Husain Haqqani is back in Pakistan as well as on our television screens. Contrary to common perception, that he is here to become an advisor to the next government, he likes to be introduced as an academic. “I’m much happier being a Professor at Boston University,” he clarifies at the outset. Director of Center for International Relations at Boston University and a senior fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington DC, Haqqani has worked as a journalist, diplomat and former advisor to Pakistani prime ministers. He has maintained close connections with the Bhutto family for the last ten years; Benazir Bhutto in her recent book ‘Reconciliation’ acknowledges him as a ‘loyal friend.’ So will he be speaking as a PPP spokesperson in this interview? “No, I am not in the PPP formally. I don’t have any official position within the party,” he states categorically.
Excerpts of an interview with analyst Haqqani follow:
The News on Sunday: In one of your recent articles, you’ve explained the term ‘Pakistani establishment’ in which apart from military and intelligence agencies, you have included civil servants, executives of multinational corporations, bankers, beneficiaries of World Bank etc. Do you think the establishment in Pakistan is ready to create space for political forces?
Husain Haqqani: An over-extended and domineering establishment never yields space. Space has to be taken from it. I think the political forces in Pakistan have now created circumstances in which they are ready to get more space. Furthermore, there are cracks within the Pakistani establishment. The military as an institution has realised that its primary responsibility of national security simply cannot be fulfilled by just having the establishment on its side. They need the people behind them. That is why the military’s decision to back away from politics is going to weaken the establishment which has always fired its political shots from the shoulders of the military. The civilian segment of the establishment has always framed its interests in terms of national security.
Pakistan is the only country in the world where alleged corruption of politicians has been treated as a national security problem. Elsewhere the problem of civilian corruption is dealt with within the legal and political framework of the country. Only in Pakistan do international bankers like Shaukat Aziz come into power afterx military coup claiming “I’m going to clean up corruption and strengthen the economy etc,” without any political mandate and popular support. I think that the army’s decision to focus only on its professional tasks will diminish this pattern of manipulation, expanding political space.
TNS: Considering its huge influence and vested interest in this system, how much power is the military going to relinquish and how?
HH: The military has a significant role in helping determine national security policy. In any country, the professional military makes inputs and helps the civilians decide the priorities for national security. But the military is never trained to do big picture political analysis. They are trained in tactical matters and in military strategy. I think the military will gradually move in that direction. Of course given Pakistan’s recent history and the residual impact of the military’s deep involvement in politics, there will still be some people in uniform who will continue to think politically. But the global environment — in which Myanmar and Pakistan are the only two countries run by men in uniform until a few weeks ago — is making the Pakistani military rethink its role.
The military’s standing in the eyes of the public, especially after Gen Musharraf’s rule, is also affecting the process of rethinking. The army does not want to be blamed for what are non-professional, political decisions of one man and his friends even if he was army chief for almost a decade. I think there’s going to be a gradual withdrawal of the military from politics. But the days when the military had an opinion on everything and that opinion prevailed are now over.
TNS: What kind of US engagement in Pakistan do you foresee in future vis-a-vis the war on terror?
HH: The United States has made critical blunders in dealing with Pakistan since the 1950s. I have written extensively about this in my book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military’ and in several articles. I have explained that the US military in particular has always seen Pakistan as a country with whom they can engage on a short term or quid pro quo basis. Pakistan provides something useful — intelligence bases during the 1960s, a launching pad for the Jihad in Afghanistan during the 1980s — and the US gives political support and aid in return. But many Americans now realise that because of this short-term approach a lot of distortions have taken place within Pakistan’s politics regarding Pakistan’s strategic direction. It is important for the US to help make Pakistan a stable democracy and a stable country in the region and become a strategic partner that Pakistan can rely upon and vice-versa.
There is also re-evaluation on the Pakistani side about wanting a long term strategic partnership with the US rather than the short-term quid pro quo relationship that has been pursued in the past. The US cannot successfully fight terrorism with a tactical approach. And Pakistani authorities need to go beyond compliance with demands of making a few arrests or bombing specific locations. Pakistan needs to fight terrorism for Pakistan’s sake and the US needs to assure Pakistan of a strategic partnership that will last over time.
The US reevaluation will become very serious after the Nov presidential elections and especially if the Democrats get elected. Pakistan needs to sort out the problem of terrorism within the context of Pakistan’s own integrity and stability and both the US and Pakistan need to take the long-term view. US needs to go beyond supporting dictatorship in gratitude for operational support in the war against terror and Pakistan’s rulers must have a strategic plan to deal with what is becoming a threat to Pakistan rather than looking upon this as America’s war being fought under a subcontract.
TNS: So we have better chances of democracy flourishing in Pakistan?
