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Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
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The countries are not merely at odds. Each believes it can play the other — with sometimes absurd, sometimes tragic, results. The conventional narrative about the war in Afghanistan, for instance, has revolved around the Soviet invasion in 1979. But President Jimmy Carter signed the first authorization to help the Pakistani-backed mujahedeen covertly on July 3 — almost six months before the Soviets invaded. Americans were told, and like to believe, that what followed was Charlie Wilson’s war of Afghani liberation, with which they remain embroiled to this day. It was not. It was General Zia-ul-Haq’s vicious regional power play.
Husain Haqqani has a unique insight into Pakistan, his homeland, and America, where he was ambassador and is now a professor at Boston University. His life has mapped the relationship of the two countries and he has found himself often close to the heart of it, sometimes in very confrontational circumstances, and this has allowed him to write the story of a misbegotten diplomatic love affair, here memorably laid bare.
Over the last two decades US-Pakistan relations have often been described as America’s most difficult external relationship. Although the two countries have been nominal allies dating back to Pakistan’s independence in 1947, their relationship has never been free of friction. Even in its heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, the US-Pakistan partnership was far from an alliance based on shared values and interests; instead, each of the two partners was always preoccupied with confronting different enemies and pinning different expectations to their association.
Pakistan’s motive in pursuing an alliance with the United States is driven by its quest for security against its much larger neighbor, India. Pakistan has repeatedly turned to the United States as its most significant source of expensive weapons and economic aid. Although, in the hope of winning US support for Pakistan’s regional aims, Pakistani leaders have assured US officials that they share the United States’ global security concerns, Pakistan has been repeatedly disappointed because the United States does not share Pakistan’s fears of Indian hegemony in South Asia.
For its part, the United States has also chased a mirage when it has assumed that, over time, its assistance to Pakistan would engender a sense of security among Pakistanis, thereby leading to a change in Pakistan’s priorities and objectives. The United States initially poured money and arms into Pakistan in the hope of building a major fighting force that could assist in defending Asia against communism. Pakistan repeatedly failed to live up to its promises to provide troops for any of the wars the United States fought against communist forces, instead using American weapons in its wars with India. Furthermore, US hopes of persuading Pakistan to give up or curtail its nuclear weapons program or to stop using Jihadi militants as proxies in regional conflicts have similarly proved futile.
Three American presidents—Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson—have asked the question: What do we get from aiding Pakistan? Five—Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—have wondered aloud whether Pakistan’s leaders can be trusted to keep their word. Meanwhile in Pakistan, successive governments have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to maintain Pakistan’s freedom of action while depending on US aid. But neither country has changed its core policies nor have they given up the hope that the other will change.
The US-Pakistan relationship has depended largely on cordial ties between leaders and officials who have often misunderstood each other’s intentions and limitations. Whereas Pakistanis have often benefited from the American tendency to ignore history and focus only on immediate goals, Americans have often assumed that building up Pakistan’s economic and military capacity provides them leverage even after periodically finding out the limits of US influence. And both sides have their own stereotypes about each other, traceable back to Pakistan’s emergence as an independent country.
During that period, soon after emerging from British India’s bloody partition in 1947, Pakistan’s leaders confronted an uncertain future for their new country. When most of the world was indifferent to Pakistan as the potential homeland of South Asia’s Muslims, India antagonized Pakistan without compromise or compassion. Because of this, soon after independence Pakistan’s founding fathers, encouraged by some British geostrategists, decided that they would continue to maintain the large army they had inherited even though the new nation could not afford to pay for it from its own resources and did not immediately face a visible security threat. Given Pakistan’s location at the crossroads of the Middle East and South Asia and its relative proximity to the Soviet Union, Pakistanis assumed that the United States would take an interest in financing and arming the fledgling new state. Thus, the gap in expectations between American and Pakistani leaders that has bedeviled their relationship over the last sixty-five years should have been apparent right at the beginning, when Pakistan’s founding father and its first governor-general, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, asked the United States for a $2 billion aid package in September 1947, but the United States gave Pakistan only $ 10 million in assistance that first year.
International relations thinkers like Hans J. Morgenthau and George Kennan did not see Pakistan’s value to the United States as an ally. After all, Pakistan’s primary concern, competing with India for regional influence, was not a strategic concern for the United States. But after Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, embraced the idea that Pakistan could be influenced into sharing US strategic concerns in exchange for weapons and aid.
