Book Review: Magnificent Delusions

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, Nov 5, 2013 by Husain Haqqani is a detailed description of the relations between Pakistan and the US from the birth of Pakistan in 1947 to nearly the present. There are plenty of delusions, to be sure, but I'm not so sure that they are magnificent - more like delusions of magnificence.

From its founding, Pakistan sold itself to the US as a bulwark against Communism, but in fact spent nearly all of the aid the US has lavished on it - some $67 billion in 2011 dollars - on an expensive military aimed almost exclusively at India. Pakistan was founded so that Indian Muslims could be independent of Hindu rule, and its primary tool in unifying its own diverse cultures has always been fanning the flames of Muslim fanaticism and anti-India rage. One pretext for that rage was the fact that in the partition India managed to grab Jammu and Kashmir, a region with a large Muslim population that Pakistan wanted. Many of the the Indian-Pakistani conflicts since have focused on that region, which has long been divided by a less than peaceful line of control.

When the British ruled India, they imagined that the Indians were divided into martial and non martial races, and they recruited their India's Army mainly from the presumably martial races of the Punjab. No doubt this idea fed the delusions of the Pakistani officer class, who in turn imagined that they were better fighters than the Indians and could defeat them in battle as a result. Repeated defeats taught them nothing but denial, defiance and resentment. Instead of building its economy, Pakistan spent lavishly (mostly with US and Saudi money) on building their Army.

While India was the prime target of Pakistani propaganda and rage, the US was not far behind. Pakistan was a bitter and resentful supplicant, with one hand holding out the begging bowl while the other cultivated scurrilous accusations against its benefactor. This was more a tactic than an accident, since the generals who have always controlled Pakistan claimed that if they didn't get more aid, they would face the anger of the Islamic street - the very anger that they assiduously cultivated.

If Pakistan's delusion that it could defeat India with an Army paid for from abroad is easily dismissed, how can we explain the fact that the US repeatedly took the sucker's bet that it could buy Pakistani cooperation with money and weapons? It's complicated. One factor is that US administrations usually like to start anew, frequently ignoring the hard won lessons of the past.

Under the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, the US was preoccupied with building a firewall against Communism, and anybody who claimed anti-Communism could qualify for a merit badge. Socialist and Neutralist India, by contrast, was automatically suspect. Kennedy and Johnson were more suspicious of Pakistan, but were preoccupied with other problems, especially Vietnam. Carter was similarly enmeshed with Iran, but he, and to a much greater degree Reagan, saw a chance to defeat Russia in Afghanistan, pouring in the money that built the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence (ISI) organization, the Taliban, and a host of other terrorist organizations fostered by the ISI.

After 9/11, Bush junior confronted Pakistan with an ultimatum - be with us or against us. Pakistan agreed, but did not stop cheating. Both Clinton and Obama offered Pakistan a lot if they would only mend their evil ways and concentrate on building a country, but the generals persisted in their fanaticism. Obama in particular warned Pakistan that if a terrorist attack against the US (like that against India by Lakshar-e-Taibba) succeeded, nobody could prevent terrible retribution.

Last I heard, the US and Pakistan continue to pursue their drone operations against the Taliban, operations in which the ISI cooperated, but fulminates against in the press.

So how did I like the book? It's packed with information, backed up by many dozens of pages of endnotes, and rather well written, by a Pakistani professor in exile who was part of several Pakistani governments. This should not be confused with a dispassionate history by an outsider - it is a history, but one told by someone who feels that his country has repeatedly been betrayed by its military, a military which has become a cancer on the country. The US does not escape blame either. The military and the ISI fed on our largesse, and could not have assumed their fully malignant form without it.

My extended comments on the book can be found here.


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