In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7 with The Indian Express Editor in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to US, talks of how Pakistan needs to get over its feeling of ‘eternal animosity’ towards India, put terrorists on trial, and build its economy.
It is my second conversation in just over a year with a wonderful friend of mine, Husain Haqqani. Remember the last time I told you that all my Pakistani journalist friends have become mushir or wazir or safir, that is advisor or minister or ambassador. You have become all three. Now, you have become a fourth, you have become a scholar and an academic.
I guess one should keep reinventing oneself.
You head the very prestigious Hudson Institute. So, what do you do, look after India, Pakistan, AfPak, America?
Basically, we have a programme on South and Central Asia, which I am directing. The idea is to study how South Asia fits into the new globalised economy and how this region can contribute to global growth, rather than being an outlier.
It has been a long journey for you from the backstreets of Karachi.
Absolutely. Very, very long journey. But I think I have not arrived yet.
Tell us about yourself. Growing up in the backstreets of Karachi, being under Jamaat influence.
I was born in a Mohajir family. My family migrated from Delhi to Pakistan in 1947 and struggled to establish themselves in a new country. We were several children. I was number five of six. I studied hard, and was influenced by Jamaat-e-Islami as a young child, because that is what our neighbourhood knew. And then, I grew into student politics. After that, I entered journalism. I worked with Nawaz Sharif before he became the Prime Minister and a little bit after that. I served as ambassador in Sri Lanka and then I realised that my better fit was with Benazir Bhutto with whom I worked till her dying day.
You served as ambassador to America at a very vital time.
Yes, at a time of not only complex relationships between Pakistan and United States, but also because many interesting events happened then. Mumbai (26/11) happened while I was ambassador in Washington, which had implications for US, Pakistan and India relations. And Osama bin Laden was found when I was ambassador. So yes, I dealt with the trickiest and toughest questions on US-Pakistan relations.
And nearly, and effectively, got exiled on charges of treason, which were never quite specifically levelled.
They have never been formally levelled, but it is a peculiarly Pakistani thing — you create an air about someone without really charging them. So, now I am in academics, and published a new book called Magnificent Delusions.
A Pakistani patriot, who believes in better relations with India.
Absolutely. I really think the crux of most problems in Pakistan is the feeling of eternal animosity towards India. We wouldn’t maintain such a large army if we didn’t think that we were constantly under threat. We wouldn’t be such a paranoid and xenophobic nation if it wasn’t about our so-called rivalry with India. And we wouldn’t be so dependent on America if we weren’t always looking for arms from America to compete and fight with India.
I just noticed that your prime minister again said that he needs American help in solving the Kashmir issue, problem, whatever you call it, masla.
Ironically, in my book, I point out that that request was first made by Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1949 and it was repeated regularly by several Pakistani leaders. That brought us nowhere. Americans could not solve the Kashmir problem, they could never bring India around to accepting what Pakistan wanted, and at the same time, all it did was make Pakistan more dependent on and resentful of the United States. Now, more Pakistanis think that the US is Pakistan’s principal enemy than those who think India is.
There is also a jilted or an abandoned lover’s resentment.
But that is not felt on the American side, because Americans never thought of Pakistan the same way.
They are a super-power. I don’t think they have an emotional attachment to anything.
Exactly. It would have been better for Pakistan if it had taken the route South Korea did. It used American assistance. By the way, South Korea got less money from America than Pakistan did. Pakistan has received $40 billion in 60 years, while South Korea got only $15 billion, but they used that to build an economic framework. Education comprises 10 per cent of their GDP. Now, you are probably using a Samsung phone, and somebody in Delhi is driving a Hyundai car. They have become a major manufacturing nation. We are still dependent on a $1.5 billion handout from the Saudis, or $500 million from the IMF to keep our accounts going.
If I can take it forward, South Korea did not worry so much about liberating the northern side with American help. They focused on themselves.
South Korea’s basic focus was, ‘How do we become a modern nation?’.
If you open the borders, you know who will go which side.
Absolutely. If North and South Korea open their border, people from the North will go to the South. Hardly anybody from the South wants to go to the North.
We, India and Pakistan, are the most uncivilised people in the world. We have created distances among our people that are greater than North and South Korea, East and West Germany. Even the Israelis and the Jordanians have found a way around to get people to visit Jerusalem.
