Former diplomat Husain Haqqani on the need to re-imagine Pakistan

Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg / Getty Images
11 February, 2019

In January 2019, the Pakistani government reportedly initiated the process to extradite Husain Haqqani from the United States. Haqqani, a former diplomat facing charges of embezzlement in Pakistan, served as the country’s ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1993, and to the United States between 2008 and 2011. He has also worked with four prime ministers of Pakistan.

Haqqani’s career as a diplomat has been marred with controversy—in 2012, a judicial commission set up by the government accused him of undermining the country’s security. Subsequently, he left Pakistan and moved to the United States. In March 2018, the Federal Investigation Agency, a Pakistani security agency, registered a case against Haqqani for “criminal breach of trust, misuse of authority and embezzlement of funds” during his stint at Pakistan’s embassy in the United States. The embezzlement case is believed to be the basis of his proposed extradition.

Haqqani is a vocal critic of the Pakistani military, and has repeatedly accused the country of being run by a “deep state.” He is the author of two books on Pakistan’s militancy and foreign relations—Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding. At present, Haqqani is the director of the south and central Asia division of the Hudson Institute, a US-based think tank. In an interview with the journalist Hanan Zaffar, he discussed terrorism, Islamic extremism and the necessity to re-imagine Pakistan. On the prospect of returning to Pakistan, Haqqani said, “It makes more sense to survive and to question the state narrative in Pakistan, rather than going [back to] become a victim of that state narrative.”

Hanan Zaffar: When you were a student, you were associated with an Islamist political organisation—the Jamaat-e-Islami’s youth wing. In recent years, you have publicly criticised Islamic extremism and Pakistan’s deep state and military.
Husain Haqqani: I was never associated with Jamaat-e-Islami but with a student movement at Karachi University called Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba. [Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba is the student wing of the Pakistani political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.] That was an era of student politics some forty years ago. What is relevant is what one’s opinions are today.

HZ: You have claimed that Islamic extremism is not an aberration, but institutionalised in Pakistan. Then why did Islamic parties, such as the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, which is reportedly linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jamaat-e-Islami, barely win any seats in the 2018 general elections?
HH: Parties like Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamat-ud-Dawa, which try to coerce changes in personal choices and lifestyle, lose out to nationalistic parties with strong political views. [Jamat-ud-Dawa is led by Hafiz Saeed, who is a co-founder of the LeT. It reportedly backs the Allah-o-Akbar Tareek.]

There are two categories of Islamist nationalists in Pakistan—those who have a strong view of Islamic culture and lifestyle, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamat-ud-Dawa and Jamiat-e-Islami; and those who embrace Islamic nationalism but do not embrace the Islamic lifestyle. To put it into simpler terms, there are those who offer namaz and force others to offer namaz too, and then there are those who don’t do their prayers but still think Muslims are one nation and therefore, they need to oppose others.

HZ: You have blamed Pakistan’s army and deep state for how they have handled terrorism. But Pakistan claims to be a victim rather than a proponent of terrorism. Moreover, there are reports that terrorism has reduced significantly in the country.
HH: First of all, the Pakistani state narrative is different from how the world views it. Pakistan has been successful in limiting terrorism within its soil. To that extent, credit must be given to the Pakistan army.

But Pakistan has not acted against any of the groups that operate outside its territory. The Afghan Taliban continues to operate from Pakistan and attack Afghanistan. The Lashkar-e-Taiba continues to exist, and so does the Jaish-e-Mohammad. So, the question is, has Pakistan acted against all terrorists? Has it acted [against those] who are internationally designated as terrorists?

For example, take Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the Mumbai attacks [in November 2008]. The attack cannot be called an insurgency. It cannot be called a war. It is a pure act of terrorism in which you kill random civilians who have nothing to do with the conflict. A group like that is one of the most important factors in giving Pakistan a bad name in [dealing with] terrorism.

HZ: Pakistan has always treated the Afghan Taliban as a “good Taliban.” The US is now negotiating with the Taliban and has proposed withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Does that mean Pakistan’s narrative has been accepted?
HH: The US is encouraging negotiations as a part of an overall settlement of the Afghanistan question. Eventually, [the communication] would have to be between Taliban and Afghan government.

