For Pakistan and the United States, it's one delusion after another

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Protesters burn the US flag during a protest rally on September 26, 2011 in Multan.

Article Highlights

  • The country with which the United States has the most problematic relationship is Pakistan.

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  • Pakistan’s economy has mostly stagnated under the burden of the overlarge military.

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  • The US should base Pakistan policy on a realistic appraisal, not on one delusion after another.

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Not many foreign policy experts would argue with the proposition that the country with which the United States has the most problematic relationship is Pakistan.

Most Americans, when they have thought about it, have taken a similar view since Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid by Navy SEAL Team Six in May 2011.

Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just a few miles from Pakistan's military academy. It is hard to believe that his whereabouts weren't known to Pakistan's military or its intelligence agency, the ISI.

It has been apparent for some time to those who are well-informed that elements in the Pakistani military and ISI have been aiding the Taliban and other terrorist elements on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, both before and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the problems began long before that, as Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, explains in his just-published book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.

"Since 1947,” the year Pakistan became independent, he writes, “dependence, deception and defiance have characterized U.S.-Pakistan relations.” That year was the year when Britain granted independence to India and agreed to set off several geographically separated provinces as a predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's charismatic first leader, died a year after independence; his successor was assassinated in 1951. Most of the time since then, Pakistan has been under military rule.

That’s no coincidence. As Haqqani points out, Pakistan was given one-seventh of undivided India’s resources but one-third of its military. The decision was made to keep the military despite the cost to economic development.

The military was furious that India retained most of Muslim-majority Kashmir. Ever since, it has directed most of its military efforts against India.

Pakistani leaders were convinced that their nation was the “pivot of the world” and reached out immediately and repeatedly to the United States for military aid. They used any arms they got to confront and on occasion fight India and to pry Afghanistan away from its alliance with India.

On occasion this proved disastrous. When the military suppressed parliamentarians from the geographically separate East Pakistan, people there rebelled and, with India's encouragement, created the new nation of Bangladesh.

Haqqani castigates Pakistani leaders' illusions and those of Americans who thought they could move Pakistan in other directions. Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, irritated by India's neutral posture in the Cold War, credited Pakistani leaders' avowals of anti-Communism.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger used Pakistan as a channel in their opening to Communist China. Kissinger actually flew on his secret trip to China from a base in Pakistan.

During the Reagan administration, Pakistan cooperated with American efforts to reduce Communist influence in Afghanistan. In the process, the Pakistanis supported jihadis, resulting in blowback after the end of the Cold War.

American leaders were encouraged by the warm relationships they built with Pakistani military and intelligence officers. They failed to note that the Pakistanis concealed from their people their cooperation with the United States and instead sponsored anti-American propaganda.

India changed in response to the Cold War, moving toward market economics, freer trade and warm relationships with the United States. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both advanced something like a de facto alliance.

Haqqani would like Pakistan to progress similarly. But under President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s and the military and ISI since, it has moved toward Islamist strictures and support of terrorists.

India has fostered rapid economic growth and a vibrant high-tech sector. Pakistan’s economy has mostly stagnated under the burden of the overlarge military.

There is no evidence, Haqqani argues, that India wants to conquer Pakistan. But there is plenty of evidence that elements in Pakistan's government have facilitated acts of terrorism against India, like the 2008 attacks in Mumbai targeting the Taj Mahal Hotel and a Jewish community center, and the 2011 bombings there.

Pakistan has aided the Taliban in Afghanistan both before and after Sept. 11, Haqqani notes, with only a pause after U.S. officials pressured President Pervez Musharaf right after the attacks.

What should both sides do now? Haqqani calls for “a recognition of divergent interests and an acknowledgement of mutual mistrust.” Better to base policy on a realistic appraisal rather than on one magnificent delusion after another.

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Michael
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  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

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