Barack Obama says Pakistan is the country that most often keeps him awake at night. Husain Haqqani says he has the answer to the president’s insomnia.The former Pakistani ambassador to Washington says the two countries should face the fact that their goals and priorities are not going to converge any time soon, and so should drop their stormy partnership to forge a “post-alliance future” based on reality over expectations and each country’s self-interest.
“If in 65 years we haven’t been able to find sufficient common ground to live together … maybe the best is to find friendship outside the marital bond,” says Mr. Haqqani, who was Islamabad‘s ambassador to Washington until last November when he fell prey to a Pakistani political scandal.
Haqqani’s conclusion – which he plans to explore in a book to be published next spring, entitled “Magnificent Delusions” – is a variation on the theme of those policy experts in both countries who say the two unhappy partners should “divorce” rather than prolong a dysfunctional marriage where neither side likes or trusts the other.
“I’m not for [the US] declaring Pakistan an enemy,” Haqqani cautions, adding that his reason for proposing a “parting of ways” is so that “the important things can actually be addressed.”
One example: Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and ensuring that it remains secure. Without the fixation on “a broad alliance that doesn’t exist,” he says, “you can … focus on the specific problem.”
He also hints that Pakistan’s bond to the US, and in particular the military and security focus of the relationship, have held Pakistan back from maturing politically in ways it might have been forced to otherwise. “Pakistan ends up behaving like Syria, but wanting to be treated like Israel,” he says.
Haqqani spoke Wednesday at the centre for the National Interest in Washington, before taking up the academic year as a professor of international relations at Boston University – a post he held before becoming ambassador in April 2008.
His last appearance in Washington as ambassador was at a Monitor breakfast – on Nov. 16, the same day he was ordered back to Islamabad to answer charges of seeking US government help in deposing Pakistan’s powerful military leadership. The charges – unfounded, according to Haqqani – turned into a political storm the Pakistani media dubbed “Memogate,” because it involved a memo sent to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen seeking US help in preventing a military coup against Pakistan’s weak civilian government.
Haqqani denied having anything to do with the memo, but even as ambassador he was a vocal advocate of a stronger civilian government to which the military would take a back seat. That position earned him the disdain of Pakistan’s military and powerful intelligence services, which openly derided Haqqani for having in their estimation adopted an American perspective on the relationship after living so long in the US.
Haqqani says one need only consider recent opinion polls from both countries to conclude that a relationship based on unrealistic expectations on both sides is not working. He notes that a Pew global opinion poll earlier this year revealed that 74 per cent of Pakistanis view the US as an “enemy” – almost identical to the percentage of Americans that a Fox News found do not consider Pakistan an “ally.”
About half of Pakistanis would like the US to continue sending billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan despite their disdain for the source, but Haqqani says the US should give up the illusion that aid can buy policies the US prefers. He points to what he calls the most recent round of “engagement,” the post-9/11 years during which the US sent Pakistan tens of billions of dollars in mostly military aid to enlist Pakistan’s cooperation against Al Qaeda and in Pakistan.
Another failure, he says.
Under a “post-alliance” relationship, Haqqani says he assumes the US will continue its campaign of drone strikes against Taliban targets in Pakistani territory. Pakistan, on the other hand, will pursue a policy that it believes will promote its primary goal, which is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for attacks on Pakistan.
Haqqani says Pakistan has an existential question to decide: “Do we want to be a future South Korea, or do we want to be Iran without oil?” he posits.
It’s a question only Pakistanis can answer, he says, and perhaps one that the US-Pakistani relationship, as it stands now, is allowing Pakistanis to put off answering.
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