At a time when talks between India and Pakistan are stalled, author and former Pakistan envoy to the US Husain Haqqani tries to make sense of what has gone wrong in the relationship and what is the way forward. Haqqani, who has been advisor to four prime ministers in Pakistan and is a regular visitor to India, also throws light on changes in the two countries over the past few years
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani blames ‘fear’ and the ‘perception of each other as enemies’ for poor Indo-Pak relations, says ‘contending nationalism’ of the two countries makes it difficult to have a ‘realistic dialogue’ and expresses hope of returning to a ‘pluralistic’ Pakistan.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: PM Narendra Modi invited Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony, and it appeared like a promising, fresh start for the relationship between India and Pakistan. Two years down the line, how do you see the relationship?
The crux of the relationship has not changed and it is unlikely to change unless certain conditions are met. Those are the conditions that I have described in my new book (India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?). Unfortunately, on both sides of the border, there has been a greater effort to try and point out why we should not be friends, rather than why we should be. As a Pakistani, I can see the mistakes that have been made by us, but there are very few people on the Indian side who are willing to do that right now. The contending nationalism makes it very difficult to have a realistic dialogue.
India-Pakistan relationship is similar to that of the US and Canada. They speak the same language, there are ethnic and other similarities. There are nine unresolved disputes between the US and Canada too, but they have taken a decision to coexist and not just coexist, but profit from one another. In the case of the India-Pakistan relationship, that will to have a cooperative relationship does not exist.
On the Pakistani side, there is a military that is very entrenched and powerful. This makes it very difficult for Indian leaders to discuss and negotiate with civilian leaders. It is also impossible for two nations to move towards normal relations when one is constantly engaged in supporting terrorists against the other. It is also very difficult to sustain normal relations if one country feels that the other still has reservations about its origins. Inviting someone to a swearing-in and holding hands, these things won’t overcome (the rift).
I think a fundamental transformation in attitude is needed. Pakistan needs to once and for all get out of the terrorism business. India has to get out of the business of making Pakistanis feel insecure about the legitimacy of Pakistan. It is a very psychological thing and sometimes Indians don’t understand it. Every few months, somebody in India ends up saying, ‘Pakistan jao (go to Pakistan)’. That is when people in Pakistan think, ‘See, the two-nation theory is correct’. Now if you are going to continue the two-nation theory debate forever, we will have difficulty in normalising the relationship.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: Do you think
India and Pakistan are capable of being friends?
I have mentioned an anecdote in my book where Jawaharlal Nehru says, ‘We can’t be indifferent to each other because we know each other so well. We can either be enemies or we can be very close friends’. Germany and France once hated each other but are now together in the European Union. They have open borders and as a result, both are prospering. China and Taiwan have very good trade relations. The Taiwanese are not worried that China doesn’t recognise them as an independent country, and they are getting along just fine. If all of these countries can overcome their problems, why can’t we?
There is the dispute over Kashmir. Pakistan denies the existence of terror and India denies the existence of any homegrown issues. In this environment of denial, rational discourses are not possible. It is the perception of each other as enemies that is the root of the problem and that has to be changed.
I think that both the prime ministers sincerely wanted a new foundation for the relationship between India and Pakistan when they started out. But the ground realities are such that neither of them can actually control it. Hafiz Saeed (Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, alleged 26/11 mastermind) can drive a stick through the heart of any positive overtures by Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Modi.
SUSHANT SINGH: But how do we resolve the core issues between the two nations—Kashmir, Siachen, Indus Waters Treaty?
There are two approaches. One is, solve the problem and then become friends and the other is, become friends and then solve the problems.
I think dispute over certain issues is not the core problem, the core problem is the fear of the Pakistani elite and its national security establishment. They feel that a normal relationship with India would somehow deprive Pakistan of its unique identity which it has built over the past seven decades. I don’t think that (fear) is correct. No amount of military action could save East Pakistan, because Bangladeshis stopped feeling they were Pakistanis. Similarly, no amount of repression can keep the people of Kashmir in India’s control if the people of Kashmir do not want it. In the end, it is the people who matter. So, instead of resolving disputes and core issues, we need to focus on having normal relations.
What is the solution to the Siachen issue? There is only one solution possible, that is both sides agreeing to demilitarise the region. How is this a core issue if the solution is known but nobody is willing to accept it? What is the solution to the Kashmir issue? Pakistan says it’s a disputed territory while India says it is an integral part of our country as the Kashmiri people are with us. I personally feel India should pay attention to any unrest in Kashmir. They usually blame it on Pakistan.
