Haqqani: US, Pakistan should focus on friendship, not alliance


Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, speaks on the damaged alliance between the two countries Wednesday morning in the Amphitheater. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Laurence Léveillé | Staff Writer

Pakistan and the United States have clashing narratives about their alliance.

From the Pakistanis’ perspective, the U.S. and Pakistan have been allies for 60 years, but the U.S. has walked away several times and cannot dictate Pakistan’s foreign policy.

From the Americans’ perspective, Pakistan is not a true ally. Pakistani public opinion remains anti-American despite the amount of aid the country receives, Husain Haqqani said. And Americans question Pakistan’s involvement with terrorists and its ability to fulfill promises.

Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., spoke about U.S.-Pakistan relations, how that alliance was damaged and Pakistan’s national interest at Wednesday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater for Week Five, themed “Pakistan: Straddling the Boundary between Asia and the Middle East.”

In terms of favorability, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the U.S. and 80 percent have an unfavorable view, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll conducted in Pakistan. In the U.S., 15 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Pakistan, compared with 81 percent who do not, according to a poll organized by Fox News, Haqqani said.

Some have questioned whether the cause of Pakistanis’ views is due to U.S. drone strikes. But Haqqani said that it is not a cause-and-effect relationship.

“The disapproval of the United States among some segments of the Pakistanis is deeper rooted than some of my countrymen would want you to understand, believe or realize,” Haqqani said.

The alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan began shortly after Pakistan became an independent country. But their relations became complex during their first phase as allies due to a gap in expectations, Haqqani said.

At the time, the U.S. was looking for allies that could help stop the expansion of communism. Pakistan viewed it in terms of arms and money, Haqqani said. In 1949, Pakistan’s first aid request totaled $2 billion, but the U.S. only provided $2 million.

“I want the United States and Pakistan to have close relations,” he said, “but we will never have such close relations with such huge gaps of expectations and understanding.”

The two countries also had, and still have, national security concerns that did not coincide with each other. In the past, Pakistan would try to fit its own concerns into those of the U.S.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistan’s primary worries were about a potential Indian threat, but the U.S thought more about the Soviet Union and communist expansion. Though the latter was not Pakistan’s main concern, it made an adjustment with the expectation it would receive help against India.

But the U.S. left a note in the South East Asian Treaty Organization that said it would only help in instances of communist aggression, Haqqani said. Instead of helping Pakistan during its war against India in 1965, the Johnson administration suspended military supplies to both countries.

“And that is where the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, in my opinion, has gone wrong,” Haqqani said.

After Pakistan and the U.S. fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the Americans should have stayed in the region to disarm and retrain those they had originally armed and trained, Haqqani said. Instead, the U.S. walked away.

But Haqqani also said Pakistanis also should have tried to disarm the Afghans instead of arming them further.

“The wrongs of history do not justify the wrongs of the present,” Haqqani said.

Issues arose between the two countries again after Sept. 11, as their national security interests differed again. Because of their dissimilar interests, there cannot be a close relationship between the two countries.

Historically, the military has determined Pakistan’s national interests. As defined by its National Security Establishments, they include security against India, industrialization, centralization, nuclear deterrence against India and attempting to gain Kashmir.

With the exception of security, Haqqani said he does not believe the country’s current national interests are the ones it should focus on.

Pakistan should also focus on recognizing its ethnic diversity, as it has several tribes and needs to accept rather than fight against them, he said. Pluralism of religions should also be a national interest, because there are several denominations of Islam.

Other suggested national interests included having good relations with its neighbors, alleviation of poverty, elimination of terrorism, education, democracy and inclusiveness, Haqqani said.

“Nuclear deterrence at the expense of half your population not going to school is not worth the price,” he said.

Because Pakistan’s current national interests do not align with Haqqani’s suggestions, he recommends the U.S. and Pakistan stop thinking of themselves as an alliance.

The more Pakistan and the U.S. view each other as allies with deviating national interests, the more difficult it will be to maintain an alliance, Haqqani said.

Rather than being in an alliance, the two countries should focus on friendship — one in which they trade, engage with each other, and have civil society groups and politicians work with one another, he said.

