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14 November 2013, Gateway House

Book Review: The U.S.-Pakistan relationship

In ‘Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding,’ author Husain Haqqani writes that the U.S. and Pakistan have few shared interests and very different political needs.

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Inflated expectations and misunderstandings between countries are de rigueur but when the cycle continues for more than six decades, perhaps it is wiser to call the chronic condition a disease.

Why the United States and Pakistan are unable to wean themselves from their delusional relationship and create a more normal one will remain “the” psycho-analytical question of international relations. What makes nations believe fiction when their own intelligence information and experience point another way? If today the Obama Administration is groping for justification so it can buy Pakistan’s cooperation for a face-saving exit from Afghanistan, in the years past, other presidents stretched the truth equally far to keep the weapons and money flowing.

The goals remain unattained as the fiction grows but Washington continues to hope and Pakistan continues to dash it, sometimes with incredible gall, sometimes with panache but always with determination.

The story of U.S.-Pakistan relations from 1947 on is replete with sorry examples of exaggerated demands, open blackmail and double and triple games, tying the two allies in so many knots that a new cycle of more threats, more military aid and more appeasement of Pakistan’s ruling elite has seemed easier.

This when wise American policymakers at various points in history have judged Pakistan correctly. They have advised breaking the habit and hold the generals accountable. But U.S. presidents consistently ignored them because they were either convinced that Pakistan would ultimately deliver on its promises or they had a fondness for the generals – Dwight Eisenhower for Ayub Khan, Richard Nixon for Yahya Khan, Ronald Reagan for Zia-ul-Haq and George W. Bush for Pervez Musharraf.

Personalities mattered a great deal and Pakistan’s leaders managed their likeability factor much better than India’s who were prickly. Pakistan’s first ambassador to the United States had already figured that Americans fall for “sweet words and first impressions” – an observation that was to serve the country well.

“Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding,” is a historical account of this twisted tale. Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, quotes from archival material, U.S. cables and newspaper articles to explore the rinse-and-repeat cycle. It is the most complete narrative so far – it starts with Mohammad Ali Jinnah and ends with Asif Ali Zardari and Haqqani’s own tenure as his envoy. Haqqani was hounded out after the infamous “memogate” affair concocted by a coalition of shadowy Pakistani forces that determined he wasn’t singing from the same old sheet.

Haqqani’s research is meticulous and enlightening – a welcome departure from books on South Asia by U.S. experts, who often reflect their own prejudices rather than ask the hard questions. Pakistan remains the flavor of their life and India not. Haqqani has chosen to break from the dominant narrative and done so on the back of good evidence. It is a must read for those interested in South Asia, especially current and future diplomats.

As an Indian I had two immediate reactions on the book: that Americans and Pakistanis deserve each other because clearly they love playing this game and that India’s reading of Pakistan is pretty much on the ball.  That said, the book also leaves one chastened because it slams you with decades’ worth of deception, outright lies about India’s supposed designs to gobble up Pakistan, the very early seeds of jihad and the venality of the Nixon-Kissinger combine. It can shake one’s belief in attempts to create a healthy neighbourhood.

The bitterness of Pakistani leaders against India is a constant as is their feeling of entitlement on Kashmir. Their obsession to seek military and political parity with India with U.S. help has driven them to places from where there is no return. Unsurprisingly, today the country is itself gripped by the terrorist monsters it created to bleed India.

For all the vehement anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the book makes clear that it was Pakistan that assiduously wooed the Americans from the start, offered itself for U.S. bases in the 1950s but ultimately reneged, promised to send men to America’s wars but never did (Vietnam and Korea) but always demanded military and financial aid as an “advance.” The Americans delivered.

At home, Pakistani leaders never told their people the truth about relations with the U.S. It made it easier to use anti-Americanism — whether through generated mobs or Dawn editorials – as a foreign policy tool and make the Americans feel guilty.

The 1950s’ dark art applies equally in 2013 because the recipe hasn’t changed, the actors may have. Most Pakistanis don’t know that their military approved U.S. drone attacks. They are whipped up via a Hafiz Saeed or Imran Khan into frenzy. But the prime minister and army chief plead for military and economic aid. The Americans fret and then relent. Now that “loose nukes” are added to the mix, Washington feels more chained.