The existence of terrorist groups in Pakistan is a reality. It is not just India that feels this but the whole world does.
SUSHANT SINGH: What can the Indian government and Prime Minister Modi do to assuage the fear in the Pakistani mind?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that. There is nothing Prime Minister Modi can do to build Pakistan’s self-confidence. That has to come from within us. However, your leaders could help by reviving the image of India as a secular state it started out as. Now, within India, you have a contending narrative between Hindu nationalism and Indian secular nationalism; that actually feeds the Muslim nationalism frenzy in Pakistan.
Maybe the (Indian) government can rise above that and is able to reassure the average Pakistani that India does not harbour the intentions that are attributed to it in Pakistan. But it won’t be an easy policy decision and unfortunately, I don’t see it happening in the immediate future.
COOMI KAPOOR: Pakistan has always had a Muslim identity. Why should it be shocked or threatened if India assumes a Hindu identity?
Because what it does is that it reaffirms the two-nation theory, and I don’t think that the two-nation theory is the way forward for Pakistan. It may have been created on the basis of the two-nation theory, but the pragmatic and practical future for Pakistan is to actually move beyond it, because it is a recipe for permanent conflict. So the change needs to come in Pakistan, not on your side. But what is happening instead is that the change is coming on the Indian side.
SHEELA BHATT: In a recent interview, PM Modi said that he doesn’t know who to talk to in Pakistan.
Actually, the Prime Minister knows what he is saying and he is right. Of course, formally he should talk only to the legitimately elected government in Pakistan. That said, multiple centres of power are a reality in Pakistan. It is a reality that civilian leaders do not have the freedom to make independent decisions on international affairs and national security, and it is a reality that Pakistani civilian leaders, after taking a step forward in normalising relations with India, have to look over their backs, to check if somebody is about to stab them and call them Indian agents.
PRAVEEN SWAMI: You have seen a wide spectrum of politics in Pakistan, starting from the Jamaat-e-Islami to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), from the extreme to the most liberal. You have also been a regular visitor to India, at least over the last three years. Do you see any parallels between the politics of the two countries?
There is a lot of similarity between the people (of the two nations) and so the kind of things they do is also similar. For example, denial is a common trait, so is hoodwinking and arguing.
The definition of nationalism in India is also changing. People are being branded traitors. In Pakistan, people are branded as ‘kafirs (non-believers)’ and traitors and it has been happening for a long time. Now it is happening in India and the phenomenon troubles and worries me. I prefer a pluralist India.
We need to be practical, we need to be pragmatic, let us talk about things in the 21st century… All of a sudden we find that we are dealing with people who are talking about how udan khatolas (fictional flying vehicles) and modern spacecraft are the same thing, this worries us.
PRAVEEN SWAMI: A lot has been said in the past two decades about the need for India and Pakistan to engage in talks. Given the political compulsions on both sides, what do you think is the way forward?
There are talks, and then there are talks. During the Cold War, the Soviets and the Americans always talked, but then there was a period when the Americans reached the conclusion that these are talks for the sake of being in touch, not necessarily for resolving disputes. The problem here is that everyone gets excited every time officials of India and Pakistan holds talks. Don’t get excited. Have engagement without having any illusions, which is a normal function of international diplomacy. Learn to wait.
The Soviet model was unsustainable —maintaining a military of the same size as that of America, while being much poorer than America, that won’t work. A similar situation is about to occur in the subcontinent.
My argument is that till the moment comes when we can actually have substantive talks, talks that open up our relationship instead of expanding our disputes, till then maybe the only solution is to wait and not get excited each time somebody shakes hands.
We will know when a change is about to occur, when we find that Hafiz Saeed is put out of business and the whole chapter on terrorism is shut. That will change the dynamics completely.
PRAVEEN SWAMI: Like the American assistance to Pakistan, could a package of incentives or something else, from India to Pakistan’s military, lead it to behave in a different way?
Americans are an optimistic nation, and they believe there is a solution for every problem in the world and they have it. So they have tried everything, and they have become realistic also. But Pakistan itself has to become realistic.