We sometimes settle for too little also. We allow the process to become more important than the substance. I was at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January, and one of your former foreign secretaries was saying that India-Pakistan relations are getting better because 10,000 Pakistanis got visas this year to come to India. And I turned to him and asked, ‘Do you realise there are six million people in Pakistan with family relationships in India?’. If out of those six million, only 10,000 can visit, then this is not necessarily a very good state of affairs.
Most countries that have done well economically are the ones whose biggest trade is with their next-door neighbours. United States’s biggest trade partners are Canada and Mexico. Similarly, most of the trade among ASEAN countries is amongst themselves. What is the situation between India and Pakistan? We don’t trade as much and don’t have the kind of rail links that would allow people to go through. Pakistan needs to stop thinking of itself as a nation sitting at the crossroads of conflict, and start thinking of itself as one at the crossroads of opportunities. Look, pipelines from Iran, Qatar, Central Asia running through Pakistan into India — roads, highways, trains, Central Asian trade, Middle-Eastern trade. We could be so much more important. You, in India, would benefit as well because of the rise of Pakistan, and having a prosperous neighbour will make you feel more confident.
Even if India is able to build a world-class economy, when your neighbours have serious problems — Pakistan is mired in Islamist extremism, Bangladesh is mired in something similar and Sri Lanka is simmering, Nepal is falling apart — then you will obviously feel its pressure.
In Pakistan, is Bangladesh today an influence? The T20 World Cup is being played in Bangladesh. For about six or seven years, not one international match has been played in Pakistan.
I think it is not that Bangladesh is an influence, I think isolation is an influence. There are Pakistanis who feel that at a time when the rest of the world is moving closer to one another, we are having difficulty. I often tell young Pakistanis that when I was 18 years old, I got an opportunity to travel abroad. And I actually arrived at London airport without a visa and I was given a visa upon arrival. Now young Pakistanis can’t go anywhere in the world.
And even with a visa and Pakistani passport, you’ll be put through an endoscope.
Absolutely. And that is happening only because Pakistan’s image now is being identified globally with things like terrorism. Everybody knows that Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani, but she lives in England. Whereas Hafiz Saeed, who is also a Pakistani, lives in Lahore. So, people say, ‘Gosh! Anybody coming from Pakistan is more likely to be under the influence of Hafiz Saeed than Malala’.
You can go back to your diplomatic reserve and deny it, but Dawood Ibrahim is an Indian, where does he live?
Well, I personally feel whether it is Dawood Ibrahim or Osama bin Laden, when the entire world is asking a question, we Pakistanis cannot pretend that we will not answer the question. We must answer the question. And when we answer the question, we will be able to face our own demons.
Modern nations do not have skeletons in their closet, specially skeletons that rattle so much. It will be in Pakistan’s interest not to be identified with terrorists. If the international community calls them terrorists, then the least we owe the world is to arrest them and put them on trial. And we need to do something about our judiciary, which takes, for example, an alleged case of corruption much more seriously than a case of nuclear proliferation, as was the case with A Q Khan, or of terrorism as is the case with people like Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. And frankly, the IMF has said Pakistan will now gain some economic growth. It will go up to 3.1 per cent.
That is the Hindu rate of growth.
Actually, it is below the Hindu rate. The Islamist extremists must realise that transcending the so-called Hindu rate of growth is ideologically important to them.
Pakistan used to have a very high rate of growth, much higher than India.
Yes, but look, the IMF says it is because of militancy. Hey come on, that is not something you need a PhD in economics to explain. Nobody will bring capital to a country which has bombs going off. Raza Rumi, the journalist, was shot just last week in Pakistan, Salman Taseer was killed by his own security guard, Benazir Bhutto, an icon of democracy…
Malala Yousafzai was shot for wanting to go to school.
Exactly. So how much of that do we have to overcome in terms of convincing people around the world that we are a normal country. We can be a normal country only if we stop associating with and accepting these extremists in our midst.
You can’t be a normal country in the world of cricket by producing these guys who swing anything on both sides at their whim. No other country produces such talent.
Well, producing talented cricketers is a good thing, we should be proud of that, but I think, sometimes, there has to be a decision by us as a nation to keep the cricketers in cricket and not let them come into politics.
That was a loaded statement. I was about to say that we’d rather remember Saeed Ajmal than Ajmal Kasab. I liked Saeed Ajmal’s attitude when he was asked before a match about what he thought of India’s Virat Kohli, who is such a good batsman. He said I know him, I respect him, he is the best batsman in the world in limited overs cricket, and I am the best bowler in the world in limited overs cricket.
