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Can U.S., Pakistan move forward in building a ‘reality-based relationship’?

November 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, explores what he calls "an epic history of misunderstanding" between the U.S. and Pakistan in his new book, "Magnificent Delusions." Margaret Warner talks to Haqqani about how the lack of shared interests prevents the cultivation of a productive alliance.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to one of the United States’ most complicated partnerships on the world stage: its rocky alliance with Pakistan.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner sat down with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, to discuss that relationship.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Pakistani people and the American people have suffered terribly from terrorism in the past.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s a critical relationship for the United States these days, key to Washington’s fight against terrorism and its plans to leave Afghanistan next year.

But relations with Pakistan have been rocky ever since that country’s birth in 1947. They united against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but fell out over Pakistan’s secret development of a nuclear weapon in the 90s.

Since 9/11, while nominally cooperating against terrorists, they have been at odds over Taliban and al-Qaida-linked fighters sheltering in Pakistani territory, and over U.S. drone strikes against those militants.

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The low point? The 2011 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden hiding out in a city near Pakistan’s capital.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, examines the roots of this fractious partnership in a new book, “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.”

Husain Haqqani, thank you for joining us.

HUSAIN HAQQANI, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States: A pleasure being here, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go a little into the history, because your book is really a history book.

And you begin with a line from Aesop’s Fables: “A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy.Let a man be one thing or the other and then we know how to meet him.”

So, who is the doubtful friend here?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: The United States is the doubtful friend for Pakistan, and Pakistan is the doubtful friend for the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: And are the doubts well-rooted?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I think the doubts are very well-rooted.

The reason is that Pakistan’s expectations from the relationship with the United States are very different from what the United States wanted. What has gone wrong over the years is that the Americans have assumed that they can buy over Pakistan’s leaders with promises or delivery of aid.

Pakistan’s leaders have always lived under the delusion that, at one point or another, the Americans will come around to Pakistan’s way of thinking. And that simply hasn’t happened in 66 years.

MARGARET WARNER: The title talks about this relationship being the product of delusions and misunderstandings. But the narrative seems to paint a picture of deliberate deception, on Pakistan’s part, at least.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, I think that delusions lead to deception. And, sometimes, you deceive yourself.

You also have in the narrative many occasions where there are senior American officials recognizing a problem, and yet deciding not to face the problem.

MARGARET WARNER: You say at the root of this is that Pakistan and the U.S. don’t share essentially the same goals or interests. Can’t there be alliances anyway between countries that may not share the same interests, but still find one another useful and have each other’s back when the going gets tough?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I think that a shared interest or a common enemy is absolutely essential for an alliance.

Now, you can be useful to each other. You don’t have to have 100 percent symmetry in your interests. But the usual range of asymmetry and interest is 30-70. For example, Britain may have 30 percent interests that are not those of the Americans.

In the case of Pakistan and the United States, Pakistan’s primary interest, as defined by its elite, which I question, is to become India’s military equal and to wrest control of Kashmir. Those two interests are not America’s interests. And yet America has built up Pakistan’s military potential over the years and continues to arm Pakistan, assuming that Pakistan will eventually use those arms for agendas the Americans set for them.

That is not going to happen. That has not happened in the last 66 years.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you also say that you think Americans and Pakistanis have certain stereotypes of each other that are — go way, way back, 60 years. What are those stereotypes?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, the American stereotype of Pakistani is well-spoken individuals who have a Western education, coming from the British background, always eager and ready to do what they’re told, or repeatedly learning that that is not the case, but always assuming that.

In recent years, the stereotype has changed to be — to the deceptive Pakistani, or the terrorist-harboring Pakistani. The Pakistani stereotype of America — Americans is the arrogant American, the ignorant American, and the American who has no understanding of other people’s culture or history.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think this dysfunction that you describe is also rooted in the national characters of each people, of each country?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, Americans have a tendency to not take other people’s history very seriously.

In America, when you say, that’s history, it actually means that’s irrelevant. Pakistan, on the other hand, has spent a lot of time and energy trying to create a narrative of history that justifies its existence, because its existence is often questioned by other nations.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that Pakistanis are suspicious of the rest of the world?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I think Pakistanis are suspicious of the rest of the world.

In fact, in recent years, I have complained that my compatriots are becoming rather xenophobic. Conspiracy theories are rampant in Pakistan. And that comes from a sense of insecurity.

MARGARET WARNER: President Obama now, with Secretary Kerry, appear to be trying to revive this relationship under the new president, Nawaz Sharif. What advice would give to them?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I think that President Obama and Secretary Kerry should continue their efforts to try and engage with Pakistan, but this engagement should be based on reality and not illusions.

I would suggest that they shouldn’t focus purely on reviving the military-to-military and intelligence-to-intelligence relationship, but actually take an interest in understanding what the discourse or debate is within Pakistan about Pakistan’s own interests.

MARGARET WARNER: And do you think they should look on Pakistan as an ally or something else?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I think that neither Pakistan nor the United States should look upon each other as allies. That would be the first step towards a reality-based relationship.

Both should understand that we do not have a shared enemy and we do not have a shared interest. Pakistan needs to educate its children who don’t go to school. Pakistan needs to get away from a religion-based nationalism to a nationalism of shared interests of the population.

The United States can’t see the world as divided between allies and enemies. Actually, there are many countries that are neither, and Pakistan is one of them.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Husain Haqqani, author of “Magnificent Delusions,” thank you.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: A pleasure to be here.