Now, Pakistan insists it was always besties with China and not America

China and Pakistan meeting
Chinese And Pakistan Leaders in Beijing in 2014. Photo used for representational purposes | Photo by Adrian Bradshaw-Pool/Getty Images

The storytellers of Islamabad hope that Americans, fearful of China, will return hat in hand and accept whatever Pakistan offers.

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” is often used to humourously justify an explanation that one knows not to be true.

But it is one thing for a portly individual to declare “I’m not overweight, just naturally large”. It is quite another for a nation to insist on telling a story and sticking to it even when the rest of the world stops finding any humour in it.

Pakistan’s version of its external relations over the last several decades falls under the category of falsified narratives that would actually be funny if their consequences weren’t so sad.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar described China as Pakistan’s “only real strategic partner” over the last four decades. China is the only country with whom Pakistan had “a complete alignment of interests,” she said, with a completely straight face, as if Pakistan had never sought (and received) Major Non-NATO Ally Status from the United States or declared it a strategic partner repeatedly.

The new story, aimed at Americans who fret about losing Pakistan as an ally, completely ignores the economic and security assistance of over $45 billion received from the United States since the 1950s; at least $33 billion since 9/11.

But it is just a rewrite of the old story, which told of Pakistan’s exertions on behalf of America during the Cold War, its sufferings resulting from the services it rendered to Uncle Sam, and the insufficient reward the US has given Pakistan for being – in President Eisenhower’s words – “America’s most allied ally in Asia”.

As a SEATO and CENTO ally in the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistan helped the US spy on China and the Soviet Union. During the 1980s, Pakistan was a frontline ally in Afghanistan. Pakistan sought (and got) massive American assistance in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, primarily because this helped it achieve its own goals in Afghanistan and furthered the cause of jihadis it had already started supporting.

After a hiatus in the 1990s resulting from the American disapproval of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, intelligence cooperation formed the basis of Pakistan’s frontline ally status in the Global War on Terrorism after 9/11.

Through all these twists and turns, Pakistan’s leaders proclaimed shared interests with the United States, which showered aid in return. At no stage was it part of Pakistan’s mantra that its interests aligned only with China’s. Pakistan maintained close ties with Beijing but its relationship with the United States was more important.

It is perfectly fine for Pakistanis to assert now that their national interests, as defined by their military-intelligence establishment and endorsed by the civilian elite, converge more with the Chinese than the Americans. But what is the point of insisting on rewriting history?

Pakistani leaders only lose credibility when they resort to intellectual gymnastics to justify convoluted policies. For example, after years of claiming that Pakistan and the United States were partners in efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, Khar seems to have now discovered that the “presence of the United States of America in Afghanistan is not for peace and stability” and instead is causing “chaos”.

During the 1990s, when the US partly turned away from Pakistan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s storyline was that ‘the US withdrawal so soon after the Soviet withdrawal was the cause for chaos in Afghanistan’. The Afghan civil war, the rise of the Taliban, and even 9/11 were ascribed in that version of events to America turning away from Pakistan’s north-western neighbour.

It seems that in the Pakistani storytellers’ accounts, other nations are right only when they share the extremist Pakistani view of India being the source of all of South Asia’s problems, and are prepared to confer primacy on Pakistan within its region.

Americans, generally not known for their interest in history, have successively bought the simplified views offered to them of why things in Afghanistan or Pakistan have gone wrong and how the current batch of Pakistani leaders was committed to helping them solve America’s problem in the region.

The harder line taken by Khar about America as the source of chaos in Afghanistan, and of China being Pakistan’s only ally, is directed at the naïve souls who assume that ‘tomorrow is another day’ and that one should focus on building a future without dwelling on the past.

It is a response to President Trump’s tough stance on demanding that Pakistan keep its word to the United States over Afghanistan. Even an astute interviewer such as Christiane Amanpour failed to push back Khar by asking how, if US policies have created chaos, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban since 1994 has contributed to peace-building in Afghanistan?

It would be honest if Khar and others acknowledge the fact that Pakistan’s agenda in Afghanistan has always been very different from America’s. Instead, they still build the argument negatively, by blaming the US and continuing to cite imaginary threats from India.

Pakistan’s desire to install a “pro-Pakistan” regime in Kabul has led to its support of Islamist radicals, including the Taliban, since the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet forces. Its motive for supporting the anti-Soviet Jihad between 1979 and 1988 was also not limited to defeating the Soviets but was motivated by its desire to influence or control Afghanistan through Jihadis.

In his book ‘The Wars of Afghanistan’, US diplomat Peter Tomsen – who served for years as point man on Afghanistan right after the Soviet withdrawal – noted that Americans mistakenly ignored the vision of Pakistan’s generals, formulated by the late General Zia-ul-Haq: “Strategic depth against India, Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan, and promotion of Islamic holy war in Kashmir and elsewhere.”

Investigative journalist Steve Coll’s new book ‘Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016’ reaches a similar conclusion. According to Coll, “the failure to solve the riddle of the ISI and to stop its covert interference in Afghanistan became, ultimately, the greatest strategic failure of the American war.”