Primarily because of geopolitical considerations, the United States has enlisted Pakistan as an ally on three occasions: during the Cold War (1954–1972), the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan (1979–1989), and the war against terrorism (2001–present). In each instance the US motive for seeking Pakistani alliance has been different from Pakistan’s reasons for accepting it. For example, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the United States saw an opportunity to avenge the Vietnam War and bleed the Soviet Red army with the help of Mujahideen, militant Islamist radicals trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and funded by United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Pakistan, however, looked upon the military action in Afghanistan as a Jihad to be used as the launching pad for asymmetric warfare that would increase its clout against India.
Since my days as a student at Karachi University, I found the anti-American narrative that was prevalent all around me difficult to believe. I spent many hours at the American Center Library, reading books and articles that exposed me to different perspectives of historic events. Unlike my colleagues, I could see through the absurdity of conspiracy theories.
When student protestors burned down the US embassy in Islamabad in 1979, 1 was a student leader allied to Islamists on my campus. A huge demonstration was organized at short notice, with university buses commandeered to transport protestors to the US consulate in Karachi. Several student speakers urged the mob to burn down the consulate, and the mob was ready to do so until I was called on to speak. My speech, citing the Quran and demanding that ascertainment of facts precede action, saved the US consulate (and its library) from meeting the same fate as the embassy in Islamabad.
Later, as a journalist, I covered the anti-Soviet Afghan war, observing firsthand the flow of US arms to the Mujahideen. My first foray into government was as adviser to Nawaz Sharif, who, in 1989, aspired to become prime minister of Pakistan. I accompanied Sharif on his introductory visit to the United States as opposition leader. Once Sharif became prime minister, I acted as his liaison with US media and diplomats before we parted ways quietly after differences of opinion.
In 1992 Pakistan’s support for Jihadi groups nearly caused it to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism. I worked with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who, in 1993, succeeded Sharif’s first government and worked to fend off that label. My close association with Bhutto resulted in my own incarceration toward the end of the second Sharif government (1997–1999), and my opposition to General Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship forced me to exile to the United States a few months after 9/11.
Over all these years I have seen Americans make mistakes in their dealings with Pakistan as well as in their overall foreign policy. Nonetheless, I have always been convinced that the United States remains a force for good in the world. Pakistan has benefited from its relations with the United States and would benefit even more if it could overcome erroneous assumptions about its own national security and role in the world. Instead of seeking close security ties based on false promises, Pakistan must face its history and diversity honestly, and it should be neither dependent on nor resentful of the world’s most powerful nation.
As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, I sought to overcome the bitterness of the past in order to help lay the foundations for a long-term partnership. I studied the relations between the United States and its other partners so as to figure out why almost all post–World War II US allies have found prosperity and stability through this partnership, whereas Pakistan has not. But major power centers in my own country resisted my vision of a broader US-Pakistan partnership rooted in mutual trust.
Instead of appreciating my efforts to redefine the US-Pakistan relationship through an honest appraisal of past mistakes, Pakistan’s security services saw me as working for American rather than Pakistani interests. Through the media I was falsely accused of helping the CIA expand its network of spies in Pakistan, and my remarks about the transactional nature of past ties were distorted so as to suggest that I had described Pakistanis as beggars. In the end I was forced to resign amid fabricated charges that I had sought help from the US military through a dubious American businessman of Pakistani origin in order to avert a coup.
But the willingness of my countrymen to believe the worst about their ambassador reflects a deeper pathology. Instead of basing international relations on facts, Pakistanis have become accustomed to seeing the world through the prism of an Islamo-nationalist ideology. Even well-traveled, erudite, and articulate Pakistani officials echo this ideology without realizing that holding tight to these self-defeating ideas makes little impact on the rest of the world; the gap is widening between how Pakistanis and the rest of the world view Pakistan.
Somehow, halfhearted and time-limited transactions rather than an honest dialog over shared interests seem to be the default pattern in US-Pakistan relations. For instance, as stated above, I found the two countries working toward very different outcomes in Afghanistan. I fear that the prospect of their alliance may end in acrimony once again.
The reemergence of democracy in Pakistan offers the hope that Pakistanis will someday be able to debate their national interests realistically and alter their national priorities so as to align more with those of the United States. If, however, the propaganda and the political strategies of the powerful Pakistani military continue to hold sway, alienation from the United States will remain inevitable. Additionally, Pakistanis are not likely to alter their priorities solely as part of a bargain involving aid and arms from the United States. Moreover, both countries are wrong when they assume that even as they act at cross-purposes, they will eventually succeed in persuading the other of their own respective points of view.
