Between Mosque and Military

It's not just U.S. officials who are shining a harsh light on Pakistan's complicity with Islamist groups. Pakistan's ambassador to the United States once had some tough words of his own.


Following the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani went into diplomatic overdrive. The loquacious envoy has taken his case to Twitter, Charlie Rose, and news outlets across the country to reject his government’s complicity in sheltering bin Laden — even drawing a parallel between the U.S. failure to catch Whitey Bulger and Pakistan’s failure to locate the terrorist mastermind.

But only a few years ago, Haqqani’s take on Pakistan’s relationship with Islamist groups did not track so neatly with the government line. "Washington should no longer condone the Pakistani military’s support for Islamic militants, its use of its intelligence apparatus for controlling domestic politics, and its refusal to cede power to a constitutional democratic government," he wrote in his controversial 2005 book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, authored while a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the book’s conclusion, excerpts of which are printed below, Haqqani had sharp words for the Pakistani military’s relationship with extremist groups and its effects on the country’s development into a modern state. –Foreign Policy


In an effort to become an ideological state guided by a praetorian military, Pakistan has found itself accentuating its dysfunction, especially during the past two decades. The commitment or lack of commitment of the ordinary Pakistani citizen to Islam has hardly been the major issue in Pakistan’s evolution. A large number of otherwise practicing Muslims have demonstrated through the ballot box time and again their desire to embrace pragmatic political and economic ideas. Most Pakistanis would probably be quite content with a state that would cater to their social needs, respect and protect their right to observe religion, and would not invoke Islam as its sole source of legitimacy; but the military’s desire to dominate the political system and define Pakistan’s national security priorities has been the most significant, although not the only, factor in encouraging an ideological paradigm for Pakistan.

At its birth, Pakistan started life with many disadvantages as the seceding state. Some of its security concerns, such as the need for a credible deterrent against India, are real, but the Pakistani military’s desire for institutional supremacy within the country has created psychological and political layers to the Pakistani nation’s sense of insecurity. The alliance between mosque and military in Pakistan maintains, and sometimes exaggerates, these psycho-political fears and helps both the Islamists and the generals in their exercise of political power. Support for the Pakistani military by the United States makes it difficult for Pakistan’s weak, secular, civil society to assert itself and wean Pakistan from the rhetoric of Islamist ideology toward issues of real concern of Pakistan’s citizens.

From the point of view of the United States, Pakistan offers few political choices. Although listed among the U.S. allies in the war on terrorism, Pakistan cannot be easily characterized as either friend or foe. Pakistan has become a major center of radical Islamist ideas and groups, largely because of its policies of support for Islamist militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Taliban in its pursuit of a client regime in Afghanistan. Since September 11, 2001, however, the selective cooperation of Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf – sharing intelligence with the United States and apprehending Al Qaeda members – has led to the assumption that Pakistan might be ready to give up its long-standing ties with radical Islam. At the same time, the United States cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan’s status as an Islamic ideological state is rooted deeply in history and is linked closely with both the praetorian ambitions of Pakistan’s military and the worldview of Pakistan’s elite.

In the foreseeable future, Islam will remain a significant factor in Pakistan’s politics. Musharraf and his likely successors from the ranks of the military, promising reform, will continue to seek U.S. economic and military assistance; yet the power of such promises is tempered by the strong links between Pakistan’s military-intelligence and apparatus and extremist Islamists.

Pakistan’s future direction is crucial to the U.S.-led war against terror, not least because of Pakistan’s declared nuclear-weapons capability. The historic alliance between Islamists and Pakistan’s military could undermine antiterrorist operations in the short term while contributing to the global radicalization of Islam and fueling India-Pakistan confrontation. Unless Pakistan’s all-powerful military can be persuaded to turn over power gradually to secular civilians and allow the secular politics of competing economic and regional interests to prevail over religious sentiment, the country’s vulnerability to radical Islamic politics will not wane. With the backing of the U.S. government, Pakistan’s military would probably be able to maintain a façade of stability for the next several years; but the military, bolstered by U.S. support, would want to maintain preeminence and is likely to make concessions to Islamists to legitimize its control of the country’s polity. The United States is supporting Pakistan’s military so that Pakistan backs away from Islamist radicalism, albeit gradually. In the process, however, the military’s political ambitions are being encouraged, compromising change and preserving the influence of radical Islamists. Democratic reform that allows secular politicians to compete freely for power is more likely to reduce the influence of radical Islamists.


