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Magnificent Delusions
Review by Jon P. Dorschnercover

Magnificent Delusions (Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding) by Husain Haqqani, Public Affairs: New York, 2013, ISBN 978-1-61039-317, 432 pp., $28.99 (Hardcover), $14.99 (Kindle).

Pakistan is increasingly identified in American minds as an enormous headache. This has spawned a mini industry of books and articles sounding the alarm and pointing to all the problems originating from Pakistani soil. We are provided with a daily litany regarding terrorism, violence, intolerance, nuclear proliferation, corruption, economic failure, and religious extremism.

This was not always the case. There was a time when Americans viewed Pakistan with great fondness and condescension. At one point, Americans viewed Pakistanis as their fellow warriors fighting side by side to defeat communism. 

Now, many Americans view Pakistan and Pakistanis with suspicion. Few believe Pakistani policymakers and their promises. While the policy establishments of both countries work assiduously to cultivate the image of two allies working hand in hand, this time to defeat terrorism rather than Communism, the populations of both countries grow increasingly hostile. Americans have come to see Pakistan as a country trying to play a two-sided game, accepting billions in aid from the United States to combat terrorism, while patronizing anti-American extremists. Americans now often dismiss Pakistan as a failing state at the epicenter of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Likewise, most Pakistanis cultivate a virulent strain of anti-Americanism, blasting the United States as a faithless ally plotting with Israel and India to destroy Pakistan.

Those of us who have spent our entire adult lives working on Pakistan have seen this gradual shift in attitude, scratched our heads and wondered how policy-makers in both countries could have made so many colossal blunders. In Magnificent Delusions, Ambassador Haqqani tries to explain the seemingly inexplicable. Unlike the many academics who have taken on this challenge, Haqqani is a practitioner.  Deeply involved in Pakistani policy making for a long time, he knows the Pakistani and American power players personally, and has himself tried to steer the US/Pakistan relationship in a more rational direction.  Unlike the academics, Haqqani has faced prison and death threats for his efforts.

While Pakistan drifts further and further into religious extremism and becomes more isolated from the international mainstream, Ambassador Haqqani speaks for a shrinking group of Pakistani liberals who want to see Pakistan change direction. In his previous book, Pakistan (Between Mosque and Military), Haqqani points to a nexus between the Pakistani military (dominated by the Pakistan Army), feudal elites, hapless politicians, and Islamic extremists, which he blames for leading Pakistan astray. In Magnificent Delusions, Haqqani examines the relationship between these Pakistani power elites and their American counterparts and provides recommendations on how to end this counterproductive spiral.

Haqqani notes that Pakistan’s founder Muhammad ali Jinnah, himself a liberal secularist and not a practicing Muslim, envisioned Pakistan as a modern mainstream democracy that would ensure the civil rights of South Asia’s Muslim minority. Jinnah’s vision seems to have died with him, while the Army occupied the vacuum he left behind. Haqqani argues that Pakistan made a conscious decision to maintain armed forces far larger than required for the country’s defense, and without the means to pay for them.

This was because Pakistani elites determined that the country needed to counter a perceived military threat from India. Only one-seventh India’s size, Pakistan could never gain military parity. Pakistani generals became convinced that possession of state of the art military hardware would enable Pakistan to succeed on the battlefield against its much stronger foe. This, rather than any concern for Soviet expansion or combatting communism, explains Pakistan’s determination to ally with the United States, asserts Haqqani.  Pakistan’s military wanted to get its hands on American military technology, the best in the world, but did not have the money to pay for it. They needed a rationale to convince American policy makers to provide them with lots and lots of military aid. That rationale was anti-communism.

Pakistanis quickly learned how to patronize American policymakers, tell them what they wanted to hear and charm them into providing the money. Haqqani points out that Pakistan was not a frontline state in the war against Communism and was never under serious threat from the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, American policymakers convinced themselves that Pakistan was a key player in the cold war. As soon as the spigot started to flow, American military and intelligence officers found themselves working side by side with their “allies” in Pakistan. Although the Pakistanis provided little of value during the Cold War, they proved very charming. After the Pakistani military overthrew the civilian government and started a round of military coups, American policymakers quickly forgot their repugnance of military dictatorship and sang the praises of Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharaf.

While consistently overlooking the faults of these military rulers (including the genocide of the Bengali population of East Pakistan in 1971), American policy elites remained suspicious of India’s democratically elected governments. Failing to see the irony, they preferred military dictatorships to civilian democrats, and continued to praise Pakistan for its anti-communism, even after it cemented a close alliance and partnership with Communist China.

