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Former ambassador discusses Pakistan-US relations

If Pakistanis are polled on their least favorite country, America tops the list. When Americans are asked for their list, Pakistan joins a top three with Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. and Pakistan are allies, but, as the former ambassador between the two nations said during a lecture at Indiana University Friday afternoon, it isn’t much of an alliance.

“A couple that’s been together for 66 years, but when they are asked to name their least favorite person, they name each other. How healthy is that marriage?” asked Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011.

Haqqani, IU’s first guest this semester for its Global Perspectives Speaker Series, was also on campus to pitch his book, “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding,” which goes on to explain the troubled relationship between the two countries.

From Haqqani’s perspective, the alliance was doomed from its beginning, because Pakistan and the U.S. had differing objectives. After its founding, Pakistan wanted to partner with the U.S. to help fund a military to protect against its “eternal” enemy, India. The “wise men” of U.S. policymaking at the time, however, had no urgent need to get involved with Pakistan. Haqqani pointed out that, when Pakistan joined as an ally, it was as part of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization — not exactly its realm geographically.

Pakistan was able to convince the U.S. to make it one of its allies to encircle the Soviet Union, but one of the country’s “delusions” was that Pakistan’s support of U.S. objectives would be returned in helping to take the disputed region of Kashmir. When the Pakistanis were asked for help in the Korean War, Haqqani said the first demand was for weapons to fight; the second demand was for help with Kashmir.

The U.S. had no interest.

“The Pakistan delusion was, if only we make ourselves useful to America for their interest of the day, they will support our strategic objectives,” Haqqani said.

Despite his former position, which he held during the U.S. operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, Haqqani cannot be accused of being an apologist for Pakistani policy. He readily points out the country’s many problems, including its perpetual fear and paranoia of India and a lasting priority, since its founding, to invest in a military to combat its neighbor to the south rather than grow an economy.

Haqqani has become a voice in American media with his books and activities, including a December appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He joked about a text he received from his son, who said he finally “respected” him because he appeared on the show. The ambassador replied by reminding his son about the respect he might be owed for helping put him through college.

On a more serious note, there are disturbing trends in Pakistan in regard to education, Haqqani said. He cited the number of Pakistanis attending American universities, which has hit a low point at less than 6,000, compared with 106,000 students from India. Nepal, which is a fifth the size of Pakistan, has more students in American higher education institutions, he said.

Inside Pakistan, the nation is trailing behind India in the classroom. The two countries, Haqqani said, were close in literacy when they split apart, at 16 percent in Pakistan and 18 percent in India, but now they are at 55 percent and 75 percent, respectively, and he questions Pakistan’s figures. Only 58 percent of school-age children between 5 and 15 are actually going to school in Pakistan, he said, an issue highlighted by Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who objected to her school being closed and was shot and accused of being a Western spy.

What is lacking in Pakistan, Haqqani said, are leaders that will shoot down conspiracy theorists such as Mujahid Kamran, the vice chancellor of Punjab University, who said the U.S. and Britain are controlled by a “cabal” of bankers — a term straight out of Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” — and that microchips are implanted in people’s brains to control them.

And Haqqani, from what he heard, is one of the people Kamran believes has an implant.

“If there is a microchip, take it out,” Haqqani said. “If there isn’t, spare me the criticism.”

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