“The only option for the United States is to diminish the alliance portion and focus more on the friendship portion,” Haqqani said.

Photo by Lauren Rock.


Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: To begin, Husain, you made a comment early on in your remarks about drones and said you’d come back to them, and then you didn’t, in my mind, so I’m wondering if you could reflect on America’s use of drones. You were referring to it as not having affected how people feel about one another. Can you refer to it as a technique and your sense of its impact.

A: First of all, let me clarify. I did not say that they do not affect how people feel. They can aggravate the feeling of negativity. I was just saying that they are not the reason. Because obviously, somebody dislikes somebody before something happens, then that is not the reason for the dislike. There is something else. And that can it enhance the anger and disapproval? Definitely. So the drones are a factor in increasing the intensity so the 80 percent who dislike the United States may not dislike it for this reason, because they disliked it before that as well.Let me just say that the drones are just one instrument in the American arsenal for dealing with it. They have become the convenient instrument under President Obama because, let’s be honest, I don’t know how many of you consider yourself Democrats in this audience, but Democrats don’t like war. And because they don’t like war, this is a convenient thing. It’s unmanned, the guys are sitting in Vegas, on panels, and you know you’re doing this. But it does create serious ethical issues of “Do we really know who we are killing?” Because after all, it is killing people, when you do it by drone. So intelligence gathering by drones, there is no controversy over. The elimination of terrorists by drone is the only controversial issue, and my position on that is somewhere in the middle. I think that there are certain people in locations where there is no other way of doing it. If you use jet planes, for example, you would cause much more damage and many more civilian casualties. And the number of civilian casualties from drone strikes has been exaggerated. There is no evidence that there have been massive killings of civilians. So until and unless we can find a way in which there can be ground operations against the same people in those locations, or those who claim that you can actually negotiate with these people — negotiate with these people and deliver something by way of negotiations — I think, whether I like it or not, whether you like it or not, and whether The New York Times likes it or not, we will still have these drones being deployed in the Northern, Western areas of Pakistan. And in other parts of the world as well. It may be one of those unfortunate realities that we all hold our noses at, but we all have no alternative to accepting that reality.

Q: We just had a week about water. Is the Indus River part of the Pakistani strategic worldview?

A: Absolutely. We have something called the Indus Basin Treaty with India, way back in the 1960s, which the United States helped us negotiate, whereby certain rivers of the Indus system were allocated for India and some for Pakistan. Pakistan has not been able to build the reservoirs, etc., that we should have built. I think that that treaty needs to be worked upon, and Pakistan needs to focus on developing the reservoir capability that will enable us to not have the kind of water shortages that we are facing and will face further down the road. And both India and Pakistan need to work together on creating mechanisms whereby the environmental degradation, which has become enhanced by global warming and is causing many problems of climate change, etc., that are drying up our rivers.That is a problem that India and Pakistan can only solve together. And we both need to start working on it as soon as possible. Because nations fight. Come on, how many people in this audience even think of Germany or Japan as the enemy anymore? No one wants to acknowledge that they were old enough to remember them as enemies.But what I’m saying is that the enemy part goes, but the dried rivers don’t always come back. And so that is what we have to start thinking about in South Asia.

Q: What would happen if your advice was followed and the United States did cut aid — military aid — to Pakistan? Is it possible to do so while we have troops in Afghanistan?

A: Firstly, I did not recommend cutting aid — all I said was stop doing it on the assumption that you are doing it for an ally. So if you are doing it for some other strategic reason, the assumption of alliance is what causes the problem. Because it leads you to have expectations that are then not fulfilled, and then it leads to allegations that you are actually being dishonest to one another. As far as not giving assistance — look, you have a logistical problem in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and the two countries with access to the sea out of Afghanistan are Iran and Pakistan, and neither one — I mean, you can’t rely on Iran at all, and you have a problem on the Pakistani side, too. So if you can work out an arrangement whereby the logistical services you compensate Pakistan for and the Pakistani military says, “Yeah, sure, we’ll do it because you’re paying us for it,” fine. But if you don’t, it’s your problem. Those are your troops. You have to think of a way to supply them. Let’s be very realistic here. It’s not Pakistan’s concern that you have to pay more to supply your troops from the North. It isn’t. And it shouldn’t be, should it? And similarly, if you are not getting the policy changes you want in that region, then there is no point in pinning hopes on the money you pay for your supply route as the way of bringing change. That’s all I’m saying: decouple the two. Now, if you think that that work your decision-makers think — that this is a better way of doing it, they are welcome to do it. But you will always have the potential for — because your relationship is not one of alliance and mutual acceptance of each other’s interests. Then you will constantly have the problem of people in Pakistan suggesting every now and then, “Let’s cut off the supply route.”
Q: This question has to do with the size of the military and the question focuses in on — given the size of military, why can’t they defeat the Taliban? But the Taliban, as you pointed out, is a broader structure then a simple …