Radical Islamic groups, which portray themselves as the guardians of Pakistan’s ideology, have been granted special status by the military-civil bureaucracy that normally governs Pakistan. The Islamists claim that they are the protectors of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent capability as well as champions of the national cause of security Kashmir for Pakistan. Secular politicians who seek greater autonomy for Pakistan’s different regions — or demand that religion be kept out of the business of the state — have come under attack from the Islamists for deviating from Pakistan’s ideology.

Establishing Islam as the state ideology was a device aimed at defining a Pakistani identity during the country’s formative years. Indeed, Pakistan’s leaders started using religious sentiment to strengthen the country’s national identity shortly after Pakistan’s inception. Emerging from the partition of British India in 1947 after a relatively short independence movement, Pakistan faced several challenges to its survival, beginning with India’s perceived reluctance to accept Pakistan’s creation. Pakistan’s secular elite used Islam as a national rallying cry against perceived and real threats from predominantly Hindu India. They assumed that the country’s clerics and Islamists were too weak and too dependent on the state to confront the power structure. Unsure of their fledgling nation’s future, the politicians, civil servants, and military officers who led Pakistan in its formative years decided to exacerbate the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims that had led to partition as a means of defining a distinctive identity for Pakistan with "Islamic Pakistan" resisting "Hindu India." Notwithstanding the fitful peace process, hostility between India and Pakistan continues; in Pakistan it serves as an important element for national identification.


Islam has therefore become the central issue in Pakistan’s politics because of a conscious and consistent state policy — not just the inadvertent outcome of decisions made after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, as has been widely assumed — aimed at excluding from power secular politicians while maintaining a centralized state controlled by the military and the civil bureaucracy. Pakistan’s self-characterization as an Islamic, ideological state is thus unlikely to change in the near term. The country’s population remains fractured by ethnic and linguistic differences, with Islam used as the common bond in an attempt to unite it.

Several times Pakistan has been seen as a state on the brink of failure, temporarily restored with U.S. military and economic assistance only to return to the brink again. Pakistan, suffering from chronically weak state institutions, continues to face a deep identity crisis and a rising threat from independent, radical Islamists. The government’s fears about its viability and security have led Islamabad to seek an alliance with the United States while it simultaneously pursues a nuclear deterrent and subconventional military capability — that is, Islamist terrorism — against India. The U.S. response to September 11 left Pakistan with little choice but to make a harder turn toward the United States. Confronted with an ultimatum to choose between being with the United States or against it, Pakistan’s generals chose to revive their alliance with the United States. At every stage since, Pakistan has proved to be a U.S. ally of convenience, not of conviction, as it has sought specific rewards for specific actions.

Pakistan’s military historically has been willing to adjust its priorities to fit within the parameters of immediate U.S. global concerns. It has done this to ensure the flow of military and economic aid from the United States, which Pakistan considers necessary for its struggle for survival and its competition with India. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have been part of the Pakistani military’s policy tripod that emphasizes Islam as a national unifier, rivalry with India as the principal objective of the state’s foreign policy, and an alliance with the United States as a means to defray the costs of Pakistan’s massive military expenditures. These policy precepts have served to encourage extremist Islamism, which in the past few years has been the source of threats to both U.S. interests and global security. The United States can perhaps deal best with Pakistan in the long term by using its influence to reshape the Pakistani military’s view of the national interest.

The United States recognized the troubling potential of Islamist politics in the very first years of the U.S. engagement with Pakistan. In a policy statement issued on July 1, 1951, the U.S. Department of State declared: "Apart from Communism, the other main threat to U.S. interests in Pakistan was from ‘reactionary groups of landholders and uneducated religious leaders’ who were opposed to the ‘present Western-minded government’ and ‘favor a return to primitive Islamic principles.’"

During the past four decades, however — until September 11, 2001 — the U.S. government did little to discourage Islamabad’s embrace of obscurantist Islam as its state ideology, thereby empowering Pakistan’s religious leaders beyond their support among the populace and tying the Islamists to Pakistan’s military-civil bureaucracy and intelligence apparatus.

America’s alliance with Pakistan, or rather with the Pakistani military, has had three significant consequences for Pakistan. First, because the U.S. military sees Pakistan in the context of its Middle East strategy, Pakistan has become more oriented toward the Middle East even though it is geographically and historically a part of South Asia. Second, the intermittent flow of U.S. military and economic assistance has encouraged Pakistan’s military leaders to overestimate their power potential. This, in turn, has contributed to their reluctance to accept normal relations with India even after learning through repeated misadventures that Pakistan can, at best, hold India to a draw in military conflict and cannot defeat it. Third, the ability to secure military and economic aid by fitting into the current paradigm of American policy has made Pakistan a rentier state, albeit one that lives off rents for its strategic location.


