WASHINGTON: Washington and Islamabad should give up the fiction of being allies and acknowledge that their interests simply do not converge enough to make them strong partners, Pakistan’s recent envoy to the US, who is now a hunted man in his home country, has advised both sides in a searing examination of tortured relationship between the two countries.
Instead, says Hussain Haqqani, till recently Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Washington should leave Pakistan to its own devices so that it can discover for itself how weak it is without American aid and support, eventually enabling it to return to the mainstream suitably chastened about its limitations.
“By coming to terms with this reality, Washington would be freer to explore new ways of pressuring Pakistan and achieving its own goals in the region. Islamabad, meanwhile, could finally pursue its regional ambitions, which would either succeed once and for all or, more likely, teach Pakistani officials the limitations of their country’s power,” Haqqani writes about the broken relationship in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs journal.
“Once Pakistan’s national security elites recognize the limits of their power, the country might eventually seek a renewed partnership with the United States — but this time with greater humility and an awareness of what it can and cannot get,” says Haqqani who was ousted by Pakistan’s security establishment because he was seen to be working with Washington to contain the overarching influence of the military on Pakistan.
Taking a distinctly dim view of Pakistan’s prospects without US support, Haqqani acknowledges that “it is also possible, although less likely,” that Pakistani leaders could decide that they are able to do quite well on their own, without relying heavily on the United States, as they have come to do over the last several decades. In that case, too, the mutual frustrations resulting from Pakistan’s reluctant dependency on the United States would come to an end.
“Even if the breakup of the alliance did not lead to such a dramatic denouement, it would still leave both countries free to make the tough strategic decisions about dealing with the other that each has been avoiding,” Haqqani writes. “Pakistan could find out whether its regional policy objectives of competing with and containing India are attainable without US support. The United States would be able to deal with issues such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation without the burden of Pakistani allegations of betrayal.”
After all, Haqqani says, “they could hardly be worse off than they are now, clinging to the idea of an alliance even though neither actually believes in it. Sometimes, the best way forward in a relationship lies in admitting that it’s over in its current incarnation.”
Haqqani’s critique traces US-Pakistani ties from the early years, showing that it was dodgy, mistrustful, and never based on realistic expectations from the very beginning. Both sides repeatedly papered over cracks for expediency as Pakistan sought security based on spurious grievances and assumptions against India and the US sought a foothold in the region to counter communism.
A former journalist who has written and spoken against the Pakistani security state with remarkable clarity and candor except when he was in office, Haqqani is literally in exile in the US, wanted and summoned by the courts in Pakistan but fearful to return because of the threats to his life. In a remarkable insight, he describes the work of his immediate predecessors in Washington DC, including a fellow journalist-turned-ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, who he says worked to build the case that Pakistan was the frontline state in the war on terrorism by reaching out to the US media and lobbying Congress. With support from the Bush administration, he says the ambassadors were able to fend off criticism and get huge aid packages approved in the face of criticism from skeptics unconvinced that there was any change of heart in Pakistan, a conclusion he appears to agree with in the Foreign Affairs article.
Describing his own tenure, Haqqani says he and the late AfPak special envoy spent hours together going to the movies and meeting for lunch when their spouses were away from Washington to discuss how to resolve the US-Pak security imbroglio. Convinced that the Pakistani military held the key to stability in the region, President Barack Obama conveyed to Pakistan that the United States wanted to help Pakistan feel secure and be prosperous but that it would not countenance Pakistan’s support for jihadist groups that threatened American security, he reveals, conceding that in the end, these attempts to build a strategic partnership got nowhere.
“The civilian leaders were unable to smooth over the distrust between the US and Pakistani militaries and intelligence agencies. And the lack of full civilian control over Pakistan’s military and intelligence services meant that, as ever, the two countries were working toward different outcomes,” he concludes.