Addressing delusions

January 5, 2014

Addressing delusions

Husain Haqqani’s name is well-known in Pakistan but mostly for the wrong reasons. He is variably known among some journalists, the army and the people as an opportunist who wanted power in all governments, as the man who let the country down in the ‘Memogate scandal’ and the co-author of the ‘Kerry-Luger Bill’. These charges have no bearing on Haqqani’s scholarship. He proved it once in an epoch-making book entitled Between the Mosque and the Military (2005) which explored the ties of the Pakistan military with religious actors, especially those who justified aggression against India.

The book under review shows that the author has lost none of his analytical powers and ability to marshal facts to make an argument.

The argument is that the relationship of the United States and Pakistan is so crisis-prone because the real interests of the two countries are divergent. Pakistan’s real aim was always to defend itself against perceived Indian threat and solve the Kashmir and other bilateral issues with India in its own favour. The US, on the other hand, wanted to use Pakistan to confront communism, especially the Soviet Union, during the Cold War and now to defeat al-Qaeda and Islamic militancy.

The book presents this argument in a historical narrative which is based on records, testimonies, biographies and other sources.

The first chapter, appropriately entitled ‘False Starts’ begins with Pakistan’s demand from the US to build its military by providing USD 170 million for the army; 75 million for the air force and 60 million for the navy. However, even at this early period, Pakistani public’s reaction to articles in the American press critical of Mr. Jinnah was furious. This pattern, says the author, was repeated several times. On one hand the government of Pakistan asked for money and got it and on the other anti-Americanism flourished.

This resulted eventually in closing some of the options the Pakistani decision-makers might have had at present. The Americans, however, did not help Pakistan out of the goodness of their hearts, of course. They desperately wanted allies against the Soviets and India had declared itself to be neutral hence their wooing of Pakistan. Pakistan eventually joined the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), the Mutual Assistance Agreement and CENTO and in time the Americans started supplying military aid on a grand scale in exchange for such listening posts as the one at Badaber near Peshawar from which US spy planes took off for the Soviet Union.

The facts might be correct but the narrative paints Pakistanis as perfidious while the Americans appear naïve and gullible. He uses no polemics, of course, but he does use a narratorial voice which makes the Americans look like long-suffering recipients of delusional Pakistanis. 

By 1959 the Pakistan military received Patton tanks, artillery, F-86 jets and some ships. The catch was that this aid, as far as America was concerned, was to combat communism and not to fight against India. Yet, it is surprising that the Americans were so naïve as to think it would be used the way they wanted it to be used. This book, and for that matter many other sources, quote many Pakistani officials and Ayub Khan himself talking repeatedly about the Indian threat and Kashmir. Why then did the Americans assume that the military would be used against the Soviet Union or China which, in any case, had no designs on Pakistan?

This difference between Pakistani perceptions and American ones came to a head when Ayub Khan used the weapons acquired from America to fight for Kashmir -- by sending militants across the line of control to wrest Kashmir from India. The Indians crossed the international border to relieve the pressure and the 1965 India-Pakistan war came about.

After this the US stopped military aid as their laws demanded but this was seen in Pakistan as treachery and so the idea that America is not a dependable friend was reinforced. However, by 1971 the United States was again keen to renew its relationship with Pakistan, especially because the Americans wanted Yahya Khan to help them make friends with China. The author asserts that both Nixon and Kissinger also personally liked Yahya and disliked Indira Gandhi but to what extent this contributed to their pro-Pakistan attitudes cannot be determined with any precision. The evidence presented by the author as well as Kissinger’s own biography The White House Years (2005) and the recently published Blood Telegrams (April 1971) all suggest beyond doubt that Haqqani is right when he argues that Nixon did not denounce Yahya even when Archer Blood, the American Consular in Dhaka, sent evidence about the military action against the Bengalis there. Later the US sent a naval ship and warned Indira Gandhi not to move further on Pakistan’s Western front. This, according to some analysts, saved Pakistan though Indira denied having any territorial ambitions and there is no evidence that American threats deterred India.

Bhutto, who replaced Yahya as ruler, was a jingoist and anti-India. Indeed, he was one of the architects of the disastrous 1965 war. And soon enough he started preparing Pakistan to build a nuclear weapon since India had tested such a device in 1974. The United States, of course, wanted to stop Bhutto from building the bomb and used, as always, military aid (A-7 planes) as a means of persuasion. It did not work nor did it work with General Zia ul Haq who was at the helm of affairs from 1977 till 1988.

Haqqani makes much of Zia’s point-blank lying to the Americans about not making a nuclear weapon but it should be kept in mind that all leaders lie in pursuance of what they perceive as their national interests. The Americans could not have been so naïve as to believe him and, of course, they needed Zia ul Haq when they wanted to defeat and humiliate the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. What comes as something of a surprise is that Pakistan had already been helping the rebellious Afghans, mostly strongly pro-Jihad elements, to fight the Russians. But considering that Bhutto was the first to train Afghans to fight against their government this should not really be surprising.

Anyway, Pakistan got an enormous amount of aid, legitimacy for Zia’s military rule and Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, especially the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) expanded and became more powerful than ever before. And the Americans humiliated the Russians who lost 13 billion dollars and counted 310 dead and 35, 478 wounded.  Indeed, the Soviet Union broke up soon and the US became the only super power in the world. But what the Americans did not understand was that they had created Islamist militancy which would now confront them headlong.

