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Rejoinder to article “State of Delusion” by Husain Haqqani

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In his recent article “State of Delusion”, Pakistan’s former envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani has tried to focus on Pakistan’s traditional fault lines and restate the obvious adnauseum. He questions the ideological foundation of Pakistan’s nation-hood and, as a corollary, statehood.Article begins with an assumption that killing of over 130 school children by Taliban on December 16, 2014 marks only an escalation in the brutality of jihadis, he also makes reference to previous attacks on places of worship and military and civilian installations; and is sceptical about a fundamental change of heart. He fails to mention the national consensus that has emerged after the incident, formulation of National Action Plan to counter terrorism and the subsequent actions. He also misses out on lifting of moratorium on death penalty of terrorists and heinous criminals, scrutiny of religious seminaries and efforts towards severing of finances and logistic trials of terrorists. Expansion of terrorist list to include individuals as well as entities like Haqqani network is also not mentioned.

While mentioning the breakup of the country in 1971 and emergence of Bangladesh, he points to Pakistan’s “reinforced national paranoia instead of convincing the country’s Punjabi elite of the need to come to terms with Pakistan’s size and power and finding security within the parameters of reality”. He takes an over simplistic approach and misses out the important factor that India’s military intervention was the main driver of creation of Bangladesh; and since then India has not changed its attitude and approach towards Pakistan. Hence it would be naïve to look for security structures in vacuum.

Husain considers Pakistan’s identity as constructed due to its emphasis on religion and ideology at the expense of ethnic, linguistic and sectarian diversity of a complex society; he opines that as a result of this, country’s approach toward national security has been driven by ideological rather than pragmatic considerations. And that though Pakistan’s military and civil bureaucracy originated from institutions created under the British, their approach and attitudes have progressively been driven more by the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ than the professionalism that they often project to outsiders. Husain ignores to observe the stresses faced by a typical contemporary nation state by ignoring the ideological factor in contemporary nation building. For example, post cold war stresses in Balkans only confirmed the necessity of a binding string of ideology that enables the states to survive through various shades of stress.

He goes on to say that Pakistan’s link with jihadis is intertwined with ideology based identity. And that “for the first 30 years of Pakistan’s existence the clamour was for religiosity within and Pan-Islamism in foreign policy”, followed by another 30 years when “global jihadism has been the overarching security and foreign policy idea that has advanced the Pakistani ideology. He says that though “three successive commanders of the Pakistani army—Gen Pervez Musharraf, Gen Ashfaq Kayani and now Gen Raheel Sharif—-have sought to curtail the jihadis’ influence within Pakistan, including through military operations, their efforts have always fallen short because of the nation’s ideological compulsions” and “falsified historic narrative taught in schools…that works in favour of more than 33 militant groups that operate out of Pakistan.” He chooses not to factor in the impact of 9/11 on Pakistan and its entailing pressures alongside opportunistic trajectory taken by India to squeeze and isolate Pakistan. He also does not mention a number of military operations undertaken by Pakistan to curtail the influence of militants; also ongoing final military operation Zarb-e-Azb has also not attracted his attention.  He goes on to say that two nation theory has gone redundant as it was based on parity between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India and events of last 67 years did no support it. One wonders on naivety because two nation theory is based on the concept that Muslims are a nation, separate form non-Muslims. Theory is universal in application and is not India specific.  Husain continues to portray his defeatist attitude that Pakistan’s economy and size do not allow it to be at par with India. And that if Pakistan wishes to pursue this approach then the recourses open to Pakistan are: through asymmetric warfare employing jihadis; or alternatively pursue security without insisting on ideology. Here also, he has not factored in nuclear factor in strategic calculus.

While talking about strains of ideological nationalism, he acknowledges that the narrative is appealing to Pakistanis but falters by saying “even if it drags the country down the road of tragedies like the one in Peshawar”. He admits that Pakistan has survived because of resilience of its people but is over simplistic in attributing country’s survival to its adept Cold War alliances; he loses sight that Pakistan was member of SEATO and CENTO in 1971, yet we lost East Pakistan.

