Interview with Husain Haqqani

Each time a Pakistani leader reaches out to India, the Pakistani military reacts to remove the leader, argues former Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani in his latest book ( India vs Pakistan: Why Cant We Just Be Friends? Pub: Juggernaut 2016). He spoke to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar about how he thinks the relationship can evolve.

Your book India v/s Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends, is pitched as a cricket match on the cover. Is that how you see this bitter relationship over nearly 70 years?

I think I have tried to lay out a score-card for the two countries. It is a 69-year match where one team behaves exactly the same way every time, and the other team just doesn’t know what to do with it. I went through thousands of pages of research and tried to distill the history so I could zero in on the psychological problem between both countries. There is the diplomatic framework, the strategic framework, and then there is the psychological aspect of the relationship. How certain behaviours get entrenched and then nothing can be resolved. It starts all the way from 1947, and the Pakistani assertion that India has never accepted the existence of Pakistan. If India hasn’t, in its heart of hearts, accepted Pakistan, then the question is, how will solving the Kashmir problem help anything?

You have quoted Nehru in your book, who said at AMU in 1948, “I do not want to carry the burden of Pakistan’s great problems. I have enough of my own.” Why has nothing convinced Pakistan’s government of this?

Well, I think even in India, there has been some confusion over whether to accept Pakistan or not. In later years, especially in the first election of 1950, even Nehru changed his line, thinking that he would get more Muslim votes if he could blame their problems on the creation of Pakistan, that it was a mistake.

There are a series of India-Pakistan engagements described in the book as “missed opportunities”. In compiling them, did anything strike you, or surprise you, as something new?

I think what emerges clearly that whenever India and Pakistan have come close to trying to end the enmity between them the (Pakistani) military has reacted. It seems like too much of a pattern. In 1958 for example, Feroze Khan Noon was the Prime Minister, heading into an election in 1959. He went to India and when he returned said, we can’t forever be enemies with India, we have to forge a deal. And within a month there was a coup, Pakistan’s first coup. Ostensibly, the military said it was acting against corruption in politics and wanted to work on a new constitution. But a similar thing happened again and again. Look at Tashkent in 1966. Ayub Khan had realised by then that war would not solve Pakistan’s problems after trying hard to defeat India in the 1965 war. So he signed the Tashkent agreement, but trouble began soon after. First there were protests against the Tashkent accord. So even though he was a military dictator, he was accused of selling out, and within two years he was gone. After Bhutto went to Simla in 1972, it seemed relations with India would settle. There was a ceasefire, the ceasefire line looked like it would be accepted as a border, things were settling post-Bangladesh, but then, General Zia Ul Haq had a coup.

What you are saying is that these coups were related to peace with India, rather than domestic politics? I don’t think that has been said as clearly before….

All I am saying is that there is a pattern that can’t be ignored. Not only civilian leaders faced it, even Musharraf did. As soon as Musharraf started to talk about the peace deal hammered out between Tariq Aziz and Satinder Lambah (2006-2007), then he was weakened over the judge’s controversy. So I can’t prove it, but it struck me as I researched the book that this is the strongest pattern.

That is what many Indian experts have always alleged, that even on Jammu and Kashmir, no matter what strides one makes in diplomacy, the Pakistani military establishment will always pull the plug. So they are correct?

Yes, that is the question. Is Kashmir really the core issue for the military? Or is it an issue that has to be kept alive because normalisation is not desirable for them?

So is there any hope? Because by this logic, every accord between India and Pakistan is a victim of its own success.

The hope is in demographics, I argue in the book. Today, a very small percentage of Indians and Pakistanis have any experience of Partition. Soon, very few will have any personal or direct experience of the 1971 war. So what we have is transmitted hatred, not visceral hatred that comes from experiencing a war yourself. If that transmission can diminish, and have regular people understand that the other is not an enemy. The second hope is that if the economic disparities between India and Pakistan, the gap in their scientific and technological advances will be so large that the military in Pakistan feels the pressure to force a deal, to find a resolution. Even if India and Pakistan grow at the same rate of 6-7% today, Pakistan needs to do much more to catch up or at least keep it comparable to their 1:6 size. I also want to say that if in this time, India veers off its chosen path of secularism, then that will derail the process further, as that empowers the hardliners in Pakistan.

It isn’t just the hardliners. Pakistan’s terrorists who attack India have the support of the military. In your book you have revealed for the first time that post 26/11, the then ISI chief told you that the masterminds of the attacks in Mumbai were military men?

Well he didn’t use the words “military men”, he said “our people” and it is open to interpretation whether he meant military personnel or not. But he did tell his U.S. counterpart CIA Director Michael Hayden that “retired Pakistani army officers and retired intelligence officers” were involved in the planning. Mr. Hayden told me the same, and he has written this in his book. NSA Condoleezza Rice has also said something similar. Now my view is that the fact that we never pursued the case against the accused (officers) in the 26/11 case despite all the evidence that had been provided: Not just by India, but by the U.S., by the American NSA including transcripts of conversations, that pointed a finger at us, at the Pakistan government.

Did Pasha mean they were ISI or people connected to the ISI, I don’t know, but he clarified it to Michael Hayden, and Hayden had no ambiguity. I used to keep meticulous notes, and this is an exact quote of what he said.

Because India has been much more specific, and has named 4 Pakistani officers including a Major. But this is something Pakistan has consistently denied.

