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BOOK REVIEW – Hussain Haqqani’s ‘Reimagining Pakistan – Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State’

‘Reimagining Pakistan’ is a very well researched, studied, wise,  pragmatic analysis and a bold challenge and invitation to Pakistan by none other than one of its own leading dissident public intellectual who is sincerely concerned about his country. The author Husain Haqqani, besides being Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, was an advisor to three prime ministers including Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto. He presently lives in exile in the United States, where he is a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute.

by Col Bipin Shinde (Retd)

(From the January 2019 edition)

Objective analyses cannot ignore the disconcerting highlights of Pakistan’s seventy-year history: four full-fledged wars, one alleged genocide, loss of half of country’s land area in conflict, secession of majority of the population, several proxy or civil wars, four direct military coups, multiple constitutions, long periods without constitutional rule, frequent religious and sectarian discord, repeated economic failures, numerous political assassinations, unremitting terrorism, continued external dependence and chronic social underdevelopment. 

‘Reimagining Pakistan…’ is a very well researched, studied, wise,  pragmatic analysis and a bold challenge and invitation to Pakistan by none other than one of its own leading dissident public intellectual who is sincerely concerned about his country. The author Husain Haqqani, besides being Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, was an advisor to three prime ministers including Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto. He presently lives in exile in the United States, where he is a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute. 

The introduction begins with the fact that the few foreigners visit Pakistan. The unskilled labour in the Middle East, factory labour in Europe and the doctors, engineers, bankers or other professionals in North America have a reputation for hard work and efficiency. But that does not suffice to alter Pakistan’s description around the world as “dangerous”, “unstable”, “terrorist incubator”, “fragile”, and “the land of the intolerant”. Some have defined Pakistan as a “semi-authoritarian state” and a “national security state”.

The narrative of persecution also runs through the psyche of Pakistan as a whole. Millions of Pakistanis share the patriotic sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” without knowing the full quote by American statesman Carl Schurz, which goes: “My country, right or wrong; if right, keep it right; and if wrong , to be set right.” Examining the causes of Pakistan’s persistent dysfunction, including an inquiry in to its foundational idea, is more important than building a positive image through half-truths. Thus, Husain Haqqani calls it as his effort at compiling historical facts, political realities, and economic veracities that are often denied as part of Pakistan’s positive narrative.

A ‘Resilient International Migraine’?

If anything, Pakistan has become a country of concern to Americans and the rest of the world, after being an ally for several decades. In no uncertain terms, the author has highlighted the drawbacks/attitudes/negativities/obstinacies of Pakistan that earned the baneful title ‘Resilient International Migraine’. The author cites the global imagination that Pakistan is a country chosen by terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden as his home for last several years of his life. There is always a gulf between how a nation views itself and how others view it, but Pakistan is unique in terms of the breadth of that gap. It was the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright who said that “Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine.” This was few weeks after the November 2008 terrorists’ attacks in Mumbai.

Faith, Grievance and Special Purpose 

Many writers, including Salman Rushdie, have argued that Pakistan was “insufficiently imagined”. It has a policy tripod – religious nationalism, confrontation with India and external dependence. Each element has influenced the other, sometimes in imperceptible ways. Barely seven months after Independence had Bengali leader Suhrawardy, prime minister of undivided Bengal, warned that the newly founded state might destroy itself by adopting the version of Islam that is not based “on toleration, equality, brotherhood” and by “establishing in effect a communal state within Pakistan.”

Pakistanis often use the Urdu word ‘jazba’, variously meaning passion, spirit and strong feeling of emotions as a guarantor of Pakistan’s success in all fields from the sport of cricket to the economy and warfare. As per Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, loss of half of the country after 1971 break-up did not merit “reflection”, only reassertion of that a divine purpose was needed. From Jinnah to Liaquat Ali to contemporary Pakistani leaders, the belief persists that policymaking is secondary to maintaining national pride and morale, as God is somehow looking out for Pakistan.

Choosing a coherent narrative that appeals to supporters, while ignoring the scrutiny of others, has been part of Pakistan’s DNA since the demand for its creation was first made. The author categorically states that none of the Muslim League stalwarts, including Jinnah, wrote a book detailing their idea of Pakistan

Ideological Dysfunction 

There have been numerous instances of growing religious intolerance and violence in “a country where blasphemy laws are often misused for revenge or personal gain”. Pakistan’s founders had simultaneously offered two visions of Pakistani nationalism. The first as per historian Faisal was ‘Muslim Zionism’ – a land where the Muslim minority dispersed across a vast subcontinent could escape the majority’s persecution. The other vision as described by historian, Venkat Dhulipala, as a ‘New Medina – the harbinger of Islam’s renewal and rise in the twentieth century, the new leader and protector of the global community of Muslims, and a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate’.

Some leaders advocated secularism. Non-Muslim opposition members and solitary Muslim parliamentarian expressed serious qualms about committing the new state to “ordering their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam.” Thus, Haqqani has brought out the then turmoil in specific details. For its first twenty-five years, Pakistan was an Islamic enterprise run by secular management.

Islamist Rage 

A national ideology based on a major world religion continues to provide grounds for endless argumentation, given Islam’s long history and the diversity among its adherents. Rangeela Rasool, a salacious version of Prophet Muhammad’s life stirred controversy that led to Muslim mass-mobilization. He has opined that a reimagined Pakistan would simply recognize that the individual can be pious, the society can be religious but the state should be non-confessional if it is to be different from what Pakistan has become.

