Pakistan Democracy: An Interview with Husain Haqqani

With a democratic government now in place in Islamabad, Pakistan has set out to redefine goals for its people and communicate for greater predictability and security. In this interview with YaleGlobal editor Nayan Chanda, Husain Haqqani – ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, as well as leading journalist and former advisor to Pakistani prime ministers including the late Benazir Bhutto – discusses the sustainability of Pakistan’s democracy, border disputes with India and his nation’s capability for fighting terrorism and mastering its own destiny. – YaleGlobal

Pakistan Democracy: An Interview with Husain Haqqani

Pakistan’s new democracy tackles complex domestic and foreign policy problems, sharing goals with the US and India
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nayan Chanda: Ambassador Husain Haqqani of Pakistan to the United States, Welcome to Yale. Husain Haqqani has been a very, very well known figure in Pakistan. He has worked for three prime ministers, and he has been at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and at Boston University, and now he's the ambassador.

Let me ask you first, having served three prime ministers, and with all the experience you have, how do you see the sixth experiment with democracy in Pakistan? How has it started off? How do you see the prospect – is the sixth time lucky?

Husain Haqqani: Well, Nayan, I think that the reason why Pakistan has not been able to build a democracy in the past is because of the invasions of its civil military elites. And I think this time around the international factors, the local factors, and even the perception of the elites in Pakistan is very different. If you go back in history, you will notice that Pakistan's first military coup was within 10 years of independence, primarily because the civil military elite felt that the complications of working out a democracy were not worth it, that nation-building could be more easily done under an authoritarian regime. That delusion lasted for quite a while, but it ended and we had our first elected civilian government in the 70's. After that, General [Mohammad] Zia ul-Haq entered the process, and his argument was that Pakistan needed to be an ideological state.

Now both of those arguments, that nation-building is better under authoritarianism, and that Pakistan is better off as an ideological state defined by a small group of theocrats or theocratically inclined elites, have both been proven to be mistakes. The third attempt at military intervention – serious attempt – was under General Musharraf, and he represented the notion that Pakistan can be better run by a technocratic elite. And we have seen that dream in tatters as well now. I see no argument in favor of authoritarianism left in Pakistan. Yes, there are some people who still say that we have to be an ideological state, that we can be much better accomplished under a benevolent dictator, yes, there are a few people who still say that maybe the government should be run by technocrats and not by politicians. But there is great consensus in Pakistan that to forge a Pakistani national identity, all Pakistani provinces, all Pakistani ethnic groups, need to feel that they are part of Pakistan, and the only way they will feel a part of Pakistan is through an elected democratic process. Second, the technocrats also sometimes get purely technocratic decisions right, but they are unable to bring the nation together. And lastly, when it comes to the external factors, when General Zia ul-Haq became Pakistan's president in a military uniform, many countries in the world had military governments. When Musharraf became Pakistan's ruler, he was one of two or three.

So now the international momentum is also against military dominated governments. I think all those factors have come together, but most important is the fact that this time the restoration of democracy has come at a very high price. We lost Benazir Bhutto who was much beloved, and in her assassination – it's very interesting,that Gallup did polling after that and showed that there has never been such unanimity in Pakistan in public opinion on grief. When her father was assassinated, some people didn't mind it. When General Zia-ul-Haq died, Pakistani society was divided between those who were fond of him and those who hated him. In Benazir Bhutto's assassination, it was as if a national dream had been killed. And most political leaders in Pakistan are reconciled to the fact that, yes, we will disagree with one another, but we will never help another military coup. So I think this time, there are many factors that will strengthen Pakistan's evolution as a democracy.

Chanda: Yes, I think the question really is whether the army is reconciled to the loss of its authority that they exercised through Musharraf, and also their plans to sell the land it owns to build its general headquarters. The question is, does the army have the right to sell the state land to build its own headquarters? That is one small example of the army acting as a state within a state.

Haqqani: Look, let us go to the more fundamental question. Pakistan needs a military. But what Pakistan needs is for its military to work under civilian authority, constitutional authority. I think that the new army chief and most of his close commanders all realize that the army's professionalism suffered immensely with the army being drawn into politics. Will this transition be instantaneous? No, it won't.But the army has been brought into many things and it will take some time to get out of them. But the important things that have already started happening: The Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has already withdrawn all those serving military officers who were filling up civilian positions in government – a big change. The interservices intelligence has shut down its political wing – a major thing, because that was the instrument of intervention in politics. The army didn't play any role in trying to influence the outcome of the February 18th elections, or of the political process subsequent to that. Because they didn't do anything to influence the choice of prime minister, they did nothing to influence the choice of president, and the electoral processes had been taking on their own dynamic. And I think that the things that you're talking about – about the military's having welfare schemes with economic dimensions, etc., I think we will be able to rationalize those over time as well.

