The following post is by Saim Saeed, WRM’s former student and a regular contributor to this site.A month after Pakistan got its independence in 1947, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the nascent country, said that “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America. Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed…[on] the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” This mistaken sense of importance is a recurring theme in Magnificent Delusions, Husain Haqqani’s scathing account of US-Pakistan relations from Pakistan’s inception to his forced resignation as Pakistani Ambassador to the US in 2011.Before the US could determine Pakistan’s utility in its own struggles against the Soviet Union, Pakistan declared itself to be at the forefront of the fight against communism, hoping to secure American weapons and aid. At this point, Haqqani points out, the Soviets entirely ignored Pakistan. Pakistanis, wrote journalist Margaret Bourke-White, “would reply almost sadly as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.” Yet Pakistan, undeterred, has always been eager to offer its services in the form of military and naval bases and intelligence collection centers—in exchange for a steady flow of weapons and aid.To sell the bargain, Pakistani leaders fed US fear of the Soviet Union. They trumpeted their anti-communist credentials and sounded alarm over foreign powers’ interests in dismantling Pakistan so that American weapons and aid would continue. And they charmed successive American administrations to get what they wanted. Pakistani diplomats and leaders wined and dined Americans, often even junior officials, to assure them of their support and repeat their demands for more and more military hardware.The weapons were always sought to serve its military rivalry with India, but Pakistan would rhetorically adopt whatever was America’s enemy du jour, whether communists or Islamic militants. In 2008, under the latest PPP-led government under Prime Minister Gilani, Pakistan’s air force asked for $230 million dollars in aid to upgrade a fleet of F-16 aircraft, ostensibly “to bomb terrorists.” A congressional critic “derided the argument, however, stating, ‘Using F-16s this way is like hitting a fly with a sledgehammer.’” Despite the skepticism, the Bush administration still allocated the aid, which was more than two-thirds of the total Pakistan received that year.Foreign policy wonks have used spousal metaphors with tedious frequency to describe Pak-American relations: “marriage of convenience,” “a loveless marriage,” “divorce,” and so on. But Haqqani points out how Pakistan deliberately took to describing itself as a woman to be courted, as a matter of state policy. “Were the US not to grant aid now, especially in view of all the publicity, it would be like taking a poor girl for a walk and then walking out on her, leaving her only with a bad name,” said Pakistan’s leader Malik Mohammed to Richard Nixon at one point, and he ordered other diplomats to repeat the same admonishment.Ultimately, Haqqani writes, “dependence, deception, and defiance have characterized US-Pakistan relations,” but it is delusion that trumps all others. On the day Pakistan’s military surrendered to Indian forces in Dhaka in 1971, the headline in Pakistan largest English newspaper was “Victory on all Fronts.” Never mind reflection or recognition of the fact that half the country was lost, the first thing Pakistan did after suffering such a humiliating defeat at the hands of its arch-rival was to present a wish list including tanks, submarines, anti-aircraft missiles, armored trucks, and that too “at reduced price and deferred payment.” The Pakistani military was under the impression that with better weapons, better training, more support, and fewer meddling diplomats, the war would have been won.In the face of incontrovertible evidence that the US presented to Pakistan regarding its clandestine activities of funding a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, ISI chief Javed Nasir’s response was that the American Ambassador, Nicholas Platt, was a Jew (he wasn’t), and not to be trusted, and that Washington was controlled by the “Indo-Zionist lobby.” This was at a high-level meeting with the highest civil and military officials in the country. References to the “Indo-Zionist lobby” were common in the newspapers, but in a private meeting with the heads of state? Nasir wasn’t fooling anyone but himself. Earlier, referring to dictator Yahya Khan, who oversaw Pakistan’s breakup, Haqqani writes, “Nixon and Kissinger did not realize the propensity of Pakistan’s generals for self-deception.”Throughout the book, however, Haqqani appears to lean too heavily on delusion as an explanation for all of Pakistan’s actions. Delusion doesn’t quite account for Pakistan’s strategy of an “Iran-Pakistan-China” alliance as another pole in a multi-polar world, and talk of “strategic defiance” involving Iran, Iraq and Pakistan standing up to the US. Similarly, Haqqani offers the ultimately oversimplified explanation that Pakistan devotes so much energy to its fantasy of