Husain Pakistan says that by employing tribesmen in Kashmir Jihad, Pakistan preempted their use for Pushtunistan; and with that began Pakistan’s tolerance and support for non-state actors tied to ideological nationalism. He mixes up the circumstances leading to Pakistan’s close contacts with Mujahedeen and Taliban, talks about safe heavens for militants in urban and rural areas and ante-minority, anti-India and anti-Afghanistan activities of these militants. However, he does not talk about Indian and Afghan interventions to ferment trouble in Pakistan; especially in FATA and Balochistan. He says that: “In April 1999, Musharraf had told a group of retired military officers that “Taliban are my strategic reserve and I can unleash them in tens of thousands against India when I want. By 2002, he had changed his tune, nominally banning groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba”. But the banned organizations and their leadership were allowed to operate under new names. He also mentions the war waged by militant organizations against the state of Pakistan. He, however, misses out the active war waged by Pakistan against militant elements since 2008.  He is of the opinion that: “Under Musharraf, Pakistan began differentiating between jihadi groups. While foreign terrorists with links to al-Qaeda were handed over to the United States, local and regional militants (sectarian, anti-India and anti-Afghan groups) were left alone. Some militants built capacity to challenge the writ of the state right under the nose of Pakistani security forces”.  The latter category has inflicted huge causalities on Security forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Other militants like the Haqqani network were ‘managed’ by intelligence agencies in a bid to exert influence on events in Afghanistan. Husain is of the view that current Pakistani problem of increasing terrorism at home is the result of that policy. While the state might differentiate among terrorists, the jihadis often tend to be sympathetic and supportive towards one another. The jihadis supported by the establishment end up supporting terrorists attacking Pakistan’s army and civilians. As is often the case with ideologically motivated militants, ideology takes precedence over strategy and, in the case of jihadis, even those accepting Pakistani state support see the value of some fighters using force to Islamize Pakistan further even at the cost of undermining the country’s stability.

He goes on to argue that Pakistan’s adherence to an ideological nationalism based on Islam has allowed radical groups to propagate their message and mobilize large sums of money without much hindrance; some groups run extortion and kidnapping rackets in urban centers. They also raise money through narcotics trafficking and trade of smuggled goods. He correctly points out that the local police have never been provided the political support, resources and skills required to be able to combat these radical outfits; however he misses out on mother of all evils— politicization of police by various civilian regimes. He argues that militant organizations have setup a well entrenched and sophisticated system of raising funds to support their activities that would enable them to operate even after the Pakistani state has made a final decision to cut them off. He does not mention massive reforms that Pakistan has undertaken to reform its banking sector to choke flow of funds to militant.

Broadly, Husain tows Western and Indian line by stating that: “For years, Pakistan has been living in denial. Pakistan denied support for the Afghan Taliban or the existence of Kashmiri jihadi training camps”. But denial does not offer a way forward. Pakistan’s Islamo-nationalism has bred radicalism, diminished economic growth and weakened its international standing. He also points out towards an unknown extent of ideological radicalization within Pakistan’s armed forces, which remain the country’s dominant institution. Haqqani goes on to blow out of proportion a few isolated incidents of indiscipline and paint a canvas showing huge support for militant organizations within Pakistan’s military. He is wrong in saying that military tends to hold back information on this matter, making an assessment of the extent of this problem difficult. All incidents of indiscipline have been duly investigated and culprits have been punished. This very contentions is quite speculative because armed forces have, over these difficult years, continued to operate as a disciplined cohesive institution and that it has been in a continuous campaign against militants, at least since 2008.

