Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a Washington DC based thinktank, has been a critic of Pakistan’s establishment. In a conversation with Aarti Tikoo Singh he talks about Af-Pak region and the current Pakistani government:
The Af-Pak region is at a critical juncture with Pakistan leading peace talks with Taliban in Afghanistan. Can it clinch a peace deal for the region?
Like three of his predecessors, US President Donald Trump is seeking Pakistan’s assistance in bringing Afghanistan’s Taliban to the negotiating table even though the US has reservations about Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. But the history of American negotiations with Taliban, going back to the mid-1990s, shows the chasm between America’s and Taliban’s world views and Pakistan’s regional ambitions.
Pakistan wants to use the US focus on withdrawal from Afghanistan to engage with Washington and to possibly reopen the doors for US economic and military assistance. But if Pakistan gets its bailout first, its interest in helping the Americans diminishes.
Taliban know they cannot get control over Afghanistan until the Americans get out. I doubt they would be satisfied with a minor role in the Afghan government. Their refusal to respect the current Afghan government would be a deal breaker.
If there is to be a settlement this time, it would have to involve verifiable guarantees that Afghan and Pakistani soil will not be used to harbour or train terrorists responsible for attacks around the world. No one knows how those guarantees can be ensured.
How is the Imran Khan government different from its predecessors?
The Imran Khan government is more beholden to Pakistan’s military than any other civilian government in recent years. Khan is the product of the military’s aversion to a genuinely popular civilian politician in power, backed by an electoral mandate, who might alter the country’s overall direction.
What of the army’s control over decision making?
The Pakistan military has stopped even pretending that elected civilians run the country’s affairs. ‘The military and the civilian government are on one page’ is the new mantra in Pakistan. All it means is that the civilian veneer has become thinner than before.
Military men seem to be directing all aspects of policy directly – on India, Afghanistan, jihadi terrorism and relations with China, Saudi Arabia and the US.
Is PM Khan sincere about peace with India?
I cannot speak about sincerity or otherwise of anyone. What I can say is that Imran Khan’s publicly stated views are closest to the views of Pakistan’s anti-West, anti-India, Islamic nationalists than any other civilian prime minister in recent times.
Pakistan’s establishment defines the ability to keep India engaged diplomatically as an accomplishment in itself. I see Imran Khan’s pronouncements as a continuation in that direction. Genuine peace would require shutting down of internationally designated jihadi terrorist groups. We are not seeing that happen.
India remains front and centre in Pakistan’s foreign policy and for the army, ISI and the Khan government. China, Saudi Arabia and UAE are viewed as allies who will help ensure that Pakistan does not collapse and has some economic assistance.
Given that the fundamentals of policy have not changed, it is unlikely that instruments of policy would change any time soon.
PM Khan identified as Pakistan’s closest allies China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. What does it indicate?
As always, Pakistan seeks from its allies what it is unable to do itself, namely build an economy. The men who rule Pakistan refuse to understand that economic performance is often linked to political stability and predictability as well as other things – like higher literacy, quality of education, human capital, openness to new ideas, social trust, ease of travel. Foreign relations are deemed a substitute for sound domestic policies.
Imran Khan is also looking to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China for loans and temporary deposits in the State Bank of Pakistan to stave off a budgetary and foreign exchange crisis. Beyond that there is no great thinking involved.
He’s cancelled a power project of CPEC, citing its financial non-viability. What does it indicate?
For decades, Pakistanis have believed that China was Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’. The relationship has been based, since the 1960s, on a shared interest of keeping India in check. More recently, China has been gradually replacing the United States as Pakistan’s principal source of hard currency loans and investment. CPEC has been billed as a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan’s economy without regard to its costs and the potential debt trap for Pakistan.
Renegotiations and cancellations of existing CPEC agreements will annoy the Chinese but seem necessary. But beyond tinkering with CPEC, Pakistan’s leaders need to examine and remedy their perennial governance problems. If they do not, China will discover what the Americans did after many years of assisting Pakistan. No amount of aid or development investment can get Pakistan’s economy off the ground unless the economic fundamentals in Pakistan are addressed.
This article was originally posted by Times of India. It was posted here with the author's permission.