Pakistan’s anti-India narrative built over six decades has had periodic success in Washington because the White House has chosen to completely ignore its own ambassadors and State Department assessments. Even before independence, Jinnah was telling U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that “Hindu imperialism” would spread to the Middle East unless Pakistan was created. He also talked of Muslim countries standing “together against possible Russian aggression.” By the time Pakistan was created, he had honed his message. He famously told Margaret Bourke-White: “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.” Pakistan was “the pivot of the world…Russia is not very far away.” So give us money and weapons.

Every leader after Jinnah promised to be a bulwark against Communism but for a price and a promise that the U.S. would defend Pakistan against an imagined Indian aggression. Even after John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s secretary of state who was no friend of India’s, told the Pakistanis bluntly that the South East Asian Treaty Organization or SEATO could not intervene on Pakistan’s behalf in a conflict with India, it only made the pleas more fervent. A mere $30 million in aid that U.S. was offering just wasn’t enough for standing tall against Communism, the Pakistanis argued.

Dulles recognized that Pakistan had taken an anti-Communist stance not because it was “right” but to make itself “eligible for certain sums of dollar aid.” In the end, despite Ayub Khan’s promises, the Americans got no bases in Pakistan for possible operations against the Soviets and China, only a listening post in Badaber. Even though Americans, including Eisenhower, wondered why they should pump money into Pakistan’s military, between 1954-1959, $425 million had been disbursed. Ayub’s men got Patton tanks, howitzers, F-86 jet fighters and state-of-the-art communications gear.

In the end Eisenhower, his vice president Nixon, and Dulles all liked Ayub more than they liked Nehru. Ayub regaled them with predictions about India’s Balkanization, or its lapse into Communism, while claiming India also wanted to “to gobble us up.” Even Lyndon Johnson, who recognized that Ayub “seemed almost to have a psychosis about India,” nevertheless, gave him aid even after the 1965 war.

The Nixon-Kissinger era made weapon and aid flows even easier. A visceral dislike of India egged the duo to reward the defeated Yahya with a new military package, including B-57 bombers. Then it was just a short walk to the breathtaking apathy as Yayha Khan’s army went on a rampage in 1971 in East Bengal against its own people.

Haqqani says the American “tilt,” complete with USS Enterprise, brought “no advantage” to either the U.S. or Pakistan. Absent the tilt, “Pakistan many have negotiated a settlement with politicians from East Pakistan,” he writes. We will never know but it is difficult to imagine the Punjabi rulers giving any real respect to the Bengalis.

The take away for Nixon-Kissinger was Pakistan’s help in the opening to China and outflanking of the Soviet Union. Thousands of Bengali lives, most of them Hindus, were a small price. And they were killed with U.S. weapons. The famous “Blood Telegram” from Archer Blood, the U.S. consul general, detailing the butchery failed to move Kissinger.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto emerged as Pakistan’s leader in the aftermath of Bangladesh, he told the Americans that India “nurtured the definite intention of liquidating West Pakistan.” And the Americans had let Pakistan down by helping India during its 1962 war with China. Haqaqani documents how Bhutto falsely built a case that the Soviets threatened Pakistan. Once again the tried and tested recipe of inducing guilt, recalling obligations that the U.S. never actually signed on and demanding a fix of weapons was used.

Under Zia-ul-Haq, the recipe was perfected. He began what the author calls two decades of “hide-and-seek” with the Americans over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. When confronted with “incontrovertible intelligence” that he was trying to procure nuclear components, Zia lied to Reagan’s representative, Gen. Vernon Walters, with a straight face, flatly denying everything. “Either he really does not know or he is the most superb and patriotic liar,” Walters later commented.

Evidence continued to mount and Walters, armed with drawings based on Chinese designs Pakistan was using, met Zia again to let him know that the first ever batch of F-16s was in danger. Zia swore up and down that he was “an honorable man” and the American general concluded a four-star general wouldn’t lie. When the Carter Administration could no longer ignore the intelligence, it was forced to talk tough. Since some in the U.S. wanted to bribe Pakistan to scale back, Zia’s men saw an opportunity to raise the price.

Zia lied not only about the nuclear programme, but also about his “Afghan project” which started way before the Soviet invasion but the U.S. ambassador was oblivious. Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led Afghan Islamists, had been living in Pakistan since 1973 with ISI help as had Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Zia created a joint front with Afghan Islamists in Peshawar in mid-1978 to oppose Afghanistan’s new leftist government. He was “provoking” the Soviets because once “the Soviets got directly involved, the United States would have no choice but to synchronise Afghan policy with Pakistan,” Haqqani writes. Zia would kill two birds with one stone – get back at the Afghans for supporting the idea of a Pashtunistan, and be seen by the U.S. as part of its anti-Communist war.