A: Two things. Look, since we are talking candidly — and in my opinion there is no other way to talk — the fact of the matter is that the Taliban are not a monolithic organization. Don’t think of them as some sort of top-down structure with a president, vice president and an assistant secretary, etc., etc. It’s disparate groups. And some of those groups have been very closely aligned with Pakistan, in terms of the ambitions or aspirations — depending again on the words which have similar connotations but different meanings — aspirations of certain people in relation to Afghanistan. They think that the future of Afghanistan should be in the hands of people who are favorably disposed towards Pakistan and who do not allow Afghanistan to be used for hostile activities against Pakistan. My view is if Pakistan wants a friend in Afghanistan, the way to go about it is to make friends with whoever is in power in Afghanistan. But some people think they have to have a say in who comes to power in Afghanistan, to be able to influence the future of Afghanistan. And those people maintain ties with certain groups of the Taliban. And those are the groups over which we are quarreling. The Pakistani official version of events would be: “These are groups. They cannot be easily eliminated. They have some support on the ground. America needs to negotiate with them.” Then Americans turn around and say, “OK fine, we will negotiate with them. Set up the meeting.” And, of course, Pakistan doesn’t have that kind of leverage to set up the meeting. So therefore, the Americans say, “Well, fight them.” But the Pakistanis say, “No, we can’t fight them, either, because we want to hold them as potential allies for our future. You will go away. We will still have Afghanistan left.” And so it becomes a circular argument. But the candid explanation is: There are groups within the Taliban who do not attack the Pakistani military and whom the Pakistani military and intelligence services hope to have as potential allies in a future Afghanistan. That’s basically it.

Q: There are several questions asking you to elaborate on your understanding of the state of education in Pakistan. That might include the role of the madrassas, the role of the intelligencia and of the 42 percent of the Pakistanis who are uneducated. What percentage of that are among women?

