Pakistanis are
terrorists; the hardliners in Pakistan say all Indians are out to destroy
Pakistan. Somebody has to start telling people to talk rationally, and our
purpose is to try and rekindle a rational discourse back home. We are not going
to possibly affect day-to-day politics but we will affect the battle of ideas.
Not all of us agree on everything. There
are people, for example, among the liberal, progressive milieu of Pakistan who
take a very hard line on subjects like Balochistan. They talk about independence.
And others say what we need to do is reform Pakistan and not change its
geography. I think the dialogue should include both for one simple reason:
marginalising people does not solve the issue of identity ever. If Catalans can
feel like Catalans after three centuries and if the Scots can reassert their
identity after a union for almost three centuries, there is no way we can
completely suppress Baloch identity. We would rather talk to them and let them
say their piece while maintaining our view that it is better to reform Pakistan
than to talk about drastic solutions. We really believe in a pluralist
What role do you envisage for other
South Asian nations in SAATH?
The region’s problems are interlinked. We
hope we can get more Pakistanis on board first because Pakistan is the more
difficult member of the South Asian community at the moment. Once we can get
enough Pakistanis, then we can start bringing our Afghan, Indian, Sri Lankan,
Bangladeshi and Nepali friends as well.
South Asia is the least integrated region
in the world. Half of Europe’s trade is within Europe and half of ASEAN’s
(Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is within ASEAN. In South Asia,
intra-regional trade is only 5% of the total trade of the countries in the
region, which is abysmal.
What are your thoughts on the road
forward for India and Pakistan?
We can’t let the relationship be hostage to
dispute. The approach should be ‘let us become friends first and discuss things
we disagree about later’, whereas the Pakistani state has taken the position
that it wants a resolution of dispute first and get to friendship later. That
never works anywhere. Taiwan is considered a renegade province by China but
that does not stop China from having $200 billion worth of trade with Taiwan, without
conceding the legal status. Now the Chinese are invested in Taiwan and the
Taiwanese are invested in China sufficiently enough for neither of them to have
any reason to embark on conflict. That is the best model for Pakistan. Germany
and France fought many wars including two World Wars. Both sides claimed
Alsace-Lorraine, and in the end, they reached the conclusion that resolving
this dispute over who this territory belongs to is going to become irrelevant
when you are both part of the European Union.
What can India do to break the impasse?
I think the Indian side can really help by
constantly signalling to the Pakistani people that India has no conflict with
the Pakistani people and make sure that the Pakistani people are no longer
fooled by an establishment that no longer describes us as neighbours but as
eternal enemies. If they can help change that psyche, then it becomes easier
for those of us who advocate normalcy of relations to put more pressure within.
In the end, Pakistan’s status as a semi-authoritarian
state determines its policies. It’s a country where even when we have elected
governments, they do not have a free hand. We have a diverse media, but we
don’t have a free media. Our media is many, many voices saying more or less the
same thing. That is a recipe for brainwashing people and the lines are very
strictly drawn in Pakistan.
And on Kashmir?
My basic point is that when something is
too intractable, the sensible way to deal with it is to not insist on dealing
with it before anything else. Then circumstances themselves present a solution.
At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you have the will to resolve
the problem or whether keeping the problem alive is more important to you than
finding a solution. Both sides have contributed to the problem and both sides
have made it difficult to resolve it, but a better approach might be to not
insist on resolving it before we can have normal relations.
How significant was the recent
Quadrilateral Coordination Group meeting on Afghan peace of the U.S., China,
Pakistan and Afghanistan in Oman?
I’m one of those who believes all talks are
good. That said, unless there is flexibility and credibility in negotiations,
nothing moves forward. Pakistan has a credibility problem with Afghanistan. We
have promised many things that have not been delivered. Deep down the Pakistani
deep state is still too suspicious and too bent upon chasing phantoms to reach
a reasonable settlement. If Pakistan’s concern is that Afghanistan is going to
be used by India against it in the case of war or to foment trouble, there are
ways to resolve that. There can be an agreement between Pakistan and
Afghanistan in relation to what Afghanistan can do in relation to India.
But if you in your heart of hearts decide
the only good Afghans are the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, then it
will be hard to resolve. General (Pervez) Musharraf destroyed Pakistan’s
credibility because after 9/11, everybody assumed he’d genuinely taken a
U-turn. Now he goes around telling people we did support the Taliban, but we
did it for our own national interest. With all due respect, when you do
something like that — you say one thing and a few years later you say another —
you are creating a huge credibility gap that cannot be easily fixed.
You’ve been an advocate of a tougher
U.S. line on Pakistan. What do you make of the changes in Afghan policy and the
comments by the U.S. President following the rescue of the Canadian American
The lack of trust between the U.S. and
Pakistan was not created by a single tweet and it won’t be resolved by a single
tweet. It’s a problem that has arisen over many years as a result of broken
promises and unfulfilled expectations. Possibly on both sides. Pakistan has
promised to help stabilise Afghanistan since 9/11, yet it has not yet fully
clamped down on the Taliban, and the Haqqani network has already been described
by former U.S. joint chief Admiral Michael Mullen as a veritable arm of the
Pakistan army. It will take time for the Americans to believe Pakistan has
turned a corner. On the other hand, Pakistan has a valid point: if the U.S. is
going to be a virtual neighbour to Pakistan by having forces in Afghanistan and
if it uses Pakistan as a corridor for supplying its troops, it has to listen to
Pakistan’s perspective too.
Pakistan’s interlocutors are not always
clear with the Americans on what they want. They very easily accept what the
Americans are saying because they depend on America so much. It’s my experience
that aid clouds Pakistani judgment. And aid clouds American understanding of
Pakistani motives because Pakistan ends up over-promising, which creates a
trust deficit. So let both sides have a more realistic discussion.
I personally feel that the desire to
install a government of Pakistan’s choice in Afghanistan is overly ambitious
and unrealistic. The best-case scenario for Pakistan is to come to an
understanding with the government of Afghanistan that it won’t in any way let
its territory be used against Pakistan, but Pakistan needs to spell out what
Indian influence it is bothered by. India has been reasonable by saying ‘we
will not put boots on the ground in Afghanistan’, and the other part of it is
the fear of what I call intelligence games. There are inconsistencies in
Pakistan’s argument on the subject... Pakistan has to explain to the Americans
why they have so much fear of India’s alleged presence in Afghanistan when the
only person they ever caught never came from Afghanistan.
Will these be the themes of your
I talk about how Pakistan’s discourse has
been constructed around paranoia and an obsession with India. At the end of the
day, Pakistan has to build a foreign policy that is not ideological but
pragmatic. You can’t have an ideological view that so and so is out to destroy
us. Pragmatically you have to say this action harms us — you can’t constantly
base it on a view of ill intentions; you have to specifically identify the acts
that harm you. And negotiate solutions in which those actions cease.
It’s time for strong voices on Pakistan
from Pakistan and from the Pakistani diaspora to point out what it is that
needs to change in Pakistan. How it can be a country at peace with itself and