Chanda: The other question that has been raised is that General Musharraf is gone, but it looks like the current government is pursuing the same policies, whether it's the question of the war on terror or the question of privatizing state organizations and even raising the price of utilities as has been pressed on by the nation’s financial institutions. In all of these policies, the Asif Ali Zardari government seems to be pursuing Musharraf's policies. Is there any change?

Haqqani: That [Asif] Ali Zardari government represents what is essentially a national consensus on issues such as privatization. Whether Nawaz Sharif was in power, whether General Musharraf was in power, or the new elected government, even the previous PPP government led by Benazir Bhutto – none of them could do without privatization, for the simple reason that Pakistan has just too many state-owned enterprises that are not sufficiently efficient, and it is much easier for them to be sold off and their value recovered for the benefit of Pakistan's economy. So privatization falls in that category. Similarly, the question of raising prices of utilities – again, basically, it's a question of market prices. Oil prices have gone up. The government has to pay for the oil to buy it from the Gulf. And that oil is then sold to the utilities, and after all that has to be recovered… So that is also another category: It is not Musharraf's policy, it's the global market's policy. The only thing that is left is the war on terror, and here, the big difference. Musharraf says we are fighting the war on terror because America told us to do so. This government says that we have to fight terrorism because terrorism is a threat to Pakistan. I think that while the conduct of the war is going on, the fact of the matter is that the war's aims have changed very seriously. The aim of General Musharraf was to please the United States. The aim of the elected government is to work with the United States and other allies to ensure Pakistan's own safety and security, and to make sure that Pakistan is not seen as or becomes a safe haven or a base for extremist groups all over the world. So I think that the change of the objective actually makes the policy very different.

Chanda: There is a very significant change in the US approach to Pakistan, with the July signing of President Bush's secret national security directive in which he authorized the military to intervene in Pakistan without prior notification, and the result of which was the first attack on Pakistani territory on September 3rd. This is a change that follows the departure of Musharraf. The question is, is the new policy designed to put pressure on the civilian government, or is it just because the US elections are approaching and you needed to do something against terrorism in a more demonstrative way? What was the purpose?

Haqqani: First, if the directive was signed, as you said, in July, then Musharraf was still there, so it wasn't post-Musharraf. And I don't know if the directive has been signed. If it is a secret directive, the US government, I'm sure, can keep secrets even though they don't seem to keep them from the New York Times. But, let me just say that the operation that the US forces conducted on September 3 was a mistake. It achieved no war aim, they did not get any terrorists or militants, they did not manage to kill Al Qaeda leaders or the Taliban, and it only served to enrage the Pakistani public. Since then, we have engaged with US officials. We understand political complications, we come from political backgrounds ourselves, President Zardari is a politician, he understands politics. The two parties are engaged in an election campaign – the November elections are coming and people are asking, what happened, did we succeed in getting Osama bin Laden, and if not, why not? So therefore, in the context of the campaign, it makes sense for some people, but there's another dimension to it also.There are American troops in Afghanistan and they are in harm's way and they are attacked. And when they are attacked and they ask their Afghan counterparts, why are we under attack, what's happening, and they are told that some of these Taliban and these Al Qaeda people are coming from Pakistan, then they feel all the more reason to want to do something about it. But all wars require intelligent actions, not just actions. And the intelligent thing to do is to let Pakistan take care of the Pakistani side of the border because if it escalates, if American troops get inducted, they will have another theater of war without necessarily having any war aims being fulfilled. We have spoken to the Americans about this. They now understand that if Pakistan is willing to step up to the plate – which it is, Pakistan wants to step up action on its side of the border. We have paid a dear price, even in the past, even under Musharraf: Hundreds of Pakistanis were killed – Pakistani soldiers were killed. But the problem was that these soldiers were sent in to battle the Taliban without adequate counterinsurgency training. The elected government has asked the United States to help us get that counter-insurgency training. We have asked the US to provide us the equipment that is needed for this kind of warfare, You see, Pakistani soldiers have been trained to fight a different kind of war on a different border. This is different terrain, so we need different types of trained soldiers. The mistake under Musharraf was that the training was not there, the equipment was not there, and the soldiers were sent in large numbers. We sacrificed many lives in the process. Now, we are going to have an intelligent war. Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, in the last two to three weeks, in Bajul, Pakistan has conducted a very methodical operation. From the…

Chanda: In the Northwest frontier...

