Accessibility links

Breaking News

Interview: Ex-Ambassador Husain Haqqani On The Future Of U.S.-Pakistani Relations

Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani
Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani
After working for years as a journalist and adviser to four Pakistani prime ministers, Husain Haqqani became Islamabad's ambassador to Washington in 2008. He served three and a half often tumultuous years until his resignation in late 2011. Now the director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, he says Islamabad and Washington should start working toward a "post-alliance future."

Speaking to RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash, the former ambassador also discussed the role of the military in Pakistani politics, the state of the media in his country, and the status of the investigation into the scandal that forced him to step down.

RFE/RL: In a speech at the Center for the National Interest in Washington this August, you said that Pakistan and the United States should deal with their dysfunctional relations by getting a "divorce." This week, ex-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter called for "marriage, not a one-night stand" between the countries. Can you elaborate on what you think a new bilateral relationship should look like and can you explain this apparent difference in views?

Husain Haqqani: First of all, I think Ambassador Munter and I are not disagreeing, actually. Both of us are saying that the two nations need to have a longer-term relationship and that what Pakistan and the United States have had over the last many decades is essentially a transactional relationship, which is based on this notion of an alliance.

An alliance is usually against someone. It's based on some shared threat. My contention is that Pakistan's national security establishment views threats to Pakistan very differently from the way the United States sees them, so therefore, there can be no alliance.

When I used the term 'divorce' -- and it was just a passing reference -- I basically said [that] just as two partners, if they have been together for 65 years and still haven't been able to find common ground, then it's better for them to change the basis of their relationship.

Pakistan and the United States need to stop thinking of each other as allies and start looking at a post-alliance future in which they can have friendship, [a] relationship, trade relations, people-to-people relations -- but no military alliance.

RFE/RL: You've been a major critic of the Pakistani military's role in domestic politics and its influence on the country's security and foreign policies. Do you see these dynamics changing anytime soon?

Haqqani: Every nation needs the military and every nation respects the military for the sacrifices it usually makes in times of war. But the training of military officers is just not directed towards political thinking, and Pakistan has suffered a lot from the military's political role. The Pakistani military's political role is not only when it takes over the country, but also when it tries to define what is good for the country and what is not. That job should rest with parliament, with the Pakistani media, with open debate, [and] with civil society.

I think that the Pakistani military has definitely moved away from exercising direct political control, but it has not stopped influencing the course of politics. There is still a large of body of serving and retired Pakistani military officers, who think that they alone know what is good for Pakistan and [that] those who disagree with them are somehow not loyal to the state of Pakistan -- which is a very erroneous concept.

I think that Pakistan's civilians have to step up to the plate. As civilians clarify their own worldview [and] make it obvious as to where they disagree or differ from the traditional paradigm that has been defined by military officers in the past, Pakistan will be able to move away from military dominance. But for now, the military remains a critical actor -- if not in doing things, in having things done.

RFE/RL: How do you see the full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 affecting Pakistan?

Haqqani: The United States cannot afford to leave Afghanistan in a state of chaos. If it does, the fallout for Pakistan is going to be disastrous. It is in Pakistan's interest to have a stable Afghanistan. The disagreement [between the United States and Pakistan] that we see sometimes is on the definition of what constitutes a stable Afghanistan.

Personally, I don't think that the United States will undertake a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan has to revisit some of its traditional views of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has changed as a result of four decades of war. Even the ethnic makeup has changed. And so, to think that the future of Afghanistan will forever depend on Islamist Pashtun groups may not necessarily be a very realistic view.

In any case, Afghanistan's future should be determined by Afghans and Afghans alone. No country, including all of Afghanistan's neighbors, should try to determine the course of Afghanistan's future.

RFE/RL: Your former counterpart, Cameron Munter, also asserted in his presentation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that strong "latent pro-Americanism" exists in Pakistan, despite very public signs to the contrary. Do you think that is accurate?

Haqqani: I will not comment on Ambassador Munter's views because it is not appropriate. In any case, I think that to assume that somebody likes you even when he says that he doesn't is usually not the way that calculations should be made about how to deal with someone and how to assume their attitude towards you.

RFE/RL: Parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for 2013. What political forces do you see coming out on top?

Haqqani: I'm not in the business of predicting election results. I think that Pakistan's politics [are] very robust and sometimes quite volatile, so we certainly cannot say what will be the outcome. But I think that the coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party has done well in terms of establishing the principle that an elected government can, in fact, complete its term, despite all kinds of hurdles being put in its way by unelected branches of the government, as well as an extremely hostile media, and a very active opposition.

I hope that whatever the outcome of Pakistan's next elections, democracy continues to flourish and Pakistan's politics become more mature and reach a point where, instead of just fighting the battles of yesterday, Pakistan's politicians also start addressing the issues of today and tomorrow.

RFE/RL: You previously worked as a journalist in Pakistan. In recent years, the media landscape has changed noticeably, with the mushrooming growth of television channels. How free is the press there today?

Haqqani: Pakistan's media, of course, has come a long way. The Pakistani media has been able to get rid of direct government controls. What Pakistan now needs to move toward is better educated, better informed journalism.

When you have mushrooming growth, then you have many journalists, and especially television anchors, who are mere performers -- not necessarily well-informed people giving or sharing the research that they have done with their audience.

Secondly, while controls have ended, manipulation has not, and so Pakistan's media remains open to manipulation by elements within the state, by the permanent establishment, by non-state actors, by political parties, and by business influences. So Pakistani journalism can actually be, sometimes, chaotic and not necessarily professionally sound.

RFE/RL: The so-called "memogate" incident led to your resignation in November 2011. What happened to the investigation in Pakistan and how did you end up back in the United States?

Haqqani: The Supreme Court allowed me to travel back to the United States and I traveled back. I was asked by the memo commission to appear in person, but I said I would appear in the same manner in which my accuser had appeared, which was through video link. They did not allow that. That still gave a one-sided report.

The Supreme Court has not made any decision on that matter, I have not been charged with anything under law, and therefore, I continue to work as a Pakistani citizen in the United States, teaching, writing, [and] publishing.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.