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Reviews

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an epic history of misunderstanding

Anthony McRoy

Husain Haqqani
PublicAffairs, 413pp


This book is one of the most honest one could read, especially poignant because it is written by a former Pakistani diplomat about the relationship between his country and the USA. If anyone is expecting a developing- world critique of US imperialism, tinged with rancour against 'the Great Satan', this is nothing of the kind. It is a forthright presentation of the faults of the Pakistani side of the relationship, and Haqqani's critique of his country's position has seen him denounced as a traitor: 'My detractors in [the] security services and among pro-Jihadi groups have long accused me of being pro-American; they failed to see that advocating a different vision for my troubled nation was actually pro-Pakistan.'

Haqqani presents Pakistan's approach to the US as that of Oliver Twist, always asking for more: 'Pakistan had become a rentier state: it lived off payments from a superpower for its strategic location and intelligence cooperation rather than on the strength of the productivity of its economy.' Indeed, if we pause for a moment, we may ask what exactly does Pakistan produce and export? Neighbouring India has become a hi-tech tiger economy, yet the most popular stereotypes associated with Pakistan are sectarianism and terrorism - and unfortunately, Haqqani shows that these images are not wholly false.

The problem goes back to the original vision of 'Pakistan', an acronym invented by an Indian Muslim student at Cambridge in 1933 based on the north-western provinces of British India; significantly, there was no letter for Bengal. Pakistan's creator, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, never envisaged it as a theocracy: it was a secular state, with religious equality, for Muslims in demographic plurality, not an Islamic State. Yet throughout its history, Pakistan has been divided between those two visions, and it is clear that the latter vision is winning.

After all, simple religious identity, rather than shared history, culture and language, is a thin basis for statehood. Imagine if someone proposed that Ireland and Slovakia be amalgamated because of the Catholicism preponderant in both countries! Haqqani comments: 'Soon after independence differences between East and West Pakistan and ethnic differences among Pakistanis surfaced, but these were papered over with religious grandiloquence.'

Immediately upon independence, conflict followed the accession to India by the Hindu ruler of Muslimmajority Kashmir. Pakistan was ill-equipped to fight, not having the industrial or military resources of its neighbour. It combated the accession by sending in irregulars. This set the pattern for Indo-Pakistani relations: Indian military superiority would be met by irregular jihadis - what Indians, and later those in the US, would call terrorism. The issue has also clouded Pakistan's judgment, since it sees itself in permanent conflict with its neighbour over the issue, necessitating exorbitant military spending.

The new Pakistan urgently needed military and economic assistance, and so it marketed itself to Washington as a bastion of anti-communism. The US, however, was unwilling to back Pakistan to the extent the latter demanded, suspecting - rightly - that the real object of military aid was to oppose India, which, allied to outrage against US Middle East policy, led to anti-Americanism. This spiral continues today, Pakistan demanding unrealistic amounts of aid, especially militarily, while promoting anti-US feeling at home. Furthermore, Pakistan negotiated in bad faith, offering bases for aid, while telling their people that no such offers would actually be made.

The conflict with India, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, propelled the Pakistan army to undue influence. This was exacerbated by ethnic tensions, which meant that only the army held the state together - Pakistan's rulers in 1969 held that the military defended the country not only against foreign foes, 'but also from internal disorder'. This was most evident in regard to Bengal. East Pakistanis were the majority population, yet they were 'treated as second-class citizens', receiving only 20 per cent of aid. West Pakistanis reacted with racist horror at the prospect of Bengali rule, a General telling his colleagues, 'Don't worry. We will not allow these black bastards to rule over us', referring to the darker pigmentation of Bengalis. The Pakistani army began a brutal policy of ethnic massacres. The commander in the province even threatened to raze Dhaka. The military presented this mass pogrom as a jihad, and recruited local Bengali Islamists to 'terrorize' its foes.

The end is well-known: the Indian army steamrollered the hapless Pakistani military, leading to a free Bangladesh. All the US aid counted for nothing, and the army failed to preserve the unity of the state. After a few years, however, the army seized power again under General Zia, who proceeded to Islamise the laws and acquire nuclear weapons - despite promising, on his honour as a soldier, that Pakistan had no such ambition. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to an acceleration of US aid of all kinds to Pakistan, where it became the effective command base for the Mujahideen (who were controlled by Pakistani Intelligence). Again, we know how that ended, with Afghanistan falling to the Taliban and becoming the base for al-Qa'eda.

What comes over in Haqqani's book is the naivety of the US - its unwillingness or inability to see that it was being taken for a ride through fear of communism or terrorism, while Pakistan played a double game. Haqqani's restrained frustration with this set of affairs is evident. He wants a rapprochement with India, an end to religious extremism, a cessation of the dependency approach to Washington, and a concentration on economic development. He notes a US geological study that found 'rare earth metals' on the Afghan side of its border with Pakistan, and the logical assumption, given the artificiality of the border, that they also exist on Pakistan's side. This could be the basis for a booming economy.

However, there is little to suggest that such an ideal scenario will emerge anytime soon. The army - despite its lamentable record of losses against India - continues to be the ultimate power in Pakistan, and if indeed the US does cut its losses with Islamabad - a distinct possibility given its better relations with India and rivalry with India's foe, China - then it is likely that Pakistan will simply turn to Beijing, the emerging global superpower, both in economic and military terms, and with whom it already has a close relationship, to fill its begging bowl, especially in terms of military aid. Pakistan's people deserve better.