Since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has debated its raison d’être. A vocal and powerful minority insists that the country was created to be an Islamic state, a semitheocracy governed by religious principles defined by those who support that vision. And in response to Pakistan’s insecurity toward India and the fear of this much larger neighbor culturally if not politically reabsorbing Pakistan, many otherwise modern, educated generals, judges, and politicians have embraced this Islamist paradigm.
Because of this, Pakistan’s short history as a nation has witnessed the demonization of many secularists as foreign collaborators and enemies of the national ideology. Furthermore, the country has failed to sustain economic growth, which has increased during times of cooperation with the United States, only to come to a halt during periods of estrangement. Pakistanis have seldom pondered why, after six decades of alliance with the United States, the country has not been able to build the kind of economy that other US allies such as South Korea and Taiwan have managed to create for themselves.
American critics of Pakistan point out that Pakistan has always pursued its own agenda, which seldom coincides with American interests, yet it repeatedly seeks US aid and arms without keeping the commitments it makes to acquire that assistance. As a result, the list of American grievances is long: Pakistan developed nuclear weapons while promising the United States that it would not; the United States helped arm and train Mujahideen against the Soviets during the 1980s, but Pakistan chose to keep these militants well armed and sufficiently funded even after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989; and, from the American perspective, Pakistan’s crackdown on terrorist groups, particularly after 9/11, has been halfhearted at best.
The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises, and disastrous misunderstandings. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011 further and significantly undermined any hope of convincing Americans that Pakistan was an ally, albeit one with its own concerns and difficulties.
Many have noted that radical Islam, Pakistan’s military, and US-Pakistan relations have shaped Pakistan’s history, and I have spent most of my life at the intersection of these three critical elements. As a Pakistani, I feel that my country cannot forever depend on external factors for its survival and progress and that my compatriots need to set aside their contrived narrative and face the harsh facts of recent history. Conversely, Americans must realize that their policies toward Pakistan have helped neither the United States nor Pakistan’s people.
In his 1842 book American Notes, Charles Dickens described Washington, DC—a purpose-built capital—as a “City of Magnificent Intentions.” In this way Islamabad is similar to Washington, DC, as it is a new city with no history before the 1960s, when wheat fields and bushes were cleared in order to establish it as Pakistan’s capital. And though these two cities’ histories may parallel each other, Washington’s magnificent intentions and delusions have often clashed with those of Islamabad. This book is an account of that clash. Although I have been witness to some critical events in US-Pakistan relations, this is not intended to be a personal memoir.
One month after Pakistan’s creation as an independent state in August 1947, the country’s founder and first governor-general, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, sat down at his stately residence in Karachi, the Flagstaff House, for an interview with Life magazine reporter and photographer Margaret Bourke-White. His followers revered the charismatic Jinnah as the Quaid-e-Azam, the Great Leader. But his detractors blamed him for the violent partition of British India that had carved out the subcontinent’s northwestern and northeastern provinces into a new Muslim-majority British dominion.
Most American journalists covering the events leading to Indian and Pakistani independence were less than sympathetic to the idea of Pakistan, and Bourke-White was no exception. But Pakistanis deemed her magazine particularly prejudiced against their newly born country because Life’s sister publication, Time, had derided Jinnah as the “Pooh-Bah of Pakistan,” dismissed the country as “the creation of one clever man, Jinnah,” and described Pakistan’s birth as “a slick political trick” when compared to the “mass movement” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led for India’s independence.1
After asking probing questions about Jinnah’s plans for the new nation’s constitution, Bourke-White sought his views of relations with the United States. Jinnah replied that “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.” He then told her: “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed,” and went on to state, “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.…Russia is not so very far away” He spoke of America’s interest in arming Greece and Turkey and expressed the hope that the United States would pour money and arms into Pakistan as well.
In response to these answers, Bourke-White wrote disapprovingly: “In Jinnah’s mind this brave new nation had no other claim on America’s friendship than this—that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks. I wondered whether the Quaid-e-Azam considered his new state only as an armored buffer between opposing major powers.”2
This account of Pakistani thinking within weeks of its creation offers perspective into the vagaries of US-Pakistan relations over the last six-and-a-half decades. Amid frequent Pakistani charges of American betrayal, few Americans remember that Pakistan initiated the US-Pakistan alliance primarily to compensate for its economic and military disadvantages.