A: Pakistan’s educational crisis has four elements. No. 1: 42 percent of our school-going age children don’t go to school. That cannot be resolved just by Greg Mortenson schools or Aga Khan Foundation schools because of sheer size. We are talking about millions of kids here. So the state’s school investment has to increase. And our, yes we don’t tax our — I mean, we don’t have enough taxes, the rich won’t allow themselves to be taxed. Those are valid criticisms. We don’t tax our agriculture. We have to figure out a way. And we have to invest into building schools for these children. Second part of the Pakistani educational crisis is the textbooks. The curriculum in Pakistan, especially since the days of field marshal Ayub Khan who took over in 1958. Now, remember that I was a kid under Ayub Khan. And in our schoolbooks, first we were taught something called social studies. That became Pakistan studies later. And in the textbooks, when I go back and visit some of the things, we were taught things which are from the outrightly racist — for example, from being told that people of Northern India and the parts that are now Pakistan, were dark, fair and good-looking, and the people of South India were short, dark and squat — I remember that from class one. Or class two, I can’t remember. So those kinds of things shape minds. And so curriculum reform is a very important part. When you give a historic view, the reason why you find so many educated Pakistani doctors — I don’t see any visibly in the audience — but Pakistani doctors, Pakistani engineers; they’re very good in their professions. But, their knowledge of the world, their social knowledge, comes from these textbooks. Which are very oversimplified. It’s a bit like the Arab world. So India is a prominent enemy, which doesn’t want Pakistan to be happy. There are anti-Semitic slurs in there. And that needs to be changed. So that’s the second part of the crisis. The third part of the crisis is that our tertiary education has always been skewed in favor of, what I call, technical professions. So we are — we have become a nation of doctors and engineers. Which is totally opposite of what the United States’ crisis is. You don’t have enough engineers. But we have too many, both in Pakistan and in the diaspora. And the only way forward for engineering and medicine disciplines is going into research, advanced research, etc. That doesn’t take place in Pakistan. And the social sciences have been totally neglected. So the consequence is we don’t have enough political scientists, we don’t have enough good economists, we don’t have enough people who can understand social phenomena and what’s going on in society. And the fourth is the religious education, madrassas. Now, just so that you guys don’t get too nervous about the madrassas, the madrassas are a problem, but they are not as big a problem as people think, because only a small percentage of all school-going age children actually do end up in madrassas, in the religious schools. But there are madrassas that are radical and that do not even teach the traditional religious curriculum, which itself is frozen in time. In fact, I would encourage you to go online and Google my name, along with the words “Islam’s medieval outposts” and you will find an article I wrote describing my own attendance of the madrassa as a child. And how that was — the curriculum is totally out of date. It is frozen in 1258. Even religion advances. And should advance. So we will always need religious seminaries — what people like me, Farahnaz, my wife, spoke yesterday evening as a member of Parliament. What people like us and others would recommend — and I’m sure Bushra Gohar, who spoke yesterday, also, is from Pakistan, and also progressive Parliamentarians — what we would recommend is that we need enough madrassas to produce future prayer leaders for mosques, etc. But we don’t need the madrassa as an alternative to regular schooling. All kids must go to public school, and the public school’s curriculum should prepare people for the 21st century, not be used to try to make people have a closed mind and enforce upon them any “theology of Pakistan,” as it’s called. So those are the four educational crises. Unfortunately, although we have an elected government, we have not been able to change drastically the allocations of money that are needed, although it has — the allocation for education has increased considerably — but it’s still not enough. And very frankly, if I were responsible for this policy making, I would work on these four elements of policy, and focus on education and make sure that Pakistan’s primary national interest is defined as creating an educated population. And certainly, not a population of 42 percent of kids who never see the inside of a school.

Q: There is broad question asking you to explain the role of the judiciary, which I assume also means your critique of that body, and then a particular question to follow that about the sentencing of Dr. Afridi, who was responsible for that — was it the military, the judiciary, the national assembly?

