People-to-people ties difficult in absence of trust: Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani

Normalising ties before trying to resolve outstanding issues is best way forward, Hussain Haqqani tells Ramananda Sengupta.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani.

Husain Haqqani is often described as Pakistan’s leading dissident public intellectual. The former Pakistani ambassador to the US (from 2008-2011) and adviser to three Pakistani Prime Ministers now lives in exile in the US after a fallout with the establishment/military over a memo he apparently wrote, warning the US of a possible military coup following the killing of Osama Bin laden by US special forces in Abottabad. . He is now a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, and the author of several books on Pakistan. In Delhi to talk about his latest book, “Re-imagining Pakistan: transforming a dysfunctional nuclear state” he took time out to speak to foreign editor Ramananda Sengupta about the issues that plague his country, and in turn, India and rest of the world.

India and Pakistan have had four wars and innumerable number of talks at various levels over the past 70 years, but nothing seems to work. What can be done to break this cycle and move ahead?

Much of the impasse comes from Pakistan being an ideological state. And an ideological state which had made India an enemy is less likely to try and find ways around the problem. When you have an intractable problem, after dozens of rounds of talks, the best way to go forward is to try and normalise relations before you can solve or resolve outstanding issues. So far, the approach of Pakistan has been that we need to resolve the Kashmir issue before we can have normal relations. My proposal is the normalisation of relations before we try to resolve the disputes. I think that might work.

Something like what India and China do?

I think that has worked reasonably well. You’ve not had significant conflict. You certainly don’t have a terrorism problem with the Chinese. And you have billions of dollars of trade. I doubt if there are perfect relations between any country in the world.

What role does education in Pakistan play in this constant enmity between India and Pakistan?

In my book, I have a whole set of ideas of how Pakistan might re-imagine itself...including how Pakistan should revise its educational curriculum. If you create a curriculum that has a revisionist history, that basically serves an ideological objective rather than objective facts, then you will have a lot of misunderstanding that Pakistanis have with the rest of the world. In my book I cite dozens of statistics that show where Pakistan stands in a particular field, and also point how Pakistanis are not even aware of those realities. Last week, UNICEF came up with the fact that the world’s highest infant mortality rate is now in Pakistan. I doubt that many Pakistanis are aware of, or have had adequate discussions about this fact. It’s not just education but it is also about how Pakistanis are informed and how the Pakistani media operates within a very circumscribed environment.

Would you agree that with the Pakistani army increasingly getting involved in civilian projects, it becomes that much more difficult to try and separate the two?

I have made that point several times that instead of serving its primary purpose, which is to protect the country’s frontiers, Pakistan’s military has become a institution that defines Pakistan. It is not the only such country. And whenever that happens, problems occur. It is easy to let generals who have been trained to locate and liquidate the enemy run a country, but they are not fully equipped to do so. Pakistan has suffered as a consequence of this.

India’s new stated doctrine proposes making things more expensive for Pakistan each time it conducts a strike against India...has this worked?

My concern is more for the people of Pakistan. The way I see it, Pakistan is already paying a heavy price for its current policies. .The number of Pakistani students who study in American universities is not very high, Pakistan’s standing in healthcare and education has declined. Pakistan’s is the world’s sixth largest country by population and the size of its army, but it number 26 on a Purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, and number 42 on a nominal basis. Those are things which ought to be of greater concern to Pakistanis. As far as making Pakistan pay a greater price is concerned, the question is, who will pay that price? If it is paid by the people of Pakistan but not the establishment, then it unlikely to change policies. However, if the establishment feels that it is coming under greater global pressure, then it might rethink its attitude.

There is a lot of talk about building people to people relationship between India and Pakistan. But how does one build on this given the current lack of trust?

It is always difficult to have good people to people relations when both sides mistrust each other and restrict the flow of travel and trade. People to people relations are difficult to build when one side uses terrorism as an instrument of policy. That said, we have seen that most nations in the world which have disputes have solved them much more effectively by having people to people relations. The question is can Indian ad Pakistan have that sort of a relationship when terrorism remains a major issue and Pakistan refuses to give India MFN status, while India remains suspicious of Pakistani travellers to India on account of the security threat they might pose, specially in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack of 2008

How strong is the argument that Pakistan’s refusal to give MFN status to India is because of concerns that its market will get flooded with Indian goods?

All studies so far indicate that Pakistan will gain access to a much bigger market. India will get another 200 million consumers for its products, but Pakistan will have access to over a billion people, so trade would definitely work to Pakistan’s advantage. The argument is made essentially by those who do not want that trade, not by those who have studied the subject and made economic projections.

The Financial Action Task Force is likely to put Pakistan on its grey list in June. How badly will this impact Pakistan not just economically but also in terms of self-respect and morale?

No country is an island any more in economic or political terms in the world. All restrictions or isolation of Pakistan are likely to have a negative impact. FATF sanctions can severely restrict Pakistan’s ability to benefit from the global financial system. It is better for Pakistan to avoid those sanctions by complying with the FATF requirements. Everything is cumulative. There is no single silver bullet to change a nation’s policy or orientation. What we should be looking at from Pakistan’s point of view is, are we in a good place in terms of our relationship with the rest of the world? Or are we overtly dependent on China, while other countries of the world are slowly isolating us, and not engaging with us productively. From the rest of the world’s point of view, it should be: how are we creating the circumstances where either the people of Pakistan start saying to the establishment has become untenable, or the establishment itself recognises that it is reaching a point where if it does not change, then the cost it bears will be too high.

How strong is the Pakistan China relationship?

I think China continues to see Pakistan as a secondary deterrent. It likes the idea that Pakistan continues to confront India which basically means more Indian troops are facing Pakistan rather than China. That said, not everything is going to be hunky dory in the china Pakistan relationship either. Because China will obviously prioritise its own interests first. Pakistan has been disappointed by China over the FATF, and it is probably going to be further disappointed as things go forward. China has tremendous economic interests intertwined with the US, it also has much larger trade with India than it does with there are limits to how far China can and will go in support of Pakistan. There is a romantic notion on the part of Pakistanis about how China is their all-weather friend. There is no such thing in international relations.

Post Donald Trump, have you noticed any dramatic shift in US policy towards Pakistan?

I think the US has been gradually moving in a direction where it sees Pakistan less and less as an ally. The perceptions of the Cold War are almost over, and now America sees that its interests are more aligned with India than with Pakistan. The lack of convergence of interests always results in substantive changes in outlook, and reorientation of foreign policy. I think that is already taking place even though the full impact will be felt only after some time.

While the rest of the world deals with the White House, Pakistan/GHQ deals with the Pentagon, which is a friend of Pakistan. . Would you agree with that statement?

I think that is assessment is based on the assumption that America works just like Pakistan does, but that is not the political realities are. Such miscalculations have had costs. For instance in the 1965 war, even though America or the White House had warned Pakistan against going to war, the assumption was that once we go to war the Americans will come on our side. They did not. In the US, the military remains subservient to the civilian leadership. And because that is not the case in Pakistan, it does not mean the rest of the world operates on the same premise.

Your latest book is called re-imagining Pakistan. Would you like to try and re-imagine India?

India has a vibrant political discourse, it has a very strong media, and it has a strong institutions and a strong academic community. So Indians are quite capable of re-imagining their country. As a Pakistani, I think it is appropriate for me to focus on that country.

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