At the time when Jinnah described Pakistan as a country that was the “pivot of the world,” the United States had given little thought to the new nation and its possible role in international security. Although the US embassy was the first diplomatic mission to open for business in Karachi, fewer people staffed the building than the number posted in the US embassy in Cuba at that same time.
Oblivious to American disinterest, however, Pakistanis had high expectations of one of the world’s two superpowers. Bourke-White wrote that government officials would say to her: “Surely America will build our army” and “Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.” But neither she nor the Pakistani officials she spoke to saw signs of Soviet infiltration. “They would reply almost sadly,” she said, “as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. ‘No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.’”
Several months before Jinnah sat down for his interview with Bourke-White, he had addressed American diplomats about his expectation that the United States should help Pakistan build its economy and military in return for Pakistan mobilizing Muslim nations against the Soviet Union. At that time, May of 1947, the country was still an idea, and discussions about partitioning India had not yet concluded when Jinnah sat down for a one-and-a-half-hour meeting with Raymond Hare of the State Department’s Division of Middle Eastern and Indian Affairs as well as Thomas Weil, second secretary at the embassy in New Delhi.
According to the two diplomats’ account of the meeting, Jinnah told them that the establishment of Pakistan was “essential to prevent ‘Hindu imperialism’ spreading” into the Middle East. In his vision the Muslim countries “would stand together against possible Russian aggression” and would look to the United States for assistance.
But Americans wondered how Pakistan could be an American ally without a shared interest. They pointed to “frequent jibes” against US “economic imperialism and dollar diplomacy” in Dawn, the newspaper Jinnah founded to advance the cause of Pakistan. Jinnah responded with an explanation that foretold Pakistan’s future interaction with the United States, stating that the Dawn editors “simply reflected” the attitude of Indian Muslims in general toward America, and he “added jokingly ‘they had to make a living’.” He said that he realized that the US government was “probably open minded” about Pakistan; nonetheless, “most Indian Muslims felt Americans were against them.” Jinnah cited two reasons for this view: first, he said, “because most Americans seemed opposed to Pakistan,” and second, because the “U.S. government and people backed Jews against Arabs in Palestine.”3
Jinnah’s expectation of US aid for Pakistan, American officials’ concerns about anti-Americanism, and Bourke-White’s cynicism about Pakistani objectives around the time of the country’s inception together seem like the prologue to a story with many repetitions. The Life correspondent discerned in Pakistan a persistently voiced “hope of tapping the US treasury,” which led her to wonder “whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan’s own uncertain position as a new political entity.”
Ultimately, in Bourke-White’s opinion, “it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state—a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.”4
THE FIRST ANTI-AMERICAN demonstration in Pakistan was reported from Karachi in May 1948. In the years that followed, during the 1950s and 1960s, mobs continued to attack US official buildings in Pakistan. In 1979 a hostile crowd burned down the US embassy in Islamabad—the only US embassy to ever be completely gutted because police did not arrive in time to protect it. The September 1982 issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution carried an article by Pakistani civil servant Shafqat Naghmi in which he analyzed keywords used in the Pakistani press between 1965 and 1979 and subsequently found evidence for widespread anti-Americanism dating back to the beginning of the study.
But this roller-coaster ride of US-Pakistan relations cannot be understood without understanding the circumstances of Pakistan’s creation, the worldview of its elite, and the miscalculations by both American and Pakistani leaders that have made the two countries military allies amidst mistrust and without really being friends.
THE EMERGENCE OF Pakistan as an independent state in 1947 was the culmination of decades of debate and divisions among Muslims in British India regarding their collective future. After British rule was consolidated in the nineteenth century, Muslims found themselves deprived of the privileged status they had enjoyed under the Muslim Mughal empire that had dominated South Asia since 1526. Some of the Muslim leaders embraced territorial nationalism and did not define their collective personality through religion. As opposition to British rule grew, these leaders called for the Muslim population to participate fully in the Indian nationalist movement led by the Indian National Congress of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But others felt that Muslims had a special identity that ethnic and territorial nationalism, centered primarily on the Hindu majority in India, would erase over time.