Insecurity and Jihad 

As Gen Zia-ul-Haq undertook what he described as ‘Islamisation’ of Pakistan, The New York Times noted that its advocates saw it “as essential therapy to resolve a long standing national crisis of identity.” Even the most modern and westernized leaders, ranging from Harvard-educated Benazir Bhutto to self-professed Ataturk fan Parvez Musharraf, have failed to stop Pakistan from descending farther into an Islamist quagmire.

According to Haqqani, what sets Pakistan apart is the belief that India has not accepted Pakistan’s existence as a nation or state and is constantly conspiring to invalidate its creation. This insecurity has been nourished throughout Pakistan’ history, beginning with the country’s founding fathers, making it cornerstone of Pakistani nationalism. Nothing illustrates the psychological nature of Pakistan’s security than the burning down of a yoga centre in Islamabad few years ago after it was cited by a TV channel as a threat to national security. Even desertification of Pakistan by India has been alleged. The author has summed up by quoting from Daniel Pipes ‘The Hidden Hand; Middle East Fears of Conspiracy’ that “Actual conspiracies spur conspiracy theories by simulating real fears.”

The Institution 

Haqqani reiterates that to this day, the military remains the final authority on most policy issues in Pakistan and is euphemistically referred to as “the institution” or “the establishment”. Pakistan’s preoccupation with security may have its roots in the face that the military was the only full functional institution inherited by the country at the time of founding. Heightened professional expertise may engender interventionist dispositions when civilian governments are performing inadequately. Thus Pakistan has become an entrenched praetorian state.

The military’s charisma is protected not only by direct propaganda but also by nurturing of a broad military family that include children and grandchildren of military officers. Sometimes the overwhelming desire of the military to impose a single version of the country’s past, present and future involves almost ludicrous methods. No nuclear-armed nation worries the rest of the world as much as Pakistan.

Warriors, Not Traders 

The author very rightly quotes President Calvin Coolidge of US – “the chief business of the American people is business.” The principle preoccupation of Pakistanis is ideology and defending their nation against real and imaginary threats. Haqqani points out that economist Nadeem Ul-Haque and others have highlighted the shortcomings of the country’s ‘economic software’ – the ability to govern and manage Pakistan’s resources. The weakness of the human capital base is both quantitative and qualitative.

Avoiding the March of Folly 

To imagine a future for Pakistan different from its past, the author feels that it is important to recognize the various wrong turns taken by its leaders. ‘The March of Folly’ is written by American historian Barbara w. Tuchman – analyses the phenomenon of government folly and obstinacy. Pakistan has been a victim of all four kinds of misgovernment, as identified by Tuchman as manifesting in history, “often in combination”. Tyranny or oppression, excessive ambition, incompetence or decadence is the first three kinds. It is the fourth kind, “folly or perversity”.

This fourth kind has been paid more attention citing examples from history – from Trojan’s decision to take wooden horse carrying Greek soldiers inside their walled city to America’s conduct during Vietnam War. Therefore, the criteria of folly when applied to Pakistan, Husain Haqqani finds it not difficult to understand how its policies over the decades reflect a series of imprudent choices, notwithstanding the availability of viable options.

“We have no alternative” is an argument that is often heard in Pakistan, quotes Haqqani. ‘Groupthink’ is another term used in respect of Pakistan while giving similar experiences in history. Haqqani questions Pakistan’s resilience in the face of adverse predictions over the last seven decades whether it means that those seeing it as a fragile or crisis prone are wrong? He has also explained Pakistan’s similarities with Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, and feels that their experience can help Pakistan avoid the hazards they succumbed to, making it possible to be imagined differently. Cold war politics and rivalry between the US and Soviet Union has been discussed to highlight Pakistan’s folly. Here the author has made reference to ‘Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred’ by American academics Robert S. Robins and Jerrold Post.

The shift from ideological nationalism to functional nationalism will help change the milieu in which the various extremist and jihadi groups recruit and operate in Pakistan. Pakistan must also overcome its archaic notions of national security. Only by reimagining itself, can Pakistan find peace with itself and its neighbours and stop being viewed by the rest of the world as a troubled state, a failing state or a crisis state. To end its march of folly, Husain Haqqani advocates Pakistan to reassess its core beliefs about religion-based polity, reconsider the notion of permanent conflict with its larger neighbour, recreate political institutions to reflect its ethnic diversity and re-build its economy without reliance on the largesse of others.

He further advises Pakistan to stop resenting India and stake claim to its own share of prosperity. He also suggests that Pakistan could adopt a new course just as Germany and Japan after 1945 and China after 1989. It could begin by allowing discussions of alternative imaginings of Pakistan that are not bound by its narrowly defined ideological parameters. According to Haqqani, Pakistan’s excessive focus on survival and resilience – and its direction being set by men trained only to think of security – may have sown the seeds of its myriad problems.

Pakistan could continue to survive as it has done so far and defy further negative predictions. But if it does not grow economically sufficiently and remains mired in ideological debates and crises, how would its next seventy decades be any different from the past seventy years? A must collection in the libraries of universities, politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats alike, defence institutions and individual students of international studies and Pakistan in specific. The notes at the end are very exhaustive, pointing and history relived. While HarperCollins are the publishers, Haqqani has the copyrights and asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this book, which has been recently published in India in 2018.

A Veteran from the Army Air Defence, Col Bipin D. Shinde, has a vast experience in staff and field tenures in the Army, DRDO, NCC, along with civil administration as the District Sainik Welfare Officer, Pune. He has been a chief judge in a book review competition for MBA students at SIMS, Pune. He can be reached on email: bdsshinde@yahoo.co.in