"Delusions" and Disappointment in Pakistan

Husain Haqqani's new book offers a vital critique of U.S.-Pakistani relations.

While testifying before a House of Representatives Joint Subcommittee hearing last month, I raised the uncomfortable fact that, despite receiving nearly $27 billion in U.S. aid over the last decade, Islamabad continues to pursue a self-defeating and dangerous policy of supporting some terrorists, while fighting others. Moreover, as terrorist bombs continue to explode—taking the lives of both Pakistani civilians and security personnel—Islamabad is growing its nuclear-weapons arsenal at a faster clip than any other nation in the world today.

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, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding. In this fast-paced and highly readable book, Haqqani illuminates the mistakes of U.S. policy toward Pakistan since the country gained independence from Britain just over sixty-five years ago.

Through careful research and drawing from his own experience as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2011, Haqqani shows that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been, in his own words, “a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises, and disastrous misunderstandings.”

Haqqani does not reserve his criticism for U.S. policies. He also explains that Pakistan has its own delusions: “Instead of basing international relations on facts, Pakistanis have become accustomed to seeing the world through the prism of an Islamo-nationalist ideology.” During partition of the Subcontinent, Pakistan was apportioned fewer military and financial resources than India, and saw bloody communal riots break out during the migration of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from one side to the other. This led Pakistani leaders to develop a siege mentality, believing that Hindu India planned to “force Pakistan to its knees.” To unify the state and justify the establishment of a robust military, Pakistan’s early leaders reinforced the idea of Pakistan serving as a protector of the people’s Islamic identity.

Haqqani provides rich detail on the inner workings of U.S. policy toward Pakistan during a crucial period of U.S history, when the fear of Soviet expansion was at its height in the 1950s. He describes how Pakistan exploited this fear by holding itself up as a Muslim bulwark against communism and as a bridge to the Middle East.

But Pakistan never intended to play a strong role against communism, and instead sought to get the US on its side against its larger and threatening neighbor, India. Moreover, in its quest to develop an Islamo-nationalist identity, it cultivated anti-Western Islamists.

While faulting U.S. officials, such as former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, for buying into the “delusions” created by Pakistan’s leaders, Haqqani credits other foreign-policy heavyweights such as George Kennan for seeing through the Pakistani spin and recognizing that Islamabad’s value to Washington was limited by its divergent strategic interests. Kennan encouraged Pakistanis to avoid depending on U.S. assistance, while Dulles contended that Pakistani policies could be influenced by U.S. military aid.

Six decades later, it is apparent that Kennan’s view was closer to the mark. Despite massive amounts of U.S. aid to Pakistan over the last decade, the two countries do not share strategic interests, and Islamabad has not changed its fundamental strategy of supporting militant groups such as the Taliban, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.

Husain Haqqani (no relation to Jalaluddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani terrorist network) exposes another misconception surrounding US-Pakistan relations by revealing that anti-American sentiment is often fueled—not by U.S. actions—but by Pakistani officials seeking more U.S. aid. In essence, the US spends millions on public diplomacy programs to counter anti-Americanism that is often purposely generated by Pakistani officials trying to bolster their arguments for why the US needs to support them in their efforts to control a volatile population.

“Pakistani public opinion was being shaped against the U.S. long before U.S. foreign policy provided Pakistanis a reason for anti-Americanism,” Haqqani notes. He recounts how major demonstrations were organized with government support outside the US consulate in Karachi in 1979, at the same time Pakistani mobs set fire to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, killing two Americans.

According to Haqqani, one of the biggest mistakes U.S. officials make when developing policy toward Pakistan is putting too much stock in the effectiveness of developing personal relationships with their Pakistani counterparts and believing that good rapport with a power player (usually a military leader) will elicit cooperation on issues important to the United States.