A: First of all, let’s go back to the judiciary. Look, Pakistan’s judiciary has traditionally been very closely aligned with the Pakistani military. And whenever the military took power, it was the judiciary that endorsed it. Because, after all, the takeovers were all unconstitutional. The constitution doesn’t allow the military chief to take over. So they would always take over and go over to the judges. The judges would give them an endorsement saying: “The conditions of the country were such that the military had to take over. We legitimize this.” So, the military traditionally has been very closely aligned. The current chief justice stood up to General Musharraf at the tail end of his era. We must remember that he actually was part of those who endorsed General Musharraf’s takeover in 1999. But by 2007, the path had diverged. And when General Musharraf tried to fire him — it’s very funny. General Musharraf took over, because the elected prime minister tried to fire him, and he said, “No way, I’m taking over.” And then, the chief justice, when Musharaff tried to fire him under a process called a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council — which is several judges sitting together deciding; instead of impeachment, we have a complex process of removing a judge — he refused to resign, and he went back and said that that process was wrong. And then all the political parties got together to support him. And he became a symbol of resistance to Musharaff. And that helped pave the way for democratic elections and the election of a government. So he became a bit of a hero, in that sense. But very frankly, since his return to the bench, he has done two things. First, he has removed all capacity for judges to disagree with one another. He insists that the majority view should be presented as the unanimous view, which is not the function of a court. In a court, you have to have dissident opinions recorded so that in the future, the legal arguments can be made and used for further clarification, elaboration and change of the law. And second, he’s going way outside. He’s not just an interventionist judge. He’s not just an activist judge. He is what I call a legislative judge. He makes law along the way. And on occasion, he has cited the Holy Book, the Quran, in his judgments instead of just the law. And he has really pitted himself against the present government, the civilian government. And many in the civilian government feel that he is fulfilling the agenda of Pakistani-Islamist conservatives on the one hand, and occasionally of the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus. In the case of Dr. Afridi, something very unusual was done. Dr. Afridi was in Abbottabad. I think Dr. Akbar Ahmed explained at some point about the tribal nation, tribal area, etc. He is from tribal areas, but he was arrested in Abbottabad, which is a settled area. Pakistan’s federal law applies there. He was not charged under federal law, he was charged under tribal law. He was taken back to the tribal area, because it’s easy to get him convicted there. And again, he was not convicted under the Osama bin Laden issue, he was convicted on another issue, which was that he had at one time given a $10,000 “donation to an Islamist group,” which he says he did to get one of his relatives released, who had been held hostage. And it was a kidnapping-for-ransom case. Essentially, it is pure Cold War tactics. The Pakistani Intelligence Service is not happy with the CIA operating in Pakistan. And Shakil Afridi was the fall-out, he’s the guy whom they could get, so they’ve got him. Now at some point, will they negotiate with the American side? Of course, the political argument is he is the Jonathan Pollak of Pakistan. How dare he help a foreign intelligence service? My response to that would be: He may have helped a foreign intelligence service, which is unlawful, perhaps, but he did not spy on Pakistan. There is no evidence that he gave up Pakistani secrets to the CIA. So how can he be compared to Jonathan Pollak? So, he — I think eventually, the Pakistani Intelligence Service will negotiate with its counterpart in the United States. And it’ll be one of those sort of exchanges that happens between intelligence services. And that is the best outcome likely here. He should have been taken out of Pakistan, the CIA should have been smarter. They should have taken him and his family out the day before or the day of the operation. (Applause) Because, I mean, it’s very clear that what he did was not critical to the operation. It was helpful but wasn’t critical. The CIA intelligence was from other sources. He basically conducted a polio vaccine, a faux polio vaccine campaign to try and get the DNA from the children. But the Osama children never got vaccinated from him, and therefore, their DNA was never made available. But, the Pakistani Intelligence Service found him, got him, and they are hoping to use him as a bargaining token in the future.

Q: Dr. Zakaria, on Monday, talked about the nuclear weapons in Pakistan as having delivery systems, and therefore we should be extremely concerned about them falling into the wrong hands. What is your sense about the possibility of the wrong hands acquiring these weapons?

A: I have a slightly different take on it. I think it’s easier to get Americans riled up about nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands. My concern is Americans should really be concerned about Pakistan falling into wrong hands. Because if Pakistan’s government is in the wrong hands, then the nukes are in the wrong hands, and that’s basically what you need to be concerned about. Its very technical focus, actually, is a way of getting away from the broader issues sometimes. And very frankly, I am against all nuclear weapons in anybody’s hands, but if countries, and governments and nations are going to have nuclear weapons, well then, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and its nuclear program has all those safety precautions that other countries do as well. The real issue is, who has control of Pakistan, and therefore, the control of nuclear weapons. The other concern is elements like Dr. A. Q. Khan, the gentleman who was a nuclear scientist in Pakistan, who went about selling nuclear designs and technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran. And Pakistan has brought an end to that, but I think, again, in the interest of transparency, Pakistan needs to come totally — make transparent all the things relating to that matter, so that the international community is no longer concerned that there are individuals in the Pakistani system who start trading in nuclear designs, etc., and nuclear materials. That is the only concern. The real concern should be, Pakistan should eventually have a stable, civilian-controlled military, stable democracy and hopefully, elected leaders who run the country slightly better but who also understand that isolation and xenophobia are not what make a nation advanced in the 21st century. I once had a debate, an internal debate, I’m happy to share it now — it’s going to be in my memoirs anyways which hopefully, some of you will pay to buy. Second commercial break. And basically, it’s a story. I had a debate with certain Pakistani military people and all that, and I said, “I have a question for you.” They said, “Yes, what is that?” I said: “In your vision, what does Pakistan want to be when it grows up? Do we want to be a South Korea and a Japan, or do we want to be a North Korea or Iran?” And that is the critical question that Pakistanis need to answer. What is the way forward? The South Korea, Japan, Taiwan way is working together with Western powers, taking advantage of relations and the openness of your society, for building our societies. And then the other one is xenophobic: These guys are evil, and then — nobody’s demonizing anybody, by the way. The figures I gave today should prove that if having 80 percent of Pakistanis disapprove of the United States does not mean that America is being demonized in Pakistan, then nobody should argue that Pakistan is being demonized in America. Basically, Pakistan has not yet had the open debate on Pakistan’s national interests. I want to be able to go back to Pakistan and make this speech there. I should have the right to do that. And the fact that I don’t have that is Pakistan’s real problem. We need to debate between ourselves, what kind of a future do we want for our country? What is more important? Look, nuclear weapons usually free conflicts. When the Soviet Union got nuclear weapons, Americans understood. It is mutually assured destruction. In Pakistan, you have people who come, and with a straight face, talk to you about, you know what, our problems with India still need to be resolved and until the Kashmir issue is resolved, we can’t move forward. Excuse, me, so what are you threatening? What are you suggesting? That there will be a war with nuclear weapons over Kashmir? And is that a reasonable, rational suggestion, that we kill everybody and get killed if you don’t solve this? Usually nuclear wars free issues, and you move on to other things. You start trading, you do that, that’s what the Soviet Union did with the United States, that’s what the Soviet Union and China did. They started moving on other issues, they understood they can’t win the argument, or the debate or the bottom disputes they had before. Pakistan is not there. And I think that’s where Pakistan needs to get to and that should be the real concern, not just who will end up with the nukes, or will the bad guys out with the nukes. If Pakistan ends up with the bad guys, the bad guys have the nukes.