inflicting defeat on India because it simply can’t face the grim reality of being smaller, poorer, and weaker than its eastern neighbor. He doesn’t discuss any real threats coming from India’s side.The United States, meanwhile, is spared the ire that Haqqani reserves for Pakistan. While he is critical, the mistakes he outlines in American foreign policy are just that—simply incompetence or ignorance. Yet in his telling, Pakistan’s destructive actions are always a matter of delusion, “colonial hubris” and sometimes outright villainy. American ignorance, however, should not be more forgivable than Pakistani delusions. It has proved as damaging as Pakistan’s own foreign policy—if not for Americans, then definitely for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.Haqqani points out that multiple presidents, including Eisenhower and Kennedy, doubted whether the US should be allied with Pakistan at all, but then continued the familiar policy of providing weapons and aid. Haqqani gives the impression that the thought disappeared as it quickly as it came. Pakistan used American weapons against India in a war in 1965, and when Nixon continued the same policy, American weapons were used again in 1971. A consistent failure to understand the extent of Pakistan’s insecurity toward India borders on the criminally negligent. If American policymakers were in fact well aware of Pakistan’s preoccupations, Haqqani does little to explain why America continued to funnel weapons in to Pakistan despite insisting that the weapons were not to be used against India.If the US was looking for leverage, Haqqani implies that it found little apart from having Pakistan sign up for useless memberships to regional organizations to which Pakistan did not belong. He points out that the “Soviet threat” at times was as mirage-like for the US as the “Indian threat” was for Pakistan. “Although neither India nor Pakistan were likely to go communist any time soon, Nixon’s team constantly thought about the need to deny the Soviets influence in Pakistan.” If anything, Indira Gandhi’s 1969 treaty with the Soviet Union was a response to the US favoring Pakistan over India.Thus, successive administrations oscillated between belittling Pakistan’s importance and exaggerating it. And many presidents—Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush, to name a few—were enamored with the assortment of Pakistani generals and diplomats whom they encountered. Despite the orgy of killing that President Yahya Khan was conducting in East Pakistan, Nixon liked him. Dictators Ayub Khan and Musharraf came into office through military coups, but they got along well with their American counterparts. Thus, American presidents’ personal relationships seemed to trump their strategic considerations.Time and again, with regard to Pakistan, US policymakers favored short-term tactical advantage over strategic planning. Past and future wars between India and Pakistan were trumped by Pakistan being well-armed against the Soviet Union. The war in Afghanistan trumped concern over Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, only to come up once again after American interest in Afghanistan dissipated. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan also trumped Pakistan’s covert, ultimately successful plans to install a Pakistan-friendly Taliban government there, which only became a problem for the US after 9/11.Taken together, these erratic moves make for the kind of track record that could arguably justify some of Pakistani resentment and mistrust toward the US. Yes, it’s “delusional” that Pakistanis should attribute everything from Princess Diana’s death to earthquakes to the evil US, but it’s not so hard to see why they might believe Americans are only using Pakistan as a pawn in their grand designs. Haqqani describes American foreign policy toward Pakistan as merely shortsighted and non-committal, disinclined to devote time and resources to strategic partnerships. After reading Magnificent Delusions, however, one gets the impression that if delusions of grandeur plague Pakistan, then America could be said to be suffering from bi-polar disorder. Let’s hope Haqqani’s American counterpart will subject the US approach to Pakistan to the same scathing but ultimately healing analysis.Overall, it is tragic that such a potentially useful self-critical examination of Pakistani state policy will inevitably be branded as “pro-US” and “treacherous” in the highest political and military circles in Islamabad. One wonders whether some of the book’s lopsidedness is the product of frustration and disappointment at Haqqani’s own inability to change what has been and still is a mostly terrible foreign policy toward the US while he served as Ambassador. (At present, Haqqani cannot go back to Pakistan because of the threat of treason charges against him that could even lead to the death penalty.) But despite this imbalance in framing, the book is an excellent read, and a worthy place to start for someone just dipping their toes in Pakistan’s complex diplomatic history.
What We're ReadingDependence, Deception, Defiance and Delusion