Haqqani: “From the Northwest frontier, bordering Afghanistan, bordering the Kunar province, air power has been deployed. And, because it has been a methodical operation, several hundred militants and Taliban have been killed, and they are feeling the pressure, which is why they are attacking Pakistani cities again. We will have to bear that fear, and we will have to do something about protecting our cities against the suicide bombers as well. But, as President Zardari and Prime Minister [Yousuf Raza] Gilani repeatedly say: “This is Pakistan’s war. We have to save Pakistan from becoming a Taliban home. The Taliban’s vision is not our vision. The Taliban don’t want young women to ever receive an education. The have been blowing up schools in Pakistan. And more Pakistanis have been killed by suicide bombers than Americans have been killed, so we don’t look at this as an American war that we have to fight to please America. We are fighting for our own nation, for our own future, and I think as long as the Americans understand that, and not withstanding any specific directive or not, the American forces will stay on the Afghan side of the border, and Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and NATO will work cooperatively to make sure that terrorists are denied the opportunity to organize and raise attacks on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Chanda: You have mentioned in some other occasions that President Musharraf carried the policy of “running with the hare, hunting with the hound,” in terms of dealing with terrorism. Why was that? Why did he have this two-faced policy on terrorism?

Haqqani: Well, I think it wasn’t a two-faced policy in his perspective, what he was doing was… First of all you must understand that before 9/11 he didn’t see terrorism as a menace in itself which is very different from Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Zardari, who have always seen terrorism as a threat because they don’t intellectually agree with it. General Musharraf thought this is just sub-conventional warfare and it gives some leverage in regional politics. So that was the point of view. And after 9/11, it was very difficult for him to make the major change. He made medium- to short-term changes. He understood that you have to forsake the Taliban, and that you have to curtail the operational militant groups on the other side as well. But having said that, from day one, I don’t know if you can recall, there are many interviews of his, there was a time when he used to argue that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda need to be treated differently. Then he started saying Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban need to be. He just never made the transition from thinking of these people as elements of a regional strategic problem, a regional strategic design, to thinking that they are a problem. And I think that now...

Chanda: So they were pawns that he could play?

Haqqani: He thought that they were pawns that he could play. Even after attempts on his life, he only thought about “okay, the groups that are responsible for trying kill me, we need to go after them. He didn’t understand that what needs to be eliminated is the whole idea that somehow blowing yourself up for a cause is a good thing, because very frankly, irrespective of the objective, terrorism is a nuisance, and a problem, and a threat. It is all of those things, and it’s a menace. Terrorism needs to be eliminated because it is a threat, not because “Terrorist A” is okay, but “Terrorist B” is good. There are no “good” terrorists and “bad” terrorists. And I think the Pakistani military leadership and the Pakistani civilian leadership that have been elected in February of this year understand that.

Chanda: There have been considerable improvements, at least in appearance, in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. President [Hamid] Karzai and President Zardari seem to get along well. Now, has there been any progress on the investigation that General Kayani said he was launching on the allegation, by the United States and by India, that ISI was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul?

Haqqani: I think that we are working on finding out the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. We will have more details at some point in the future, but as of now we do understand that there was no conscious decision on the part of any Pakistani organization to be part of it. This was a terrorist act, and if those terrorists are in any part of Pakistan including the travel areas, the Pakistani government will definitely act against them. The important thing is that President Zardari has articulated a vision. His vision is one of close ties with Afghanistan and friendship with India. While we have disagreements with India, while we have the outstanding disputes of Jammu and Kashmir, we would still want to normalize relations with them because, again, it is more important to move forward and to have less pressures on Pakistan from the external side. And India and Pakistan together can have many economic benefits for each other. Afghanistan and Pakistan together can definitely strengthen each other as nations. And we have historic relations. Let us be honest: India and Pakistan have 5,000 years of common history, and 60 years of partition. Afghanistan and Pakistan have hundreds of years of common history. So there’s no reason why we should be stuck in adversarial mode and not find commonalities on which we can work together. That said, we will occasionally disagree. President Karzai and President Zardari will also disagree. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari will disagree. But there has to be a fundamental difference in approaching each other as permanent enemies or looking upon each other as neighbors who can deal with issues on an issue-by-issue basis.

