Monthly Archives: November 2013

Pakistan’s increasing isolation

Imran Khan leads protest

The Lahore High Court this week tightened restrictions on screening foreign films – a move clearly targeted at India’s prolific Bollywood industry. This follows a campaign by some in Pakistan’s TV industry last year to secure a ban on foreign content. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officially banned a 12-year-old academic book by Suranjan Das, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University in India. No rationale for the ban was given, and the Government of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, recently banned the teaching of comparative religion. YouTube remains inaccessible in Pakistan, and earlier this week access to IMDb was temporarily blocked, with a Pakistan Telecommunications Authority describing the site as, “anti-state, anti-religion, and anti-social.”

But cutting itself off from foreign media is not the only isolationism that is gaining popularity in Pakistan. In the wake of a drone strike that killed senior members of the Haqqani Network, a group designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, Pakistan’s Interior Minister publicly questioned how Pakistan could continue to regard the US as a friendly nation. Populist politician Imran Khan took the rhetoric a step further, declaring the strike to be “a declaration of war” between Pakistan and the United States and announced that he would organize a permanent blockade of NATO supply routes beginning today. Protests led by Imran Khan have begun, but it’s unclear whether they will actually be able to sustain an effective blockade of NATO supplies. What is clear is that, while Taliban militants continue to attack Pakistan, Imran Khan and other populist leaders are focused on casting the US as the real enemy, fostering sympathy for terrorists.

While Pakistan may be looking to replace American patronage by more closely aligning with China, it is unlikely that this would relieve Pakistan from pressure to tackle extremism. US and Chinese interests increasingly align in Pakistan, and earlier this year Pakistan was forced to take action against three militant groups due to pressure from China. The legality and efficacy of the US drone program can be debated, but it does not alleviate Pakistan of the responsibility to ensure that it is not becoming a safe haven for terrorists, as desired by al Qaeda.

Pakistan is facing a number of difficult challenges. Closing itself off from the rest of the world is not the solution.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani speaks on the ‘magnificent delusions’ that plague US-Pakistan relations

Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, has spent many years researching and writing about his country’s complex political history. His new book Magnificent Delusions explores how, despite over 60 years of being “most allied allies,” the US and Pakistan have never really understood each other. Ambassador Haqqani’s first-hand experience in US-Pakistan relations notwithstanding, Magnificent Delusions is not a memoir, but a case study. Neither is the book a polemic against the US or Pakistan. From Secretary of State Dulles overlooking the eerily prescient observations of Ambassador Langley in the late 1950s to Pakistan’s misunderstanding of the limits of US obligations in bilateral security agreements, Haqqani details a history in which both countries have developed foreign policy around a set of wishful assumptions rather than contextual analysis.

The US has failed to fully understand the India-centric narrative that has defined Pakistan’s national identity and served as a myopic focal point of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies as well as the role of anti-Americanism and fundamentalist religious groups in serving as leverage in bilateral negotiations. Ambassador Haqqani offers an equally incisive analysis of the failure of Pakistan’s political and military elite to understand their position relative to US regional and global interests, taking an outsized view of both their strategic importance and the limits of US .

Magnificent Delusions serves as a important point of reorientation for US-Pakistan relations, and is recommended to anyone who wants a keen understanding of not only how US-Pakistan relations got where they are, but how to forge a more productive relationship for the future.