The Taliban, and its associated group the Haqqani network, are currently Pakistan’s principal instruments of influence over Afghanistan. They have demonstrated their capability in insurgency and conducting suicide bombings. They continue to threaten the security of Afghanistan, and from Pakistan’s perspective, that is useful in ensuring Kabul’s compliance with Pakistan’s demand to significantly downgrade its relationship with India.

Pakistan remains a safe haven for the Taliban, even if the ISI no longer fully controls the operations of all Taliban factions. Meanwhile, Afghan leaders remain at a loss to understand what they need to do to please Pakistan and ensure that Pakistan no longer supports the jihadis.

The late Afghan leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, once said, “The best way for Pakistan would have been to restore peace in Afghanistan. And it would have been in the interest of all, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. But Pakistanis have greater plans, motives and expectations. Pakistan wants to become the axis of all Islamic countries in the region. But that is something which is beyond the capacity of Pakistan.”

Unfortunately, the storytellers of Islamabad do not want to recognise that. They are still hoping that Americans, tired of trying to solve the Pakistan riddle and fearful of China’s advantage within Pakistan, will return hat in hand to Islamabad and accept whatever Pakistan offers.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His forthcoming book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan’.

8 COMMENTS

  1. For someone who has somersaulted from being a young new militant leader to a political hack and finally a bottom-feeder in the beltway, it is rich to talk about stories. Can you answer any of the following:
    1. If Pakistan is the grand master of the Afghan Taliban, then who is training ETIM in Badakshan bases in Afghanistan? Could it be that Taliban actually are not beholden to Pakistan or China? Why is US bombing Afghanistan using Boeing B52 and F22 stealth fighters.
    2. Why did taliban allow Indian wheat to pass through their checkpoints in Iran-Afghan border region proving that pakistan is not the only access to Afghanistan? Did they not listen to Pakistan- their master? Maybe your theory is off.
    3.Why is Pakistan building a wall to separate itself from Afghan mess- what about their strategic depth?
    I bet your ilk has no answers…..

    • Let me try to answer your questions:
      1) ETIM exist in Pakistan too. Mujahideens from Central Asia and from Xinxiang region always had presence in the FATA region and other AFPAK region. A few years ago China sent a stern message to Pakistan that it must control these extremist who might attach Chinese territories. These are documented statements. The Pakistani establishment simply moved these ETIM extremists to the Taliban controlled regions of Afghanistan.
      2) Maybe Pakistani establishment knows that attacking food trucks or rail cars carrying food for Afghan might fuel even more anti Pak sentiments in Afghanistan. Those who had pro Pak views might turn Anti Pak. Not to mention India would gain more sympathy from common Afghan folks. The world will also come to view Indias view of Pakistan as a terrorist state as valid and help India get a more positive International Profile. I mean who sponsors attacks on food convoys meant for poor souls ,ISIS does, maybe Pakistan might do too.
      3) It is only natural that you fence your borders. Whats the point in cribbing on doing things that you are supposed to do. Fence your borders and dont make a fuss about it. Iran have fenced their borders with Pakistan and so have India. China also maintain a strict vigil on Pakistani goods and men crossing into their territories by road.

    • You think Hussain Haqqani was a “young new militant leader” — entirely incorrect, given that the erstwhile Ambassador to US (dismissed for failure to get more alms in 2009 from 0bama) is actually a muttahida born-and-lowered in Karachi.

      From there on, you went down a slippery slope, your questions are epic-fail!

      Go back and post on Pornistani sites, moron!!!!

  2. I respect the Ambassador’s views but then that are the views of a man who is not only an intellectual fraud, an epitome of plagiarism of stolen thoughts which at most of the time are quoted out of context, he was appointed and representated the most corrupt Government Pakistan ever seen.

    So it is suggested that the intellectual and moral credibility is not only questionable it is down right evident as the sun. The cherry on top of the cake is that Ambassador Haqqani knows this and yet he doesn’t have the moral courage to accept it.

    It’s not surprising to see the Gentleman selling his credibility to the lowest bidder to scratch his viability to scurry for scraps to exist and be somewhat relevent.

    But then these are my own views…

  3. The former Pakistani Ambassador is spot on in his analysis.

    Pakistan from its inception has been constructed on a gargantuan lie propagated by a thoroughly delusional people who can very easily coerced to commit mass murder. These people live in complete denial of history and geography and are hell bent on erasing their roots.

    Pakistanis like to indulge in selective amnesia all the time when it comes to their origins or alliances.

    We had a very amusing and embarrassing incident in the University here in the US, when a Pakistani student tried to convince an American professor in a South Asian Studies class that Hindus had never ever lived in Pakistan and at no point in the history of the region did it have a Hindu ruler.

    The American professor was not at all amused to asked the student drop the class or he would receive a fail grade.
    “I expect to have people in my class, who want to learn and not distort history by propagating their fanatical and falsified views” was his comment. The student was thrown out of the class and later jeered by Indians and Americans.
    He almost got beaten up.

    Pakistanis who have convinced themselves of their Islamic Supremacist role in the subcontinent are the most insanely fanatical and murderous people you can ever meet. They want to murder both history and also those who do not implicitly follow their distorted version of history.

    • Given that the abomination was FOUNDED on the worst-of-worst taqia, the “islam is in danger” canard — and never moved beyond it and blaming India for its own being FUBAR from getgo — no surprise.

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