Every time Pakistan gets international backing from a country, it just starts assuming that now all our problems are over and Americans will make us rich and prosperous and powerful, and they will get Kashmir for us. That was the thinking of the ’50s and ’60s, until in ’65, the crude awakening came, when America said that we never assured you of support in a war that you initiate. But the lessons were not learnt.
Now there is a new enthusiasm: China will come, pour in $46 million, which will go into the State Bank of Pakistan and all of a sudden we will be rich, we’ll be happy and prosperous and then we will compete with India. I, as a Pakistani, want to remind my Pakistani compatriots that it’s not going to happen. We have to figure certain things out ourselves. We have to create a place for ourselves in the world by producing wealth, by raising our education level etc.
In 1947 (after Partition), the literacy rate of the Union of India was 18%, and that of Pakistan was 16%. The difference was just of 2%. Today this difference is 22%. But we don’t discuss this in Pakistan, we discuss Kashmir, a problem that will not be solved immediately. There is a lack of realism that affects all aspects—policy, relationships, everything. I think both the Americans and Indians must wait for Pakistan to realise that there are other important things than just leveraging your strategic location.
These days Pakistan is focused on the conflict with Afghanistan. Will we always be a nation in conflict or will we be a nation that actually starts being pragmatic about finding prosperity and happiness for our citizens? Will we always be a warrior state or will we one day become a normal, democratic, trading state? When that day comes, there will be a better chance of resolving issues. The American Congress is about to take away the CSF (Coalition Support Fund, US financial assistance to Pakistan) and so there will be less and less subsidy for Pakistan. Pakistan will have to rise to the occasion and figure out how to function economically and otherwise.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: Later this year, Prime Minister Modi is expected to travel to Pakistan for the SAARC Summit. What can be done in the next four-five months to improve relations between the two countries?
Frankly, I don’t think that issues of 69 years can be resolved in four months. Prime Minister Modi should go to the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit, bask in the glory of the beautiful photo opportunity that such a summit offers, let the wordsmith at the Ministry of External Affairs come up with good joint statements… but please don’t go with the expectation that you are about to untangle a complex knot which has been woven over 69 years.
SHEELA BHATT: How do you see America’s role in India-Pakistan relations in the last 10 years?
Americans provide aid (to Pakistan) and think that they are making a positive contribution. But if the aid ends up reinforcing attitudes that are not conducive either to American policy objectives or to peace in the region, then they certainly need to reconsider their position, and I think that reconsideration is taking place.
The Americans unfortunately have contributed to misconceptions on the part of Pakistan. Pakistanis need to realise that while America wants a stronger, stable Pakistan, it does not share Pakistan’s goals. They have failed to convey this. They need to understand how their message has been misunderstood in Pakistan repeatedly over the years. I have a feeling that they are beginning to understand it.
COOMI KAPOOR: How does it feel being exiled from your country for almost a decade? And when do you think you will be able to go back?
I would like to go back as soon as possible. It is not an exile by choice but by circumstances (Haqqani was exiled in 1999 following criticism of the government of then president Pervez Musharraf). While I can be very brave while expressing ideas, I am not very brave when it comes to taking a bullet. I have seen Benazir Bhutto get killed (2007), I have seen my friend Salman Taseer get killed (2011)…
There is no legal reason holding me back from from going to Pakistan, but I think when you are constantly labelled a traitor or a kafir… that is why I don’t go back.
Exile is never pleasant in the sense that you miss your home and my home is Karachi. I would love to go back, but to a pluralistic Pakistan, not where Hafiz Saeed has more influence than me.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: Who is bad news for Pakistan—Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Frankly, in the American election, Pakistan has been barely mentioned. Donald Trump can’t find most countries on the map and he has heard of Pakistan only in the context of nuclear weapons, so he may not have an elaborate and complex policy on Pakistan. Although given his attitude —he is a ‘bomb first, ask questions later’ kind of a guy—Pakistan should be worried about him for that reason.
As a Pakistani, I worry not about what a Trump or Clinton might do. I worry about what Pakistan’s own decision makers are doing, which then makes us vulnerable to the decisions of a Trump or a Clinton. We must get our house in order and the key to getting our house in order is to change our attitude towards our neighbours. Pakistan has an issue with Afghanistan, Pakistan now has issues with Iran, we have a permanent conflict with India… This is not a recipe for progress.
Decisions made by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will not bring about a change in Pakistan, decisions by its own leaders will.
Transcribed by Rituparna Banerjee & Debatanu Nandy