As Haqqani points out, policy analysts and subject matter experts within the American government repeatedly attempted to point out the folly of Pakistan/US relationship. From a realist perspective, India, as the largest country, largest economy and largest military power in the region, was always the prize. The foreign policy choice could not be clearer. It was not in the US national interest to support Pakistan and alienate the regional hegemon. But American policy elites always filtered their realism through anti-communism, allowing Pakistan to extract massive amounts of military and economic aid from the United States, without serious concessions or deliverables.

The United States chose to look the other way and continue to support Pakistan despite its bloody attempt to suppress Bangladeshi national aspirations. For many years, the United States overlooked Pakistan’s nuclear program and its attendant nuclear proliferation. With strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, the US supported “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan.  Determined to “teach the Soviet Union a lesson,” the United States kept the weapons flowing. Government experts on South Asia told the policy makers they were recruiting dangerous allies when they chose to arm Islamic extremists. Some warned that these same extremists would turn their guns on the United States once the Soviets were defeated.

Pakistan’s military leaders determined that Pakistan must create a client state in Afghanistan to provide “strategic depth” in a future war with India. They used their intelligence agency, Interservices Intelligence (ISI), to recruit Islamic extremists (both Afghan and Pakistani) into what they envisioned would be their own pocket army, the Taliban. ISI then tried to used Islamic and Sikh terrorists to attack India and subject it to a “death of a thousand cuts.”  This chain of causality led straight from the mujahidin in Afghanistan through the Taliban and culminated in the Al Qaeda attack on the United States on 9/11.

Although enamored with Pakistan, the patience of American policymakers grew thin. When the onerous military regime of Zia ul Haq became synonymous with systematic human rights abuse and hung Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the United States started to lose interest. It looked like the Pakistan relationship would quietly come to an end.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided Zia ul Haq with an opening. He convinced the United States to provide Pakistan with larger amounts of aid then ever before. Likewise, when Pakistan ignored US entreaties and detonated nuclear devices, the Clinton Administration was quick to cut off the aid spigot. Although deeply enmeshed in the terrorist nexus responsible for the 9/11 attacks, military dictator Pervez Musharaf quickly switched sides and joined the “war on terror,” and the United States resumed massive aid.

The final chapters of Magnificent Delusions are the most interesting. Here Haqqani switches from observer to active participant. He provides first person accounts of meetings with American and Pakistani leaders.  As Ambassador, Haqqani hoped to manage the relationship and use his influence with the then ruling Bhutto family to rationalize Pakistan’s policy towards the United States. However, he argues, the military and ISI were too well entrenched and too committed to the status quo, and the  Zardari administration never had a chance.

Ambassador Haqqani saves his policy recommendations for last. He argues that the relationship with the United States has actually handicapped Pakistan. Confident that American aid would keep the country afloat Pakistani leaders were under no compulsion to adopt more pragmatic and rational policies.  They continued to hold Pakistan’s foreign policy hostage to their obsession with Kashmir and their outdated belief that India was out to destroy the country. By convincing the United States to pay for their outsized military, Pakistani generals felt free to indulge in military adventurism in East Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, a series of wars, and repeated terrorist attacks directed against India.  Now these misguided policies have come home to roost. The ISI’s Islamist clients have turned on Pakistan itself, killing innocent Pakistanis every day in terrorist bloodletting. Thousands of Pakistani troops have died fighting the same extremist groups they once trained and funded.

Haqqani presciently recommends that Pakistan abandon its status as a “rentier state” propped up by American aid, and that the US stop playing the role of enabler to Pakistan’s military. Only then, he argues, will Pakistan find within itself the wherewithal to establish its independence and change its focus from military adventurism, nuclear weapons and terrorism, to civilian rule, democracy and economic and social development.

I admire Ambassador Haqqani for speaking out. While reading his book I found him articulating views I have long harbored. While part of the Pakistani government, he tried to reason with policy makers and convince them to end their delusions and devise a rational policy based on actual national interest. Here in the United States, many of us were engaged in the same effort with our own policy makers. In the end, we both failed. But how long can delusion continue before it becomes so apparent that it must be brought to an end? Maybe this time, things have really gone too far and it is time. We can only hope.white star


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imageA native of Tucson, Arizona, Jon P. Dorschner earned a PhD. in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches South Asian Studies and International Relations at his alma mater, and publishes articles and books on South Asian subjects. From 1983 until 2011, he was a career Foreign Service Officer. A Political Officer, Dr. Dorschner’s career specialties were internal politics and political/military affairs. He served in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington. From 2003-2007 he headed the Internal Politics Unit at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. In 2007-2008 Dr. Dorschner completed a one-year assignment on an Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, Iraq. From 2009-2011 he served as an Economic Officer, in Berlin, Germany.

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