Coalescing in the All-India Muslim League and led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, these Muslim nationalists (as opposed to Indian nationalists in the secular Indian National Congress led by Gandhi and Nehru) asserted that India’s Muslims constituted a separate nation from non-Muslim Indians and, because of this, demanded the creation of a separate country in areas with a Muslim majority.
British India’s Muslim-majority provinces lay in its northwest and northeast, leading to Pakistan comprising two wings that were separated by India until December 1971, when the eastern wing became the new state of Bangladesh.
Pakistan’s creation represented the general acceptance of the two-nation theory—that Muslims and Hindus constituted two distinct nations in view of their unique experience in India—a theory that had been periodically articulated long before the formal demand for a Pakistan state in 1940 but had never been fully explained in terms of how it could be applied. Although the creation of Pakistan was intended to save South Asia’s Muslims from being a permanent minority within India, it never became the homeland of all of South Asia’s Muslims.
One-third of the Indian subcontinent’s Muslims remained behind as a minority in Hindu-dominated India even after the 1947 partition. The other two-thirds now live in two separate countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, confirming the doubts that some expressed before independence about the practicality of applying the two-nation theory. In return for gaining one country of their own, the Muslim “nation” was effectively divided into three separate states.
Until the end of the Second World War, the Indian struggle for independence had received little attention in the United States; instead American interest had focused on the countries flanking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Although India had been crucial to Britain’s war effort, it was less significant for American policy. Nonetheless, the United States set up a diplomatic presence in Delhi in 1941, and a Special Representative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in 1942.
These American officials sympathized with the demand for Indian independence, leading to strong disagreement with British colonial officials. But US sympathy with the anticolonial sentiment in the subcontinent did not translate into sympathy for Muslim separatism, which most Americans dealing with India found impractical.
According to Special Representative William Phillips, President Roosevelt thought that the idea of partitioning India “sounded terrible” when the British chargé d’affaires, Sir Ronald Campbell, first mentioned it to him. “It reminded the President of the experience of the American civil war,” Phillips recalled. Although Phillips found Jinnah to be “brilliant” and was “personally attracted to him,” he could not agree with the leader’s views. “The more I studied Mr. Jinnah’s Pakistan,” he concluded, “the less it appealed to me as the answer to India’s communal problem, since to break India into two separate nations would weaken both and might open Pakistan, at least, to the designs of ambitious neighbors.”5 From the American perspective, the notion of a significant minority seeking separation rather than safeguards for itself opened doors for perennial conflict. Postcolonial nations all over the world would fragment as a result of similar separatist demands.
The relatively sparse commentary in the US media reinforced the officials’ views. Tom Treanor, reporting for the Los Angeles Times
Haqqani uses his wealth of personal experience to present a detailed account of the genesis and evolution of U.S.-Pakistani relations over the last 60 years The book is a useful resource for academics, journalists, and policymakers at all levels.”
Insightful if disturbing... Making it clear why he is persona non grata in his homeland, Haqqani concludes that military aid has undermined Pakistan's democracy, converting it into a rentier state living off American money rather than its people's productivity.”
The book is part memoir, part searing indictment of Pakistan's flawed strategy of using jihadis to secure its strategic space [Haqqani proves] himself to be a diligent and tireless researcher who backs up almost every stinging commentary on Pakistan's journey since independence to the present day, with fact.”
Mark Moyer, Wall Street Journal
[Haqqani's] purpose isn't to narrate his service as ambassador or score political points but to outline the contours of American relations with Pakistan over time, with a final chapter depicting the 2011 collapse as a new instance of historical trends. While one might desire a fuller accounting of his ambassadorship, the book covers its chosen ground superbly.”
Richard Leiby, Washington Post
A solid synthesis of history, political analysis and social critique."
Lisa Curtis, National Interest
If you want a better understanding of why U.S. policy has failed so miserably in Pakistan, you should read Husain Haqqani's latest book Fast-paced and highly readable Haqqani has provided a well-documented and interesting account of the policy disconnects between the United States and Pakistan. His book should make a tremendous contribution toward grounding U.S. policy toward Pakistan in more realistic assumptions that will help avoid future crises between the two countries.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
[An] insightful, painful history of Pakistani-American relations Demonstrating no mercy to either party, Haqqani admits that Pakistan verges on failed-state status but shows little patience with America's persistently shortsighted, fruitless policies.”
- On Sale
- Feb 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 432 pages