HH: We certainly have one of the best chances for democracy than we have had in a long time. There are a lot of responsibilities on the politicians. We have to make sure that political bickering does not become too important and that politics and policy-making both receive attention. It is important to keep an eye on the major strategic issues. Similarly the military has to realise that it cannot have relations with the United States that is only aid-driven. The aid comes and then stops. A long term strategic partnership with the United States, and friendship with China and Saudi Arabia must also be balanced with good relations with Pakistan’s immediate neighbours. Pakistan needs to disentangle from the many misadventures in the region which have had what is known as ‘blowback’ — consequences of policies that had not been foreseen. For example when Pakistan supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and Kashmir, it was not visualised that some of the militants will end up attacking Pakistani targets some day. I think the time has now come to stabilise the state, strengthen it, and shut down all non-state actors who have tremendous firepower.
TNS: People have been saying that militancy is going to end the day Musharraf goes. What is your assessment? Will a democratic government taking over automatically bring an end to these terrorist attacks within the country?
HH: I don’t think that it will happen automatically. However, the return to democracy will certainly facilitate the end of terrorism. You must understand that at the moment the relationship between the state and the people of Pakistan is not good. So many people have all sorts of grievances against the state. Most Pakistanis do not see the war against terrorism as their war. Once the representative institutions are in place and the elected representatives have the means to talk to the people with grievances against the state, the nation’s attitude will be different.
A democratic government will be more interested in ending terrorism for the sake of Pakistan, rather than to consolidate its power as Gen Musharraf has done. Therefore the tendency to calibrate terrorism to acquire political ends is not going to be the case. The elected government won’t be doing something just because some US officials are about to visit or we are being criticised in the western media. Whether the government talks to the tribal people with grievances against the state or take action against those linked to international networks, all decisions will be aimed at solving the problem not just enhancing the political viability of a ruler lacking in legitimacy. Pakistanis have to share the realisation that terrorism is a Pakistani problem, and we really have to put the genie of militancy back into the bottle.
TNS: On a slightly different note, how do you look at the lawyers’ movement and how it has progressed in the last one year?
HH: I think the lawyers’ movement was an important movement by civil society to challenge authoritarian rule. These people said they will not accept the right of one man to dismiss the entire Supreme Court and this energised public opinion. That said, it is important to understand that civil society must move in conjunction with the political parties that receive the votes of the people and that they cannot be totally independent and they should try to see themselves as partners of the political parties.
I think the lawyers’ movement will definitely help advance the concept of rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution and the ideal of an independent judiciary.
TNS: You have worked as advisor to both PML-N and PPP governments in the past. What do you think will keep this coalition going, if at all?
HH: When I worked with Mr Nawaz Sharif, he had just started his political career. He was just coming out of the shadows of having been a protege of the establishment. I believe he has grown immensely over the years. On the other hand the Pakistan People’s Party has been an object of persecution by the establishment for many years. Mr Sharif has learnt lessons from his circumstances and the PPP has a long history of struggle to protect. What binds the two parties together is the realisation that they and the people of Pakistan would be better off in a democratic system rather than under establishment manipulated politics.
I think the two parties are going to remain united to change the establishment dominated politics of Pakistan. Once that is done, they are different political parties and will work in different ways. But till such time that constitutional issues are resolved and the rules of the game of Pakistan’s politics are clearly identified the two parties will work together and give strength to each other.
TNS: This may not necessarily mean they stay together for the next five years?
HH: It would be for as long as the two parties feel that they need to clarify the rules of the game. I don’t think it is about time. It could be for ten or twenty years or a lot less. It has happened in many countries in Latin America and East Asia. There the political rivals realised that their bickering does not enable the country to have a stable political order and that sometimes invisible hands manipulate them into conflict to retain control over power. Once the political parties agree on the rules of the game, they can play the game of politics in which they can disagree with each other.
This is a moment when Pakistan is so overwhelmingly controlled by the establishment and the political forces have borne the brunt of so much repression that it is important for them to work together. I find that realisation throughout the PML and throughout the PPP.
TNS: What brings you here and will we be seeing more of you in Pakistan?
HH: I am a Pakistani, my heart is in Pakistan and so is my family. A lot of my research is about Pakistan. I identify closely with the leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party. You will definitely see more of me. Concerns about repression from Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship led to my choice of not returning home too frequently. But this is my home. My wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, recently gave up a one hundred thousand dollars a year job in the US to return and become an MNA because of our strong commitment to our homeland. Her grandfather, M.A.H. Ispahani was a close associate of Quaid-e-Azam and Pakistan’s first ambassador to the United States. Whether we live in Pakistan or abroad we remain committed to Pakistan. Right now, I am just one of the many Pakistanis living abroad to pursue a living and a career.
Filed under: Citizens, Democracy, Pakistan, Politics, Society, state, Terrorism · Tags: Benazir Bhutto, Boston University, Husain Haqqani, military strategy, Musharraf, national security, Pakistan, Pakistani establishment, PPP, terror, US