The US and Pakistan have a dysfunctional relationship, according to Husain Haqqani, a former Paksitani ambassador to the US and advisor to four Pakistani prime ministers. 83% of
Pakistanis have negative views about the US, and since the discovery of Osama bin Laden's hideout in the country 67% of Americans look negatively on Pakistan, Haqqani told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on Tuesday. Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic extremism, has been a militarized state since its foundation in 1947, now has nuclear weapons, spends huge resources on its armed forces - and yet 42% of its school-age children do not go to school. The US has backed the Pakistani military when it needed them – against the Soviets in Afghanistan or against al Qaeda post-9/11 – but then has turned its back just as quickly.
The US-Pakistan relationship is based on a twin set of delusions: “the Pakistan delusion is that, with American assistance, Pakistan can become a great power and compete with India.” On the other side, the US delusion is that Pakistan is a reliable ally, which Haqqani said is based on a fundamental reductionist worldview – “whom do we bomb, and whom do we take out for dinner?” This US delusion has been periodically shattered - when Pakistan attacked India in 1965, when it later acquired nuclear weapons, and when it was shown to be supporting the Taliban. The US, Haqqani said, should stop going “from one extreme of treating Pakistan as an ally to the other extreme of treating them as an enemy.” And Pakistan, for its part, needs to change from Islamism to pragmatism, “from militarism to getting those 42% of children to school."
Dealing with Pakistan, said Haqqani, requires two qualities that the US is not well provided with – a sense of history (“the US is the only country in the world where if you say something is history that means it is irrelevant”) and strategic patience. And that means taking a more long-term and balanced view of what the US-Pakistan relationship should be based on.
Haqqani says his mission is to persuade Americans that Pakistanis are good people, while acknowledging that Pakistan’s policies need to change – “you have to stop being the underwriters for Pakistan’s military and intelligence.” What Pakistan needs desperately is to upgrade its education and civilian economic sector. “There are only 6,000 Pakistani students in the US – even Nepal, which has one fifth the population of Pakistan, has more students in the US.”
Asked about the future of Afghanistan, Haqqani said that after the US troop withdrawal later this year, there will likely be a resurgence of the Taliban, but they will find the Afghan army is better prepared to resist them. “The Afghans don’t want the Taliban back and they will fight harder, and after the Taliban finds it cannot capture Kabul, they will turn back onto Pakistan and take Peshawar,” said Haqqani. And Pakistan “is not as prepared for this.” He sees little hope in negotiating with the Taliban. “You cannot negotiate with anyone who wants to drag my country into the 8th or the 9th century. Here we are in the 21st century - what are we going to do? Compromise on the 14th century?”
One of the main US fears about Pakistan is the possibility of some of its nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamic terrorists, but Haqqani said “the problem is not one of loose nukes – it is in the interest of the Pakistani military to safeguard those missiles.” The real issue, he said, is “who controls the nukes and the polices that guide them? What if more extreme Islamists in the military gain power?”
To the question of whether China would take over as the main backer of Pakistan’s military if the US withdraws, Haqqani said he thought that was just “a Pakistani fantasy. China remains a close ally of Pakistan, but China is now worried about Islamic extremism too.”