Contrary to the U.S. assumption that aid translates into leverage, Pakistan’s military has always managed to take the aid without ever fully giving the United States what it desires. During the 1950s and 1960s, Ayub Khan oversold Pakistan’s willingness to help the United States in containing communist expansion. Pakistan provided significant intelligence gathering facilities for a while but never provided the "centrally positioned landing site" the United States sought. Zia al-Haq’s cooperation in bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan came with Pakistan’s plan to install a client regime in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. The United States never controlled Pakistan’s ISI, or for that matter the mujahideen, even though it paid for the operation. Pakistan’s role in the jihad against the Soviet Union also inspired Pakistani jihadis to expand jihad into Kashmir. Musharraf’s help in the hunt for Al Qaeda also remains selective. Pakistan’s unwillingness to fulfill American expectations, rather than American fickleness, has led to the on-off aid relationship between the two countries. The Pakistani military has been unhappy each time the aid pipeline was shut down and turned its people against the United States. While aid flows, however, it is the Pakistani military and not the United States that gains leverage.

United States policy makers need to recognize the limits of aid as leverage with Pakistan. Instead of heaping praise on Pakistan’s soldier-politicians, the United States could try deflating their egos. A more modest aid package delivered steadily, aimed at key sectors of the Pakistani economy, would not raise Pakistani expectations and could, over time, create a reliable pocket of influence for the United States among the country’s elite. The pattern of large doses of aid, given as strategic rent or quid pro quo for Pakistan’s cooperation in a specific sphere, has historically provided the United States with limited leverage. With the dissipation of aid, the United States loses that limited leverage and Pakistan’s elite gets embittered.


The United States can help contain the Islamists’ influence by demanding reform of those aspects of Pakistan’s governance that involve the military and security services. Until now, the United States has harshly berated corrupt or ineffective Pakistani politicians but has only mildly criticized the military’s meddling. Between 1988 and 1999, when civilians ostensibly governed Pakistan, U.S. officials routinely criticized the civilians’ conduct but refrained from commenting on the negative role of the military and the intelligence services despite overwhelming evidence of that role. ISI manipulation of the 1988, 1990, and 1997 elections went unnoticed publicly by the United States while the Pakistani military’s recitation of politicians’ failings was generally accepted without acknowledging the impact of limits set for the politicians by the military. The United States appears to accept the Pakistani military’s falsified narrative of Pakistan’s recent history, at least in public. It is often assumed that the military’s intervention in politics is motivated by its own concern over national security and the incompetence of politicians. That the military might be a contributor to political incompetence and its desire to control national security policies might be a function of its pursuit of domestic political power are hardly ever taken into account.

Washington should no longer condone the Pakistani military’s support for Islamic militants, its use of its intelligence apparatus for controlling domestic politics, and its refusal to cede power to a constitutional democratic government. As an aid donor, Washington has become one of Pakistan’s most important benefactors, but a large part of U.S. economic assistance since September 11, 2001, has been used to pay down Pakistan’s foreign debt. Because Washington has attached few conditions to U.S. aid, the spending patterns of Pakistan’s government have not changed significantly. The country’s military spending continues to increase, and spending for social services is well below the level required to improve living conditions for ordinary Pakistanis. The United States must use its aid as a lever to influence Pakistan’s domestic policies. Even though Musharraf’s selective cooperation in hunting down Al Qaeda terrorists is a positive development, Washington must not ignore Pakistan’s state sponsorship of Islamist militants, its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles at the expense of education and health care, and its refusal to democratize; each of these issues is directly linked to the future of Islamic radicalism.

The United States clearly has few good short-term policy options in relation to Pakistan. American policy makers should endeavor to recognize the failings of their past policies and avoid repeating their mistakes. The United States has sought short-term gains from its relationship with Pakistan, inadvertently accentuating that country’s problems in the process. Pakistan’s civil and military elite, on the other hand, must understand how their three-part paradigm for state and nation building has led Pakistan from one disaster to the next. Pakistan was created in a hurry and without giving detailed thought to various aspects of nation and state building. Perhaps it’s time to rectify that mistake by taking a long-term view. Both Pakistan’s elite and their U.S. benefactors would have to participate in transforming Pakistan into a functional, rather than ideological, state.

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 latest book is "Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State"

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