Magnificent Delusions

Authors: Husain Haqqani

Publisher: PublicAffairs; November 5, 2013

Hardcover: 432 pages

Language: English

Price: US$ 28.99

Oct 31, 2013

A review by Dr Mohammad Taqi

Pak-US relations: magnificent deception and credulity

Almost two years to the day he stepped down as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Mr Husain Haqqani is back with an academic bang. His new book, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United Sates, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding was shipped by the retailers a good two weeks before the planned release date. The title and the cover depicting the grinning trio of General Ayub Khan, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy in July 1961, contrasted with a Pakistani mob calling for blocking the NATO supply lines in the name of honour, as they burn a US flag, says it all. Mr Haqqani writes that while Washington and Islamabad’s “histories (as purpose-built capitals) may parallel each other, Washington’s magnificent intentions and delusions have often clashed with those of Islamabad.” He describes his book as “an account of that clash”. But it really is a blow-by-blow account of the magnificent deception on the part of Pakistan and an astounding US credulity in dealing with it.

But despite having had a ringside seat in several rounds of the Pak-US bout or right in the middle of it as his country’s ambassador, Mr Haqqani has kept his personal observations to a minimum, clearly stating that the book is not intended to be a memoir. Even the fabricated ‘Memogate’ affair finds but a passing reference in the book.

With his eyes clearly on the diplomatic-academic-think tank horizon, Mr Haqqani, a professor at Boston University, has anchored his work in serious research into the history of Pak-US relations, tracing them back to before Pakistan’s creation. Professor Haqqani traces the roots of Pakistan offering itself to the US as a counterweight to India as well as a bulwark against communism, right to the country’s founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s May 1947 meeting with US diplomats, Raymond Hare and Thomas Weil. Mr Jinnah told the two officials that the establishment of Pakistan was “essential to prevent ‘Hindu imperialism’ spreading” into the Middle East, and that the Muslim countries “would stand together against possible Russian aggression” and would look to the US for assistance. Mr Jinnah clearly was honing that idea as he repeated it to Life magazine’s Margaret Bourke-White in August 1947, saying, “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America” as his country was the “pivot of the world” from which “Russia is not so very far away”.

The interview is duly cited by Professor Haqqani, who posits: “Pakistan initiated the US-Pakistan alliance primarily to compensate for its economic and military disadvantages.” He notes that from Liaquat Ali Khan and Ayub Khan to the Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, leader after leader has carried on with the same policy of promising the US what they never could deliver to exact largesse, weaponry and even massive food aid. Pakistan wanted to stand on the US shoulders to achieve parity with India, and in the process kept pledging to the US things that it neither had the capacity nor the intention to deliver. Mr Jinnah asked the US for $ 2 billion via an emissary Mir Laik Ali for the “relief and rehabilitation of the refugees” after the partition. The request was declined but was followed by a $ 305 million demand to the US for paying the three Pakistani armed services and an additional “shopping list” of military hardware. But while such demands were made, and even granted later on by the Eisenhower administration, the obsequious pledges, like the one by General Ayub Khan that “our army is your army”, never came to fruition.

When asked to commit troops to the US wars in Korea or Laos, the Pakistani leaders like Ayub Khan would try to convince the US that for them to spare troops for the US wars they must first be freed up from a forward posture against India, which was only possible if the US used its influence and even hard power against India. Mr Haqqani notes that even the Chinese influence was used as a scarecrow to induce the US to keep coughing up money and supplies. A few years-old Pakistan’s leaders were predicting the demise or disintegration of much older neighbours like Afghanistan and India, while its military literally survived on US handouts. Mr Haqqani is spot on in observing that this US trust in the Pakistani military enterprise without verifying and/or looking the other way in several instances like the nuclear bomb issue, tipped the balance against the civilian leadership in Pakistan.

Without being held seriously accountable for their continued use of jihadist militancy, the Pakistani military establishment became set in its ways and while patronising assorted jihadist terrorists, it virtually played the Americans like a fiddle. No doubt that the geostrategic stars were aligned favourably for Pakistan’s junta in the case of the Soviet arrival in Afghanistan, but despite US officials like General Vernon Walter calling General Ziaul Haq “the most superb and patriotic liar”, they never held Pakistan’s feet to the fire. Why the US failed repeatedly to act when it knew that it was being double-crossed is an area that could have been explored in more detail in the present work. But Mr Haqqani summarises: “Americans have resorted only to halfhearted sanctions. Successive administrations have waited until their last few months in office to deliver the toughest message. By then it is usually too late for threats to be effective.”

As the dust settles on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rather ho-hum US visit and the 2014 US drawdown from Afghanistan approaches, the US and Pakistan reach what Mr Haqqani describes in the words of General Douglas Lute as one of the “forks in their relationship”, where one path leads to isolation and the other to a continued partnership. The present work will be of interest to anyone trying to guess or chalk out which route the relationship would or should take. This book is a treasure-trove of past and contemporary history, which dovetails beautifully with Professor Haqqani’s previous work, Pakistan: Between Mosque And Military. In statecraft, like in clinical medicine, an impeccable history nails the majority of diagnoses. Professor Haqqani makes this job so much easier through this well referenced work delivered in a flawless style. He has provided a reality check in a timely manner without sensationalising the topic. The former ambassador, an avid Boston Red Sox fan, has clearly had no difficulty in scoring another scholarly home run.

The reviewer can be reached at and he tweets @mazdaki

The Daily Times, 31 October 2013

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