'The civilian govt does not have a free hand in Pakistan'

'The civilian govt does not have a free hand in Pakistan'

Hussain Haqqani, a trusted adviser of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is a journalist-turned diplomat-academic who quit as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US in 2011 under controversial circumstances – of drafting a memo which accused the Pakistani army of plotting a coup.

A Pakistan and Afghanistan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review covering two wars in Afghanistan, Haqqani has authored several books and the latest, “Magnificent Delusions (Penguin)” will be released shortly. Currently senior fellow and director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute, Haqqani was in Bangalore to attend a global initiative launched by the independent policy research organisation. He spoke to B S Arun of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:

Do you think prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s new government in Pakistan can significantly change Islamabad’s foreign policy, particularly in respect to relations with India?

Improvement in relations between India and Pakistan are desired by the peoples of the two nations. It would enable Pakistan to overcome much of the dysfunction it has faced under the jihadi onslaught and it would be helpful to India as it enables Indians to focus on their economic development. The problem is, on both sides there are elements that focus on things that divide rather than find ways to collaborate. In Pakistan, there is another impediment to normalisation of relations. That is, influence of jihadi extremists and Pakistan establishment’s unwillingness to change the national narratives built over 66 years projecting India as an existentialist threat to Pakistan. I don’t believe it, for many nations have fought wars and ended up having good relations. There is no reason why India and Pakistan cannot find that equation. Sharif says he wants good relations with India. But then, he had said the same in 1990 when Laskhar-e-Toeba got launched. He said the same in 1997, and Kargil took place under his watch.

Do you think Sharief can take a tough stand on terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and rein in elements like Hafiz Saeed? To what extent these religious extremists and the army influence domestic and foreign policies?

I don’t think it is Nawaz  Sharif per se. It is about the political environment in Pakistan. The civilian government does not have a free hand just as the outgoing one did not. Its hands are constrained by the national discourse which tends to be manipulated by pro-jihadi elements and also constrained  by the unwillingness of Pakistani security establishment (Haqqani meant the army and ISI.) It is true of national security policy.

How do you describe the present domestic situation in Pakistan in terms of economy and peace and to what extent will Sharif be able to resolve these problems?

As a Pakistani, I hope and pray that our government is able to breathe life into the economy and overcome the myriad challenges faced by the country. As an analyst, I am concerned about the overwhelming nature of Pakistan’s strategies. It needs to reorder its national priorities. It should focus on finding prosperity to our people rather than devoting all our resource and energies to seeking military parity with India. Pakistan definitely needs a strong military like all countries but it should not weaken itself by building military capability disproportionate to its economic potential. It is also important that we disarm all the barriers that have cropped in the country under the banner of jihad. Armed groups that are not in official uniform are not conducive to peace and order in the country. There cannot be economic progress.

How do you outline Pakistan’s long-term strategic objective in Afghanistan and its relations with it in the backdrop of pull out of American forces next year?

The way for Pakistan is to befriend the Afghanistan government. It is an error to try and impose a friendly dispensation on Kabul.  Afghanistan’s future should be left in the hands of Afghans and Pakistan should work with that government to make sure that Islamabad’s interests are protected. Involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan has been detrimental to Islamabad’s own. The jihad that was organised first to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan has come back to haunt Pakistan. As for India’s role in Afghanistan, I hope that India also stays away from trying to shape events there. Both Pakistan and India will be better of by letting Afghanistan find its own way forward while each of us deals with our own problems. Proxy wars or threats of proxy wars seldom pay any benefits to those engage in them.

What area your thoughts on the trajectory of the US-Pakistan relations during the Obama presidency and its future course? Have ties taken a turn for the worse after the killing of Osama bin Laden by US soldiers in Pakistan when you were the ambassador?

In my book “Magnificent Delusions”, I have traced the complex relationship between the two countries from 1947 till last year. The conclusion I have reached is that unless Pakistan and US both find on ground shared interests, our relationship will become episodic. The withdrawal of American combat troops will most likely mark the beginning of a new episode. Pakistanis do not realise how much damage has been done to the idea of close ties between Islamabad and Washington by the discovery of Osama in Abottabad.

Anti-Americanism has existed in Pakistan for many years but now one can discern anti-Pakistanism in the US. It will take a lot of effort and astute diplomacy to overcome the trust deficit that is existing now.  

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