Ex-Ambassador Examines U.S., Pakistan Relations Steve Inskeep talks to former Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani about his new book: Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.

Ex-Ambassador Examines U.S., Pakistan Relations

Ex-Ambassador Examines U.S., Pakistan Relations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/243874696/243874681" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Steve Inskeep talks to former Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani about his new book: Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.


Before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the head of Pakistan's armed forces visited President Obama. In the room, as the two men talked, was Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. As then-Ambassador Hussain Haqqani remembers it, President Obama hinted at what was likely to happen.


For Haqqani, that conversation and all that followed was a classic moment in relations between the United States and Pakistan. Those relations have always been filled with miscommunication and misunderstanding.

MONTAGNE: Haqqani's new book, called "Magnificent Delusions," chronicles the six-decade history of a dysfunctional alliance, and seeks to explain why. He told our colleague Steve Inskeep about that meeting before the Navy SEAL raid in 2011 between the president and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

HUSSAIN HAQQANI: When President Obama met with our army chief, Gen. Kayani, in my presence at the White House, he said: We would like to do what we can in cooperation with Pakistan, but we will do what we have to without Pakistani cooperation, because our goal is American security. So he was...

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: The president was essentially saying we're going to go in one way or another, at least in a general way.

HAQQANI: He was saying in a general way that, look, you guys do it, or we will have to do it. And, again, nobody picked up on it. As ambassador, I pointed it out to our leaders several times, that the Americans have suspicions. And they kept saying, well, if the Americans know where he is, let them tell us. They just didn't want to pay attention to the fact that the Americans had a deep-rooted suspicion that if they did tell the Pakistanis, that would help tip off Osama bin Laden. And in the end, when the Americans did undertake the unilateral mission, there was a hint again from the American side that Pakistan could share the credit. But instead of that, our leaders chose to rail against American violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

INSKEEP: Was this the period, immediately after the raid, in which the United States said to Pakistan, quietly: You know, you guys could actually share the credit for this, it'll be OK, and we can move on?

HAQQANI: Absolutely. And, if you remember, President Zardari wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, which actually did say that Pakistan's done all it could, and Pakistan looks forward to continuing working with the United States in finding more terrorists, and that we caught - Osama bin Laden's elimination was a good thing. But within about 48 hours, the reaction had started. I personally feel that the reaction was partly natural. Pakistanis don't have a very positive view of the United States, in general. But they were also not being informed right. The media was screaming blue murder about the violation of sovereignty. And so the potential for sharing credit and moving forward just didn't materialize.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should say, I mean, sharing credit, it wouldn't have actually been true. It just would have been helpful. Is that right?

HAQQANI: Yes. It wouldn't have been true, but it would have been true in very general terms, that after all, the fact that they were allowed access did help. If Pakistan did not have the cooperative relationship with the United States that allows America to have a huge embassy in Pakistan, a large number of intelligence personnel in Pakistan, then they may not have been able to find bin Laden.

INSKEEP: I'd just like to know, because you've talked about defending Pakistan after the Osama bin Laden raid - I think it's fair to say that you were widely regarding in the United States as an ambassador who represented his country effectively. How did it come to be that, as you were doing that, your reputation was getting stained more and more inside Pakistan and you were suspected of being some kind of American agent?

HAQQANI: Well, that shows the pathology that the whole book is about. I mean, "Magnificent Delusions" is about how Pakistan has cultivated a pathology over the last 66 years in which Pakistan wants American aid, Pakistan covets American assistance and support, but at the same time, wants its people to continue to have a very negative view of the United States, and even be hateful at times. Pakistan is one of those countries that has the largest percentage of people disapproving of the United States in opinions polls consistently, year after year.

And so an ambassador who was trying to be a bridge was not seen as the good guy. Unfortunately, the establishment in Pakistan - which usually is a term used for the intelligence service and the military - they didn't like that. And so, basically, they are the ones who constantly criticized me as an American agent, every time I said something which showed that maybe Americans have a valid point in saying something was described in the Pakistani media as a hostile act towards Pakistan.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about the title of your book here, "Magnificent Delusions," because it's commonly said that these two countries - the United States and Pakistan - lie to each other. But when you talk about a delusion, you're talking about someone lying to himself. The suggestion of your history here is that each of these countries has essentially deluded themselves into what they can get out of this relationship, and that it goes back to the very beginning, the founding of Pakistan in 1947. How did it start?

HAQQANI: Well, the Pakistani delusion from 1947 was that Pakistan is going to be a military equal to India, even though Pakistan was much smaller in size.

INSKEEP: You've got a great scene with the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, right at the beginning of the country.

HAQQANI: Well, when he was asked: You don't have the resources. You have so many problems. How are you going to deal with them? He told Margaret Bourke-White, who was representing Life magazine at that time, he said to her, ah. The Americans need Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America. America will pour in money and arms to help build up Pakistan as a counterweight to the Soviets. And if you think about it, over the years, that is a pattern that has repeated itself. We've noticed that even in more recent years, when Pakistani officials come and say, hey, Pakistan is suffering because of terrorism, and America should compensate us for that. I, as an ambassador, always argued that if we are as mindful of our sovereignty as we say we are, then sovereign nations don't ask others to run an expense account for them for things that they need to do for themselves.

INSKEEP: So what was the American delusion from the beginning?

HAQQANI: The American delusion was that aid will give America leverage, that after a little while, Pakistan will come around to whatever America wanted Pakistan to do. The assumption was if we deal with a small elite and give them the necessary amount of money and aid, Pakistan will turn around and will change.

INSKEEP: Can you help us sketch out a different relationship, a different future? What is a basis on which the United States and Pakistan could actually get together in a better, more sensible, more honest way?

HAQQANI: I think both sides need to give up that narrative that they have built up over the years, America - of Pakistan just as an unreliable ally. I think America needs to accept that maybe Pakistan is not an ally. And Pakistan needs to stop blaming America for everything, and it needs to reconsider its own situation. More people get killed in Pakistan at the hand of extremists and terrorists than foreigners do.

INSKEEP: You just said America should accept that maybe Pakistan is not an ally. If Pakistan is not an ally, what is Pakistan?

HAQQANI: It is a country with whom the United States engages. I mean, I think there is a fundamental flaw in the American worldview which divides the world between enemies and allies. There are a lot of countries that are neither enemies, nor allies. You deal with them because you have to deal with them. That's about it.

INSKEEP: Former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani is the author of "Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding," his most recent book. Ambassador, pleasure to talk with you.

HAQQANI: Always a pleasure to talk to you, Steve.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.