Chanda: On Kashmir. What’s the position of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani as to move forward again on Kashmir, which has been …?

Haqqani: Well, I think India and Pakistan both have to find creative solutions to the Kashmir problem. There are strong emotions in Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. I’m sure there are strong views in India on the Kashmir issue. And then the people of Kashmir, they have a position and their point of view needs to be heard. They need to be part of the solution. The important thing is that the bilateral engagement of India and Pakistan should not be stopped because we are not making progress on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. But the issue of Jammu and Kashmir should not be ignored, so we have to find ways of engaging, and at the same time finding solutions to this dispute that has bedeviled relationships between our two countries. The difference is that there are people in Pakistan who have argued that if we cannot have a solution to Kashmir, we needn’t have forward movement with India. I think that we can continue to engage and, at the same time, look for a solution. I, personally, do not have a solution to offer right now.

Chanda: But, in terms of engaging, what are the areas you think Pakistan and India could engage? And, the impact of their engagement, would it be positive on other issues?

Haqqani: Let me just say that we need to have a very sensible approach to resolving the Siachen Glacier dispute. Both sides lose more people to frostbite in those glaciers than in actual fighting. So it’s in the interest of both sides to try and find a solution to that. The solution is almost there – it’s a question of signing it and moving on. The Sir Creek issue, that’s also something that can be resolved.

Chanda: This is on the border, near Sind?

Haqqani: Basically, it’s a demarcation issue. My point is: Reduce the portfolio of disputes. Third, move forward on bilateral trade. Open up trade more. People-to-people contacts. We need to expand to range of contacts between the two people. Whenever Indians and Pakistanis meet, whether its over a curry or over a cricket match, or over a Masala movie, they always manage to be able to talk to each other in a much more friendly way than they can when they are just dealing with politics. So I think that people-to-people contacts need to be expanded. In terms of trade, we must understand that once the Indian markets open for Pakistani products, Pakistan gets access to a 1 billion strong market. And so there are opportunities for Pakistan. There are synergies between our two countries. Above all, Pakistan is the energy corridor for India. If there is an Iran-India pipeline, it will have to go through Pakistan. If there’s a Turkmenistan-India pipeline it will have to go through Afghanistan and Pakistan. If there’s a pipeline from the Gulf, it will have to go through Pakistan. So, all of those things are the basis from which we can hopefully open up our relationship and have less issues of hostility and more basis for cooperation.

Chanda: Final question, coming back to the United States. The presidential debate was yesterday. A lot of focus on foreign affairs was devoted to your country. How do you think that these two presidential candidates, their vision of Pakistan and how to deal with the problem, how do you see that?

Haqqani: I think that it would not be appropriate of me to insert myself into the American political debate, but let me say one thing: As ambassador, I am personally engaged with both campaigns. The advisors that Senator Obama and Senator McCain have, both of them have listened to our point of view. We have listened to theirs. Pakistan is important for the next president, whoever he may be. Pakistan is important for the United States. While we are not completely happy with the tone of the conversation about Pakistan these days, it’s important that for the first time Pakistan is receiving the attention that it deserves. Now you and I have known each other for many years. Pakistan has always been seen in the context of India-Pakistan relations or due to the Soviet war in the context of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan or in the context of the war against terrorism. It’s about time that the US paid attention to Pakistan in its own right, a nation of 160 million people with a very strong army and nuclear weapons, with the potential for being a moderate, democratic, tolerant, pluralist state while at the same time having the threat of terrorism and militancy. Senator Joseph Biden is the author of a bill called the Biden-Luger Bill, which expects to triple civilian economic aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion every year for five years and possibly for 10 years as a long-term engagement with Pakistan so that Pakistanis know that the United States is a friend of Pakistan. I think it’s time for Pakistan and the United States to move away from their short-term, quid pro quo engagements, and develop a strategic partnership for peace in that region and for consolidation of Pakistani democracy and strengthening of Pakistani democracy. And, I think that while there will be disagreements between candidates on how to do that, I think that the important thing is that both presidential candidates in the United States understand the importance of Pakistan and they also understand that for stability in Pakistan, there must be democracy, and that Pakistan’s stability is important to American security.

Chanda: With that, Ambassador Haqqani, thank you very much.

Haqqani: Pleasure talking to you.

© 2008 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization