‘Pakistan is isolated and has fewer friends in the international community’
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the US and now a director of the US-based Hudson Institute, says Islamabad must sever its links to terrorism
Last month the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued an arrest warrant for the former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, after he failed to appear in court for a hearing on “Memogate.” The “memo” in question had allegedly been sent by Haqqani to a high-ranking US official in May 2011 – days after the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan – exposing clashes between the civilian government then led by the Pakistan Peoples Party and the army.
Haqqani has denied those allegations, and he expressed his disappointment with the Supreme Court warrant, saying that “it is sad that some judges of the highest court of Pakistan persist with such antics for local TV news coverage.”
Haqqani, who is now a prominent analyst on South Asia, author of the books Pakistan between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions, and a regional director for the Hudson Institute in Washington, spoke with Asia Times. Excerpts from an exclusive interview follow.
Pakistan will be put on the Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) gray list in June. Is this owing to US pressure?
Pakistan’s policy of tolerating and supporting some jihadi terrorist groups and treating terrorist financing lightly is the real reason.
It has been 16 years since 2001, when in the aftermath of 9/11 [terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001], Pakistan promised to comply with international sanctions relating to terrorist financing laid down in UN [Security Council] Resolution 1267 of 1999. Pakistan has yet to act against groups and individuals like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed. Groups are banned, only to re-emerge with new names. Hafiz Saeed was listed as a terrorist by the UN in December 2008 but remains free and operational. Close ties with the United States have so far helped Pakistan [avoid] tough international sanctions.
This time, the prospect of it being put on the “black list” also exists because the United States is not alone in its view that Pakistan only acts against terrorists under international pressure.
For some time now, Pakistan has been able to take one step forward to get relief from international pressure, followed by two steps back once the pressure is off and another step forward, when the pressure resumes. The fundamental change in attitude has not been forthcoming.
Pakistan recently issued another ordinance and announced restrictions on the finances of terrorist groups, including charities linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, but these measures are aimed not at permanently shutting down favored jihadi groups but at evading the immediate pressure.
How do you view China and Saudi Arabia backing away from supporting Pakistan during the US-summoned second vote at the FATF meeting, and Turkey being the sole supporter?
Pakistan has always presumed that if a country is its ally, that country must support Pakistan in all that it does – from ignoring Pakistani support for terror groups to standing firm behind Pakistan against India.
China and Saudi Arabia are seen as strong allies, and Pakistan presumed that their close ties with Pakistan would lead them to automatically vote in Pakistan’s favor. But countries have their own interests, and in this case neither Saudi Arabia nor China saw it in their interest to support Pakistan beyond the initial phase. These countries probably also wanted to send a message to Pakistan about the need to crack down on terror financing. China and Saudi Arabia both face their own terrorism threats.
Other factors were at play, too. Saudi Arabia had to weigh in its close ties with the US and even India; China wanted to secure its position as head of the FATF board, for which it needs American and Indian support in future. Above all, Pakistan simply did not fulfill the FATF criteria, and it came down to whether others wanted to do it an out-of-the-way favor.
Turkey, under President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, has its own agenda of forming alliances, and its support for Pakistan was to make Pakistanis feel good while knowing its stand alone won’t really make a difference.
What do you make of the Trump regime blatantly calling out Pakistan for providing safe havens to jihadist groups throughout the past year? Does it stem from President Trump’s own stance, and that of his team, or is this reflective of US foreign policy of recent years?
Mr [Donald] Trump may be the first American president to openly and unreservedly speak out against Pakistan publicly, but US frustrations with Pakistan go back many years. As far back as 1992, the United States warned Pakistan that it would be declared a state sponsor of terrorism if it did not crack down on jihadis who, at that time, had kidnapped Western tourists, including Americans, in Jammu and Kashmir.
President Trump’s South Asia policy speech last August, his New Year’s Day tweet, and his administration’s policy towards Pakistan are not random comments by an instinctive American leader. They reflect the deep mistrust that has characterized the US-Pakistan relationship and has only grown since 9/11 within the US foreign-policy community, especially after the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
The divergence in the goals and interests of both countries has expanded over the decades. The US wants to eliminate global terrorism; Pakistan prefers to selectively use terrorists as an instrument of regional influence. America has invested blood and treasure to build a modern multi-ethnic Afghanistan; Pakistan wants a government in Kabul dominated by ethnic-Pashtun Islamists, such as the Afghan Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network. The US sees India as a friend, while Pakistan’s establishment views India as an eternal enemy.
Pakistanis want the US to ignore that divergence and continue to assist Pakistan on the promise of small cooperative steps. But recognition of that divergence of interests is at the heart of President Trump’s unwillingness to revert to the old pattern of praising Pakistan in the hope that it will eventually change its policies to match America’s interests.
How do you see Indian involvement in Baluchistan as confessed by Research & Analysis Wing [India’s foreign intelligence agency] spy Kulbhushan Jadhav?
That India and Pakistan spy on each other is not much of a secret, nor is the claim by both sides that the other supports insurgencies inside its territory.
Many Pakistanis believe there is Indian involvement in Baluchistan. The question is whether that belief can translate into evidence that is accepted by the international community. Pakistan has delivered multiple dossiers to India and the international community but the Pakistani side has also grudgingly acknowledged that these do not contain “material evidence.” Sartaj Aziz [deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan] once remarked that the primary purpose of these dossiers is to “help build a narrative about India’s patronage of subversive activities in Pakistan.”
On the Jadhav case, too, Pakistan has succeeded in convincing Pakistanis of his being a spy but his confessions have had little effect outside Pakistan. Pakistanis must think about why their case is believed less and less on the international level. It is almost as if there are two parallel narratives, one that finds resonance among Pakistanis and one that resonates with the rest of the world.
How do you see Indian involvement in Afghanistan, concerns regarding which were shared by the civil-military leadership during [then-US secretary of state] Rex Tillerson’s visit to Pakistan in October?
Again, the concerns shared by Pakistan’s leaders and officials on Afghanistan are deemed less convincing by their foreign interlocutors, notwithstanding the passion with which these are repeated. Pakistan’s fears of close relations between India and Afghanistan are not new and date back to the years immediately after independence. But the rest of the world asks for specifics of how India threatens Pakistan through Afghanistan without having any troops or other military presence there.
The view outside Pakistan is that if Pakistan felt threatened by an Indian military presence in Afghanistan, that would be legitimate. Concern about covert operations across the Durand Line would also be considered seriously. But if Afghans studying in India or Indians building roads in Afghanistan are cited as threats to Pakistan’s security, then others see it as a psychological rather than a political or military issue.
In the last two decades Pakistan has justified its support for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other jihadi groups on grounds of security concerns from India. When Americans say, “So far as we know India has no offensive military presence in Afghanistan and there is no evidence that the Afghans are willing to be part of India’s alleged plan for a two-front war with Pakistan,” Pakistanis seldom offer a convincing response. Pakistan’s leaders only question Afghanistan’s acceptance of economic assistance from India even though Pakistan does not have the capacity to provide such aid itself.
Is Pakistan’s support for jihadist factions the single common factor negatively impacting Islamabad relations with other countries? Do you see that being addressed?
Pakistan today is more isolated and has fewer friends in the international community. That clearly has primarily to do with Pakistan’s support for jihadi groups and its reluctance to change its policy despite the impact on other countries and itself.
There are fewer countries willing to accept Pakistan’s point of view on Kashmir, fewer countries where a Pakistani can travel without a visa, and fewer friends in multilateral fora.