Husain Haqqani on his book Reimagining Pakistan, and why the country must be re-conceptualised

In January, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan envoy to the United States, was booked for writing articles and books defaming the Pakistan government and its military. Two sections of the Pakistan Penal Code were applied by the police in the FIRs — 120B (hatching a criminal conspiracy) and 121A (waging a war against Pakistan).

“The Supreme Court has also issued an arrest warrant for me out of nowhere. Since when does the supreme court of a country issue warrants?” Haqqani asked, while launching his new book Reimagining Pakistan — Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State in Mumbai last week. “We don’t like what he says, treasonous conduct, new book coming, horrible, warrant issued!” he said, mocking the court's reaction.

 Husain Haqqani on his book Reimagining Pakistan, and why the country must be re-conceptualised

The Pakistani judiciary has never been independent since the late 1950s, and has chosen to be an adjunct to the Pakistani State, Haqqani quips. But through the course of a conversation with columnist Anil Dharker, Haqqani showed how the judiciary is only one of many complex socio-political problems Pakistan faces today.

To put things into perspective, Haqqani describes the situation that the nation currently finds itself in as follows: Pakistan has gone through four wars, four military coups, one genocide, and the loss of half the country as a result of politically-driven assassinations, terrorism, sectarian discord, multiple constitutions, economic failures and chronic social underdevelopment.

On Pakistan's military and religious ideology

“We are the sixth largest country in the world in terms of population, have the sixth largest army in the world, own the sixth largest nuclear arsenal, and yet Pakistan ranks 42nd in terms of GDP growth. A new UNICEF study showed that Pakistan has the third-highest infant malnourishment rate — this is after another story revealed that Pakistan has the world’s highest infant mortality rate,” he said.

The army has always been a vital part of Pakistan’s politics, and the reason, Haqqani said, can be traced back to the time of Partition. "After Partition, Pakistan got 19 percent of British India’s population, 17 percent of its economic resources, but 33 percent of its army. So the one thing which was big—and was functional—was the army.

Unlike other countries which raised an army to meet a threat, Pakistan had to create a threat to meet the size of its army,” he said.

Propelled by significant financial aid to feed this growing army (Pakistan’s first budget in 1948 dedicated 83 percent of its revenue to defence) and radical ideologies propagated by its rulers over the decades, Pakistan kept inching ever closer to becoming an “Islamic and national security state”.

“The last political party that claimed to be a secular party in its manifesto was the Awami League, which went off with Bangladesh in 1971. Now, every political party has to declare that it is committed to the idea of an Islamic state.” These are the circumstances in which the population of Pakistan exists — circumstances born primarily out of propaganda and ideology, Haqqani said.

When asked what it might have been like if Partition were to not happen, Haqqani said it is akin to wondering at the 70th birthday of a friend if lives would have been different had their parents decided to not have children. “There’s no turning back. 95 percent of Pakistan’s 210 million citizens were born after Partition, as Pakistanis, and cannot give up on their home.”

Re-imagining the country and its ties to India

As he illustrated how much of Pakistan’s dysfunction can be attributed to an ideology tied to religion, and to hostility with the country out of which it was carved out—India—Haqqani insisted on the need to re-imagine the idea of the nation. “What I propose is, instead of undoing Pakistan or militarily defeating it, why not persuade Pakistanis and Pakistan’s international backers to see that the nation needs to be completely re-conceptualised?”

Given the warrants waiting for him back home, how many other Pakistanis think like him? “We don’t know because these are not things that are openly talked about.”

Haqqani, who is also known as a leading expert on South Asia, a political activist, former journalist, and the former Pakistani ambassador to Sri Lanka, calls himself “Indian by civilisation, but Pakistani by citizenship”.

"The truth is, we have 5,000 years of shared history with India and only 70 years of separation as Pakistan. We need to have good relations with India, and we need to be a country that focuses on people and our own human development rather than having grandiose ideas about attempts to transform the whole region and make it into some kind of a revived Islamic empire.”

Haqqani believes there is tremendous potential for India-Pakistan relations. If ASEAN countries can have 25 percent of their trade with one another, NAFTA countries can have 50 percent of their trade with each other, and European countries can build such healthy economic relations too, he says India and Pakistan “are too close to each other to not have healthy trade relations”.

“Once the trade begins, the notion of the enemy disappears as you get to know more people from the other side. I’m a big advocate of solving this first, because once we do this, the army’s propaganda machine will cease to work for the radical Islamist idea that is eating at the roots of Pakistan.”

On solving the issue of terrorism, and ties with China

But for trade to flourish with neighbours, terrorism has to be checked first. “Once Pakistan actually makes a serious decision to shut down all terror groups, we will have a process where we understand that making friends first and solving disputes later is always the better strategy than insisting on solving disputes first and making friends later,” he said.

As is often pointed out, at the heart of India-Pakistan ties, however, lies the Kashmir conflict. But Haqqani disagrees. “At the risk of annoying a lot of people who say Kashmir is unfinished business, there are other countries with disputes too, but they don’t make themselves hostages of those disputes. We have to be pragmatic and think about the people of Kashmir, who I don’t think are getting what they deserve, neither through Indian policy nor through Pakistani policy. Pakistan doesn’t have to say it accepts India’s position on Kashmir — Pakistan can instead turn to trade, travel, opening up tourism, cross-country educational admissions, among other things.”

As far as other countries in the region go, Pakistan has always remained closest to China, with whom the nation has embarked on multiple infrastructure projects under the banner of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Replacing the United States as Pakistan’s best friend internationally, China invested $46 billion in Pakistan’s infrastructure development projects in 2015, but Haqqani warns the friendship may not last very long.

Although Haqqani says investment in infrastructure is a good idea as long as “something moves along the roads and the ports”, he fears CPEC may be a death trap. Evidences of such a possibility were seen in December last year, when the Chinese government stopped funding three infrastructure projects in Pakistan under CPEC.

“We will end up owing China a lot of money. One good thing about the Americans was at least they gave away grants at times, and they were quite happy to forgive debt sometimes. The Chinese don’t do that —they are very particular about loans. This equation could get sour very quickly.”

Of all approaches to reimagine the idea of Pakistan, Haqqani insisted the effort has to begin by changing the nation’s image as a “dangerous, unstable land”, “a terrorist incubator” or “the land of the intolerant”. And that will be easier if it prioritised redefining relationships with its neighbours, he said.

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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 16:13:58 IST