Despite warnings, as the author points out, the American government did not bother about the anti-women, anti-human rights views of the Afghan warlords they had promoted to power. Moreover, they did nothing about the militants becoming powerful in Pakistan because they were used by the Pakistan military as proxy warriors in Kashmir. The strategy was the same as had been used in 1947 and 1965 but this time the warriors were more trained, more determined and much more Islamist than before.

Briefly, according to the author, the militants became more and more powerful as they were patronised as an auxiliary force in a policy which virtually privatised the war with India for Kashmir. One aspect of this policy was to deny India access to the Afghans so that they do not demand land from Pakistan in the form of Pakhtunistan and, more importantly, Pakistan has a friendly regime in the West to fight on the Eastern front. The old fear of Indian aggression was still the driving force of Pakistan’s policy. And, of course, the military regarded itself as the guardian of this policy.

That is why General Musharraf played a double game with the Americans after Nine Eleven when they attacked Afghanistan and the Taliban melted away into the countryside and sought refuge in Pakistan. He did hand over some al-Qaeda operatives to the Americans but neither he nor the regime after him took on the America’s enemies (Haqqanis) in North Waziristan. But this time, as the author points out at length, Pakistan’s policies led to the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, especially those in uniform, by suicide attacks and bombings by the Taliban who now turned against Pakistan.

Pakistani leaders, especially the military, did not change their old anti-India orientation which meant not taking military action against the ‘good’ Taliban (i.e. those not fighting Pakistan). This policy threatens to expand space for the militants and their narrative with grave consequences for the future of democracy and liberal-humanist values in Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States both suffered from their illogical obsessions: the former because of visceral hatred for India; the latter for an even more exaggerated enmity for communism (and now militant Islam). Both went for policies which eventually harmed them. In both cases these policies failed as they made their countries less safe than before; resulted in the deaths of their citizens and bled them financially.

While it is true that the latest of these policies (promoting Islamic militancy) has the potential of hurting Pakistan more than America, it has and will continue to hurt America too. The author’s  mistake is that he makes this failure of policies very clear in Pakistan’s case -- as a good scholar should -- but he glosses over the failures of the US. Yet another point which emerges from Haqqani’s book and other sources is that Pakistani decision-makers have never been subservient to the Americans as most Pakistanis believe. They always got what they wanted: to build the  armed forces in the fifties; to fight India rather than the communists; to make friends with China to procure more weapons despite American displeasure; to make a nuclear weapon; to save the Taliban whom they expected to help them later. I for one do not think all of these policies are really in the interest of peace or of Pakistan but that is not the point. The point is that Pakistan has never been a client state of the United States and this is a point which should have been made more forcefully in the book.

Suppose, for a moment, such policies had not been followed both by the US and Pakistan, the Americans would probably have made fewer enemies as they would not have tried to defeat the Soviet Union by hook or by crook thus spending a lot of lives and money.

Secondly, they would not have created the enemy which threatens them today i.e. the Islamic militants. And if they had not donated around 40 billion dollars to build up the Pakistani military, they would have been seen as donors of wheat and civilian aid in Pakistan. Possibly, Pakistanis might not have been so virulently anti-American as America would have appeared to them like Canada or Sweden -- a far off Eldorado with no role in world affairs.

And, if Pakistan had not considered itself indispensable to America it might have stood on its feet and not indulged in wars which it did possibly because of American aid. But this assumes that both the US and Pakistan had not been obsessed with communism and India respectively. But both were and both raised forces which threaten their existence. But such daydreaming about what might have been lies in the realm of hypothetics and we need not dwell upon it.

Haqqani writes in a highly readable style which is a pleasure to read. He uses the sources very well too and is one of the few scholars who wears their learning light and do not clutter the narrative with too many undigested facts. Unfortunately, he does tilt the narrative in such a manner that Pakistanis seem to be crooks while Americans appear as fools. The facts might be correct but the narrative paints Pakistanis as perfidious while the Americans appear naïve and gullible. He uses no polemics, of course, but he does use a narratorial voice which makes the Americans look like long-suffering recipients of delusional Pakistanis. Unfortunately, the Americans, like most other decision-makers, are irrational at times and often do not know what is good for their countries.

As Haqqani knows so well, leaders everywhere act only in the perceived self-interest of their countries and if they are naïve then that is seen to be a great fault --even greater than being liars and crooks. Of course, in fact, the Americans were not so gullible to believe everything the Pakistanis told them but they might have miscalculated what they could achieve. And for that matter the Pakistanis miscalculated too with the result that their policies are now putting them in jeopardy.

I believe Haqqani’s bias against the Pakistani decision-makers comes from the fact that, by his own account, he was not treated well by the Pakistan army in the ‘Memogate scandal’. He has given some details of this incident which, in my view, need not have been given in a way which benefits the author. However, not to present one’s point of view in a major book which will be read by so many people is a temptation which only a saint could have resisted. And, from what we have heard so far, Haqqani is no saint. Though I must emphasise as I did at the beginning of this review, he is indeed a fine scholar. This book will be seen as a milestone in international relations for many years to come. I recommend it not only to scholars of international relations and Pakistan but also to the interested layperson.

Magnificent Delusions is available at Liberty Books

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an epic History of Misunderstanding (New York: Public Affairs, 2013)
By Husain Haqqani

Pages: 413
Price: USD28.99

Addressing delusions