Q: As long as commercials are allowed, I would like to point out before asking this question that next year we are doing a theme week on diplomacy. And here is the question: In your experience, what is the exact role of an ambassador? What are the limitations? What are the realistic expectations? And how can that role be improved and enhanced?

A: Well, for one thing, I think ambassadors define their own role sometimes. Most ambassadors deem themselves just to be messengers, and as messengers, what they are doing is they’re telling the government they are serving. The host government and the home government, they just pass messages between the two and do a few feel-good things around. Then there are the few ambassadors who try to take on role of bridge, which is what I defined my role as. And I decided that I am going to talk to both sides, and I am going to tell my side when they are being silly, and I am going tell the American side when they are being absurd. If anything, if you can learn anything from that, from my experience, that’s not a very good approach if you want to have a long-term career. (Laughter) Because, very frankly, the messenger works alright. You come, you deliver your straight talking points, the other side delivers theirs, both sides know what is going on. And then they make their decisions. I think all major changes have happened in history have come about by bridges. So historically, if you look at the most successful diplomats and ambassadors in history — are the people who actually understood realistically what the situation was but talked to everybody candidly. And I think that that is what diplomacy will be in the future. Because you, very frankly, in the day of email, you really don’t need a man in top coat and a nice hat showing up, bending four times and delivering you a message. You know, email works. Really what you need is somebody who can explain the situation of the other country, what will work, what will not work, and then explain to your own leaders, what is going on in the other country and what to anticipate as you move forward. So that, I think, is bridges versus messengers. And then messengers can be all different kinds as well. The bullies, which America has a lot of, by the way, a lot of your diplomats go especially to smaller countries, and as you can sense from my colleague yesterday, smaller countries sometimes do just feel that Americans come and just sort of wag the finger. Whereas, if they really thought of themselves as bridges, they would come and say, “Look, we understand what your concern is, but you know what, nobody in Washington is buying this. And so are you going to budge? Because Washington won’t.” And if they think Washington can budge on it, then they should advise Washington to budge on it and make it possible. That is what it is. It is limited space, and you must figure out how much movement there is that is possible. You can’t — if you’re an Arab ambassador and you hope that you will persuade the American government at some point, despite delivering your constant talking points, to eliminate the state of Israel. I don’t think that is going to happen. And similarly, if you are the Israeli ambassador and you think that, you know, all the historic references to the Arabs, which is true, all of it — it’s not going to happen. What you have to do is find the room in between where you can bring your government at a meeting point with the other government, where both of you can actually do business for the mutual benefit of both of the countries.

—Transcribed by Jen Bentley and Jessie Cadle 

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