Most are familiar with Zia and the Mujahedeen and America’s biggest covert war against the Soviets during the 1980s. But few may know that it was Zia who invited the Americans in, having done the groundwork by creating conditions for a jihad. He gave interviews to U.S. press, saying the Soviets were “now sitting on our borders. ” He provoked: “Has the free world any interest left in Pakistan?” because the country could still be a “bastion.” He already had trained 2,000 of the first Afghan rebels.

Another important but little known fact is that Jimmy Carter signed on to help the Mujahedeen “covertly” on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Once the Soviets rolled in, the U.S. rained money and weapons on Zia. The ISI grew by leaps and bounds, ultimately becoming an independent power centre. When Reagan took over, the ideological fervor multiplied and Pakistan became the pivot for a few years that Jinnah had dreamed about.

It is not that the U.S. was an innocent being led by the noose. It just chose to focus on Pakistan’s military bosses rather than civilian leaders thrown up by the country’s occasional brushes with democracy.  Benazir Bhutto was an early victim of this lazy policy. When she was dismissed in 1990, the U.S. didn’t protest. Nawaz Sharif came with military’s active support talking of a “Hindu-Jewish alliance” targeting Pakistan.

Jihadis from Pakistan were surfacing from the Philippines to Chechnya, from Egypt to Algeria but the Pakistanis said it was western propaganda. Osama bin Laden was homing on Afghanistan, yet the Americans were unable to force the issue. They “worried about Pakistan as the transit point for global terrorists” but skirted around dangerously. Even when Vladimir Putin tried to warn George W. Bush in July 2001 during a G-8 meeting about Musharraf’s duplicity and Saudi Arabia’s funding, Condoleezza Rice thought he was bitter about the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. Two months later, 9/11 attacks occurred.

Musharraf shifted tracks under U.S. threats but only tactically. “Pakistan made no fundamental shift in attitude toward Afghanistan or India,” writes Haqqani and that was proved by the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Bush recognized Pakistan’s “obsession” with India and recalled how in every conversation he had with Musharraf, the general “accused India of wrongdoing.” He lost all sympathy for Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

Haqqani describes meetings between John Negroponte, deputy secretary of state, and Mahmud Durrani, Pakistan’s national security adviser, and himself and with Rice. U.S. officials demanded Pakistan come clean on Mumbai attacks and punish the terrorists. Negroponte asked, “Why do we sense a degree of guilt in Pakistan’s conduct?” after Pakistan had refused access to the LeT planners of the attack. Rice was brutal when she told them, “What you think and what the whole world thinks are two different things.” But nothing changed materially in U.S. policy.

The U.S. gave Pakistan intelligence proving LeT’s guilt and a few were arrested. ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha came to meet the CIA director and admitted that planners of the Mumbai attacks included “some retired Pakistani army officers.” Then he had tea at the embassy with Haqqani where he talked of putting Mumbai “behind us.”

With the Obama Administration, Pakistan was offered a “grand bargain,” says Haqqani, to strengthen its democracy and to change its attitude toward India. Obama was willing to “nudge” India on Kashmir if Pakistan cleaned up its act. The Kerry-Lugar bill provided $1.5 billion annually for five years. But soon ISI’s complicity in tipping off terrorists was too hard to ignore. Obama personally assured Zardari’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Kayani that he didn’t want a “vulnerable” Pakistan and was ready to help but if Pakistani links were found in a future attack on the U.S., “my hands would be tied.” A year later U.S. conducted the raid to get bin Laden without breathing a word to the Pakistanis.

Even though Obama seems to make a cold assessment on Pakistan, he too has found it imperative to keep Pakistan in good cheer because of 2014 and the need to bring troops home from Afghanistan. He gave Nawaz Sharif the red carpet treatment in September, promising a long-term commitment.

Haqqani rightly concludes that despite the long history, Pakistan and the U.S. have “few shared interests and very different political needs.” Both must lower their expectations and redefine the relationship or the alliance will remain a “mirage.” I put my money on the same old cycle repeating itself in a different form.

Seema Sirohi is a Washington-based analyst and a frequent contributor to Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. Seema is also on Twitter, and her handle is @seemasirohi

This review was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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