As far as talking to the Taliban is concerned, no one says someone shouldn’t talk to any group. But the Taliban are different from Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar-e-Taiba is not an insurgent group, it is a terrorist group because it doesn’t try to acquire any territory, and only attacks civilians and non-military targets outside Pakistan. The Taliban is both an insurgent group as well as a terrorist group.

Talks are being held with the Taliban as an insurgent group. The distinction has always been there. That is why there has always been reluctance on the part of United States and other international actors to designate all [factions of] Taliban as terrorists.

HZ: Do you extend this distinction to Kashmiri insurgent organisations, such as the Hizbul Mujahideen as well?
HH: I don’t want to get into specifics but Hizbul Mujahideen has not yet been seen at the same level. Yet, individuals from Hizbul Mujahideen have also been involved in actions which the international community deems as terrorism.

HZ: What solution do you see for the Kashmir conundrum?
HH: The Kashmir conundrum is going to be solved by Indian government talking to various political factions in Kashmir.

HZ: And not to Pakistan?
HH: The part that is controlled by Pakistan is not the subject of any conundrum right now.

HZ: But India has maintained that areas under Pakistani control are also integral parts of its territory, and essentially a part of the problem.
HH: This kind of semantics is not going to solve any problem. Many years ago, India offered Pakistan that line of control, and it should be recognised as a de facto border. [In 1972, both the countries signed the Simla Agreement, which recognised a set of guiding principles for diplomatic relations, including a mutual commitment to uphold the inviolability of the Line of Control.] The negotiations that took place between [the former prime ministers] Manmohan Singh and [Pervez] Musharraf also reached the same idea. I think that some adjustments along the Line of Control will only be a result of negotiations between India and Pakistan.

HZ: You seem to suggest that negotiations need to be conducted without taking into account the views of the people of Kashmir.
HH: The Kashmiris need to understand geographic and historic realities. The opportunities to solve the Kashmir dispute along the lines of UN resolutions were in the 1950s and ‘60s. They went away after the 1965 [Indo-Pakistan] war.

HZ: A few years ago, China and Pakistan announced the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—a series of infrastructure projects between the two countries worth billions of dollars. The enthusiasm around it has already started to fade as a key power-project has already been shelved. What is your take on the project?
HH: Pakistan will end up in a debt trap because of CPEC. It needs to trade with many countries to not always be in debt.

The best course for any country is not to be solely dependent on another country. Pakistan has spent 60 years being dependent on America. Now, it is becoming dependent on China. That is not a good deal. Pakistan needs to have economic independence.

HZ: You often quote the political scientist Benedict Anderson, who propounded that nations or communities are largely imagined, and that they are tied more closely by language, culture and politics, than by personal bonds between the residents of the country. What do you think of the conception of Pakistan as a nation-state?
HH: I would say there are many legitimate criticisms of how Pakistan was imagined, and how it was not sufficiently imagined. Time difference between the Pakistan resolution and declaration of Pakistan is seven years. [On 23 March 1940, the All India Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution, which called for the reconstitution of Muslim-majority areas into “independent states” that should be “autonomous and sovereign.”] Seven years for an entire subcontinent to be divided and for millions of Muslims to figure out what they do! Secondly, Pakistan was meant to be the homeland of all Muslims of South Asia. It did not become that. Now, the Muslims of South Asia are divided into three countries—Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

All I am saying is that a re-imagination is needed in which Pakistan can conceive itself as a federation of the areas that now constitute Pakistan. That will be a more realistic reimagining.

HZ: What will happen if you go to Pakistan now?
HH: I have no intentions to go to Pakistan right now. What I am doing sitting outside, which is to raise questions that are not allowed to be raised in Pakistan, is a very important task. I think that the Pakistani extremists and the Pakistani deep state have a very narrow vision for Pakistan. They are unable to understand people like me and, therefore, I would be under threat if I go home. So it makes more sense to survive and to question the state narrative in Pakistan rather than going [back to] become a victim of that state narrative.

This interview has been edited and condensed.