Recently, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, spoke to Naval Academy midshipmen.
As any good ambassador would do, Mr. Haqqani began by highlighting the long and close relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. He noted that Air Force pilot Gary Powers took off from a secret U.S. base in Pakistan on his ill-fated U-2 mission. However, he stressed that American policy-makers, who think and act globally, must understand that Pakistan has always, and will always, think and act regionally. Specifically, Pakistan’s main foreign policy concern is to protect against India. He emphasized the complexity of U.S.-Pakistan relations. I agree with his argument that you cannot possibly understand U.S.- Pakistan relations by listening to twenty second sound bites. As he mentioned, the relationship is never entirely good, nor is it ever entirely bad.
With regards to Afghanistan, the Ambassador believes that both countries share blame for playing the “religion card” during the Soviet invasion. Both sides also share blame for not supporting a stable Afghanistan in the 1990s. By not re-integrating the CIA- and ISI- backed religious fanatics, we planted the seed for the Taliban movement to take root. According to Mr. Haqqani, the U.S. should have invested half a billion dollars per year to stabilize Afghanistan after 1989. Doing so would have cost significantly less than the $444 billion we spend in the country per year (according the Congressional Research Service’s 2011 “Costs of GWOT” report).
Mr. Haqqani explained that the U.S. will not feel the direct impact of a hasty ISAF withdrawal in Afghanistan. Pakistan will feel that impact. Pakistan does not want an endless war or a precipitous pullout of U.S. forces. Both options jeopardize Pakistan’s security. The Ambassador believes that it is in the interest of both countries to defeat the Afghan insurgents.
I was most surprised when he said that the CIA and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan have a better working relationship now than at any time since 1989. Proving this point, the Taliban have bombed four ISI offices in recent years. The Taliban would not waste time bombing ISI offices unless the ISI posed a threat to the Taliban. Even so, I still think the U.S. should be wary of an organization that funded the Taliban before 9/11.
The Ambassador listed three goals for Pakistan to reach in the next decade: to keep moving towards democracy, to maintain stable relations with India and Afghanistan, and to continue economic growth by building oil pipelines to the Indian Ocean. Pakistan also strives for self-sufficiency; Pakistan does not want to survive on foreign aid. Considering Afghanistan and Pakistan have the largest number of uneducated children in the world, Pakistan will not achieve this self-sufficiency “one school at a time.”
Ambassador Haqqani inherently has a biased point of view. Even so, after listening to him talk, I felt reassured that the U.S. has a friend in Pakistan.