Denial normally means you do not intend to move forward. So far Pakistani army has denied everything from the 1980s, then Dawood Ibrahim. Despite this link being established, the Pakistani military has never admitted being involved.

And yet Gen Pasha spoke about it spoke to General Hayden about it?

I think he was trying to alleviate pressure from the U.S. at that time, and it worked at the time. Because after a while what India said didn’t matter. And India also has moved on. Now Pathankot has come up, so India doesn’t speak about Mumbai as much. The international pressure that had arisen in 2008 when General Pasha visited Washington blew over.

So why didn’t the Zardari government, which you were the political appointee of, take any action either?

I think the Zardari government took initial action but after a while they were embroiled in domestic politics, just as Mr. Sharif is now. It is difficult for civilian governments in Pakistan to see things through.

Let me ask, do you think the Pakistani army/ISI planned and executed the Mumbai attacks?

I don’t want to speculate, so I don’t give my critics in Pakistan more ammunition to discredit what I am saying. But my assessment of the ISI has never been positive. I will leave it at that.

I ask because given your background with Mr. Pasha who accused you of treason post-Osama, will he just deny this?

He can, but how will he deny what he told General Hayden. He met Hayden in the morning, and I met him in the evening, and Hayden then confirmed that this was what he said.

So the questions will be will terror groups, with or without the ISI backing ever change their hatred for India? You have written about the concept of Ghazwa e Hind driving them, the Islamist desire to conquer India…which has led many in India to advocate hitting Pakistan back in the same coin.

Certainly, for them to change, you will need the people of both countries to come closer together. But I think those in India who advocate doing the same to Pakistan in Balochistan or elsewhere, are making a mistake. It is much better to allow Pakistan to play out its own war with terror. I am no apologist for Pakistan, but a tit for tat policy from India will only lead to an eye for an eye making the whole world blind.

So what do you advocate?

Sustained engagement is a policy for India. Choosing not to engage so the other side realises the cost of not engaging is also a policy. What is not a successful policy is off again, on again policy. Because that doesn’t bring you the fruits of engagement or non-engagement. All it does is promote a fruitless cycle of engaging, being disappointed, not engaging and going back.

Are you saying the Modi government has made a mistake with its Pakistan policy?

It isn’t just the Modi government, it is a longer pattern. The pattern is that Indians don’t seem to know what to do. So they come under international pressure to engage, and the engagement doesn’t lead anywhere.

Does the U.S. have a role in bettering ties?

Of course the U.S. has a role. Its biggest role is in persuading Pakistan that the pursuit of parity with India is unrealistic. I do not oppose assistance by the U.S. to Pakistan per se. But I do feel that the Americans must understand the psychological impact of their support. Their support makes hardliners in Pakistan believe they are too important to the U.S., and they can do anything they please. U.S. support doesn’t change behaviour in Pakistan. Also all military support Pakistan receives from the U.S. will naturally be used against India, which it considers its biggest enemy.

We are seeing tougher comments from the U.S., including the stop on funding F-16s to Pakistan, also the debate over Osama Bin Laden being reopened. As someone who was the Ambassador to the U.S. at the time 5 years ago, how do you see it playing out in election year?

I think after the Osama Bin Laden event, the affection for Pakistan considerably reduced. I had been warning my countrymen about it, my government about it, but because the U.S. doesn’t say this openly, no one believed it. Fixing it will take more than PR from Pakistan, but also a policy shift.

Given your proximity to the government at the time, did Pakistan know about Bin Laden, as Hillary Clinton has now suggested?

I don’t know. Someone obviously knew, someone facilitated him, and Pakistan is yet to come clean in the matter.

PM Modi is expected to visit Islamabad later this year. Do you see any reasons to hope for a breakthrough then?

I must say I think PM Nawaz Sharif has been sincere about wanting peace with India. But look at the Lahore summit, and what followed with Kargil. Real peace will depend on having a political will to forge a deal on both sides and an ability to deliver. Lets also remember it wasn’t U.S. President Nixon’s visit to China that broke the stalemate. It was Nixon’s insistence on convincing his [domestic audience] of the need to engage with China. What is missing right now is the creation of the peace argument at the popular level on both sides of the border, but more so in Pakistan. How can a summit meeting yield substantial results unless deep down the message is filtered that it is time to move on. When PM Modi goes to Pakistan, he may face protests, including from the Jamaat ud Dawa. As long as the Pakistani military plays such games, and no one reaches out to the people and make the case for peace, and while those who advocate peace are branded as traitors or foreign agents, then you can’t move forward.

Does PM Sharif have the ability to deliver then?

Unfortunately, I don’t think he has that ability at this stage. If Musharraf could not deliver in 2007, with the military at his command, how can Sharif deliver today when he is politically embattled, when at least one segment of the population questions whether his commitment to peace with India is driven by business interests, and he faces allegations of corruption over the Panama Papers?

Given all that, how do you see this cricket match of 69 years playing out? May I ask, given that you can no longer return to Pakistan where you face charges and a security threat, which team you are routing for?

Well I do face a security threat in Pakistan. And if a blogger like Khurram Zaki can be shot dead in Karachi for having different views, why would someone like me who is so prominent not be in danger. Regarding the first question, I just want this particular match to come to an end quickly! I’ve used a cricket analogy because people in the subcontinent will understand it better, and I want people to realise, we’ve played this match for 69 years, we can play it for another 69. It will still be a draw, it will exhaust us and eventually it is not a game, it is about the lives of one and a half billion people of the subcontinent, who are the real losers.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 5:54:50 PM |

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