What do you mean by “Magnificent Delusions?”
It is a book about the U. S. -Pakistan relationship, which many think is the most dysfunctional alliance in the world. My argument is that Pakistan and the U. S. always tried to change the fundamental interests of each other, instead of finding a convergence of interests. The delusion was that America was providing arms to Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s to fight communism, whereas Pakistan wanted arms to fight India. Similarly, the Pakistani delusion was that the Americans would continue to support Islamabad without regard to the fact that Americans didn’t have a conflict with India.
The consequence of the delusion has been that Pakistan has become too dependent on the U.S. and the India-Pakistan dispute has continued for too long. I strongly feel there would not have been any 1965 war had there been no weapons to Pakistan from America. It also had the consequence of breeding extremist Islam in the region, which has become a problem for Pakistan, America and the whole region. That’s why I call it a “delusion”; and not only a single delusion, but multiple delusions involving all the people trying to build relations not on fundamental principles of international relations, namely shared interests, but only on a series of transactions that are not fully upheld by all parties.
So you say that relations with the world’s biggest democracy have not been beneficial for your country. Rather, by your reasoning, those relations have stood in the way of Pakistan’s emergence as a mature nation state.
Absolutely, as a Pakistani my biggest concern is Pakistan. I am worried about the fact that in 1947 what is today India had a literacy rate of 18 percent and what is Pakistan today had a literacy rate of 16 percent — a difference of just 2 percent. Today, the difference is about 20 percent. Today, India has a literacy rate of 75 percent but Pakistan has a rate of only 55 percent. Pakistan did not become a democracy. The military became too powerful and we are struggling to become a democracy. We became an ideological state instead of a functional state. Many of our key economic indicators are not the same as other states have. America gave only 15 billion dollars in aid to South Korea since 1949 whereas over the same period it has given 40 billion dollars to Pakistan. South Korea has become a developed country but Pakistan has not. My opinion is that if the U. S. was more realistic in its approach to Pakistan and if Pakistan was more honest in its dealings with Washington we would have become a much better place than we are.
How did America contribute to creating a dysfunctional state in Pakistan?
It is the nature of support that is important to understand. Pakistan did not need military support; it needed economic assistance, Pakistan needed infrastructure support . By building military wherewithal, hoping that Pakistan would be useful in its war against communism, Americans ended up fueling conflict on the subcontinent. They didn’t understand the region. I have a quote in the book by Chester Bowles, who served as America’s ambassador to India twice. He said that most Americans didn’t understand the forces at work on the subcontinent. So there was this thinking that if Pakistani leaders were saying that they want to fight communism then Americans were supporting them without questioning that. But the Pakistani leadership was not interested in fighting communism; they were thinking of regional conflict and were trying to assert control within Pakistan. So by not understanding what the Pakistan military wanted, what Pakistan needed and what the consequences of arming Pakistan would be for regional peace, the Americans contributed to creating a dysfunctional Pakistan.
Can you conceive of Pakistan’s existence without the U.S.?
Pakistan will have to change direction. Its leaders will have to stop thinking in terms of seeking American aid forever in order to confront India. They will have to start building a series of relationship with their neighbors. Islamabad needs to think of its economy. It will have to think about rooting out terrorism completely and it should treat such non-state actors as the enemy. It cannot afford to think that some terrorists are good for Afghanistan and some are valuable for Kashmir and some are bad for Karachi and Lahore. Pakistan will have to realize terrorism does not have a color and its nature is to kill.
How do you see the Pakistan-U.S. relationship evolving in future?
I don’t see the alliance being on the same level as it has been in the past. There is a great realization in America that Pakistan and U.S. interests do not converge and there is a recognition in Pakistan that Pakistan’s national interests do not converge with America’s. So I think this relationship is not going to be on the same level as it was. But that said, Pakistan remains an important country for America. Likewise, America being the sole superpower, it remains important for Pakistan. So both the countries will continue to engage but I hope that they will engage with fewer delusions and greater recognition of reality.
What you think about the growing Indo-U.S. proximity. Considering Pakistan’s experience do you think it is in India’s larger self interest to become the strategic partner of Washington in Asia?
I think Indians are unlikely to become dependent on the U.S. India has always cherished its freedom in foreign policy decision-making. The U.S. and India are natural partners in the sense that both of them are democracies. The potential rise of China is another reason they should cooperate but both should be mindful that this cooperation should not be based on wrong assumptions or unusual expectations. If it is a realistic partnership it has tremendous chances of success.
Pakistan is going through great political change. Do you look at the developments as a positive sign and a new chapter in Pakistan’s history?
Pakistan is at a crossroads. Jihadis have one narrative for Pakistan; democrats have their own. Among the democrats, there is a division among those who want to see Pakistan as a pluralistic state and those who want to adopt the old ideological paradigm of an Islamic state. The good thing is that the military has receded a little bit from politics but that doesn’t mean that they have given civilians complete freedom in decision making. How Pakistan gets through this stage of building democracy will determine its future. The most important thing for Pakistan is to overcome the ideological obsessions of the past.
Afghanistan seems to be heading towards a new uncertainty. How do you think its going to affect Pakistan’s political stability?
Any effort to destabilize Afghanistan and renew civil war in that country will destabilize Pakistan also. The Taliban does not recognize borders. They have been heavily influenced by Al-Qaeda and pan-Islamic thinking. I would like Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan, to allow Afghanistan to become a pluralist country so that Pakistan does not become heavily influenced by the Taliban. Already Pakistan is in serious trouble because of its past policy of supporting the Taliban and its tolerance for jihadis. If the Pakistan leadership does not change course in relation to Afghanistan, Islamabad will face considerable difficulties and uncertainties.
One senses a strong anti-Pakistan feeling almost everywhere in Afghanistan.
The best policy for Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan would be to respect Kabul and its government and become friends with them. I think that there is no need to worry that Afghanistan will come over and seize the Pashtun area of Pakistan. They are too small and too weak. Pakistan is a powerful country with nuclear weapons and a large army. We should not remain in fear. Because of the fear that we have created for ourselves we feel compelled to pursue a forward policy in Afghanistan, which has not been to our advantage. It would be much better for Pakistan to earn the goodwill of the Hindu Kush by not getting involved in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
Can India and Pakistan cooperate to stabilize Afghanistan?
Why not? India and Pakistan should think of seriously talking to each other and helping in stabilizing Afghanistan as well as finding a way forward in their own relationship. If India wants to become global economic powerhouse it needs to deal with its irritants in the region. If Pakistan is ever to move forward with democracy and with a functioning economy it also needs to put its constant bickering and hostilities with India behind.
How do you see India-Pakistan relations evolving?
I think India and Pakistan’s relations are a lot better than they were before. The potential has never been fully realized. I think the future of the relationship should be more like the U.S. and Canada but unfortunately we are not near that stage at all. There are forces in both countries that feel threatened by peace in the region. Jihadis in Pakistan have their own concerns. There are Indian leaders also who say things that make Pakistanis fear for their future.
I think India’s own hawkishness towards Pakistan is sometimes not sufficiently discussed. I think India does not fully understand how it has annoyed its different neighbors at one point or another. For India to achieve a diplomatic future it will have to leave the “we didn’t do anything wrong” thinking behind.