Book review: Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

Book review: Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

In his new book, former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani urges India and Pakistan to engage with each other as countries rather than as communities still caught up in communal politics

“Log hamarey the, operation hamara nahin tha.” This is what Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence at the time of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, told his country’s then ambassador to the United States.

Husain Haqqani, the ambassador at whose home in Washington DC Pasha said this, recalls the one-liner in his new counter-intuitively named book, India vs. Pakistan, to be published next week by Juggernaut.

The aim of the book, which at a little over 160 pages is more a monograph, says Haqqani, is to “acknowledge what may be the contribution of Pakistan to the current stalemate but at the same time remind Indians that they are not without blame. The purpose of the book is to say that we have both not handled the last 69 years well”.

By not bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai 2008 attacks to justice even eight years later, Pakistan, Haqqani says, has created another issue in the fraught relationship, citing it as an example of the immaturity with which the countries have dealt with each other. “Both countries conduct foreign policy with other countries with tremendous maturity but never with one another. There is a childishness or emotionality in this relationship.” India, according to him, has committed its own share of mistakes. “If Pakistan’s curse in its relations with India is that it has sought parity with a much larger neighbour, India’s curse is that it has been obsessed over reciprocity,” he says.


Haqqani, whose earlier books include Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, a trenchant critique of the Pakistan army for using Islam to turn the country into a national security state, says the new trends in Indian nationalism are also worrying. “Pakistani nationalism is defined as anti- Indianism; in India a new nationalism is emerging to delegitimise India’s minorities and by extension, delegitimising a neighbouring country where a minority is in a majority,” he says.

Watch Video: Idea Exchange With Husain Haqqani


In the book, an engagingly written short history of mutual grievances starting with Partition, he writes about the “shrinking space” for India and Pakistan to become friends and his concern about how similar to Pakistan India is becoming. “In recent years, India and Pakistan are increasingly resembling each other in rage, resentment and public displays of religion… Passions, fuelled by firebrands, distorted accounts of history and violence that begets further violence, are shrinking whatever space has existed for friendship between India and Pakistan. Instead, they are spilling over in to the Hindu-Muslim relationship with India, with potential for ‘we told you so’ arguments in Pakistan by radical Islamists who have built an ideology of permanent hate towards India and Hindus on the edifice of the two-nation theory”.

He also describes the Musharraf era improvement in bilateral relations as “managed conflict” — it seemed like progress only because it came after the massive setback in relations due to the Kargil war.

There’s also the T-word and Pakistan’s confidence that it can get away with using terrorism against India. That tantalising one liner from Pasha in the book on the Mumbai attack, unfortunately, remains just that. But Haqqani goes back farther in time to show that even the threat of being declared a “terrorist state” by the US in 1992 was not enough to stir the powers in Pakistan at the time. He quotes from a “rather terse” letter that James Baker III, US Secretary of State, wrote to Nawaz Sharif who was then Pakistan’s prime minister. The US wanted Pakistan to take “steps to make certain that Kashmiri and Sikh groups and individuals who have committed acts of terrorism do not receive support from Pakistani officials.” It contained an explicit warning that US law requires “that an onerous package of sanctions apply to those states found to be supporting such acts of international terrorism.”

Sharif was removed from office soon after, and the US, giving his successor Benazir Bhutto a longer rope, did not push with the threat contained in the letter.

Despite the grim outlook, Haqqani says, his book is not all pessimism. So, where’s the ray of hope? In the “inherent logic of international relations,” he says.

“The way out,” he says, “is that instead of endlessly continuing the arguments over history, India and Pakistan need to start looking at each other as two nuclear armed nations. And start talking to each other as countries rather than as communities still engaged in the politics of communal identity”.

Book Name- India vs Pakistan: why can’t we just be friends?

Author – Husain Haqqani

Publisher – Juggernaut

Pages – 182

Price – ` 99