That is the confidence. Look, Pakistan needs to have that confidence in every field. We need that confidence in education, we are lagging behind. We don’t produce half as many PhDs.
And the best educated Pakistanis can’t come back to Pakistan.
The best educated Pakistanis are abroad, and within Pakistan, we have a serious problem. The vice-chancellor of Pakistan’s Punjab University is a physics PhD by the name of Dr Mujahid Kamran, who has published a book about 9/11 and events after that, blaming America for everything, saying that it was a conspiracy to try and attack a Muslim land, but more importantly, he has in it a suggestion that the Zionist Cabal, or the cabal of bankers that controls the world, puts microchips in the heads of people to control them. Of course, since he probably believes that I am one of those who probably has a microchip in his head, I would want him to put me through some machine to find that microchip.
Militancy and military in Pakistan — which one is the symptom and which one is the root cause?
I would say militancy is the manifestation of a militaristic attitude. The entire psyche of the nation has been built around being a martial people. The people you need to be proud of are the martial races. Even when the new army chief was appointed, his bio said he is from martial stock.
Pakistan needs a strong, disciplined military. However, the job of a soldier is to locate, fight and liquidate the enemy. It is not his job to define the enemy, to figure out the big strategic questions. That has to be done by society, by politicians, by scholars. There has to be a national debate. And in Pakistan, we need a national debate on what is Pakistan’s national interest.
That takes you right back to the old debate, which Benazir Bhutto once opened, asking how could armies protect ideological frontiers of the nations. And, she said, if they could, Soviet Union would not have broken up.
She was absolutely right.
She was punished. She lost her job for saying this.
She said it when she was the prime minister from 1993-96. She expressed the whole idea, and then in her last book, Reconciliation, she talked about it. The idea of ideological frontiers is essentially linked to the ideology of Pakistan. But ideological nations cannot be democratic nations. Secondly, when the ideology is connected to a religion, then the whole question arises, what is the definition of that ideology. And that creates the sectarianism that we are facing in Pakistan. Are Shias Muslims? Are Ahmadis Muslim? Who is the right Muslim, who is the wrong Muslim?
A functional nation does not embrace an ideology too tightly. A functional nation focuses on problems and issues. Pakistan needs policy debates, not ideological debates. And by the way, since I am here in election season, let me say India too does not need communal and ideological debates, it needs policy debates.
What is your advice for Mr Modi?
Well, if Mr Modi were to come to power, I think he needs to overcome the very impression relating to the Gujarat riots. Yes, it is a matter of the past, but sometimes the past lingers.
And, how does he bring it to closure?
I think recognising that something went wrong, acknowledging it publicly and then being more reassuring about the future would be a good idea. On the international front, I would say it would be much easier for Mr Modi to go beyond the shadows of the past to be able to build a future.
You move to aspiration.
Move to aspiration and then move from aspiration to reality. As far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned, I am not one of those who think they will be adversely affected by the election of any individual.
Nor do I. Although I do think Modi will benefit from having a conversation with you.
Well, I am happy to talk to anybody in India or Pakistan for a frank exchange of ideas and opinion. I have always seen the importance of the relation between our two countries. We may be two separate countries, but we have so much of shared history and shared interest.
Sometimes, the wretched history is the problem.
History is a problem if you obsess over it. History is an advantage if it brings you together. We need to do away with the scars, but at the same time be joyous about the shared things. For example, whenever Indians and Pakistanis meet in third countries, they always go to the same restaurant. If the restaurant is owned by a Pakistani, it says Indian/Pakistani food.
And, if the menu say motor paneer, it means it is run by a Bangladeshi.
Most likely. By the way, every Bangladeshi until 1971 was a Pakistani and every Pakistani until 1947 was an Indian.
So on that note, I hope you come to India often enough and create more scholars on both sides and get them together.
Will do. Thank you.
Transcribed by Reeja Jacob
- ‘Our essential qualifications have changed… but a reporter’s life is more fun than before’
Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes a farewell note to ‘The Indian Express’ newsroom..
- National Interest: 8,618
That’s the number of characters this farewell column has. Why I have inflicted this on you, dear reader. ..
- Walk the talk with Piyush Mishra: I don’t call myself talented
Shekhar Gupta talks to actor-writer-singer-composer Piyush Mishra about missed opportunities, Bhagat Singh, his journey to Mumbai and his songs. ..