Husain thinks that it is unlikely that the Pakistani establishment would want to give up its decades-long pursuit of paramountcy over Afghanistan. According to him under international pressure as well as growing threats from the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan has cleared out the known jihadist sanctuaries in North Waziristan. But Pakistan has neither acted against nor militarily confronted the Afghan Taliban leaders and the Haqqani network is believed to have relocated. He also chooses to ignore that Pakistan has decided to outlaw Haqqani network. His assessment that— “Even with sporadic military operations, Pakistan’s tribal areas will remain host for some time to a wide range of militant organizations with local, regional and global agendas”—appears realistic. Indeed Pakistan is in for a long haul as far as eradication of militancy is concerned.

He thinks Pakistan would continue to have two track policy: engage with the government of Afghanistan and the US with the stated objective of finding a negotiated settlement with the Taliban; and simultaneously continue to try and militarily change the ground situation in Afghanistan in an effort to force the world to deal with de facto Taliban control of parts of Afghanistan as fait accompli. His judgment is erratic as he misses out very generous measures taken by Pakistan to evolve cordial working relations with Afghan government.

He questions the viability of fantasies of parity with India and paramountcy over Afghanistan and states that Pakistan has developed one element of national power—the military one—at the cost of all other elements of national power. And that education and social security related entities are in a state of general decline; while economy growth is dependent largely on the flow of concessional flows of external resources. He goes on to says that Pakistan’s GDP stands at $245 billion in absolute terms and $845 billion in purchasing price parity; and sarcastically says that it is “the smallest economy of any country that has so far tested nuclear weapons”. To further point out the downside, he states that to twenty-two per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and another 21 per cent lives just above it, resulting in almost half the people of Pakistan being very poor. Instead of praising that these figures are better than neighbouring India and Afghanistan, he mischievously downplays it: “It is little comfort for Pakistanis living in poverty when they are told that poverty across the border in India or Afghanistan is even starker”. He also compares the literacy rate figures to highlight Pakistan’s comparatively lower performance. He correctly point out that low literacy rate and inadequate investment in education has led to a decline in Pakistan’s technological base, which in turn hampers economic modernization.

With respect to economy he not off the mark that country has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the, a GDP growth rate of 1.7-2.4 per cent and population growth rate of 1.5 per cent; however he has not talked about recent economic indicators which project an upward trajectory. He is also right that Pakistan needs foreign as well as domestic investment, drastic changes in local laws, political consensus and stability. However, his criticism of overspending almost 6 per cent of its GDP on defence is inaccurate. He correctly states that Pakistan is still unable to match the conventional forces of India, while allocating less than 3 per cent of GDP to military spending; however haqqani misses the point that volume of Indian military spending is more than five times Pakistan’s spending. He also misses out the fact that military spending is dictated by the quantum of threat a country faces. Arbitrary fixation of military spending to GDP does not wish away the threat.

He thinks that over the decades, Pakistan has managed to evade crises and failure status primarily because the international community has bailed it out. But now the rest of the world sees Pakistan as ‘jihad central.’ Foreign fighters trained in Pakistan have reportedly been in action in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and China’s Xinjiang region. It is no longer possible to keep Pakistani jihadis as a strategic reserve only to cause damage to India. He points out that instead of securing parity with India and paramountcy over Afghanistan, jihadis have only created greater internal crises and disruption within Pakistan. And he proposes that though “It might be a difficult decision but Pakistan must recognize the heavy cost being exacted by its pursuit of regional influence through asymmetric warfare. While he talks about Mumbai attack, he misses out bombing of Samjhota express and Gujarat carnage. He overrates that Pakistan’s jihadis were already exercising virtual veto over Pakistan’s relations with India. He is of the view that the jihadis are now limiting Pakistan’s foreign policy choices.

Husain feels that Pakistani leaders have chosen to keep alive the divisive frenzy that led to partition; and later Pakistan has been built on the slogan ‘Pakistan in danger’, thus creating a constant sense of insecurity among its people, especially in relation to India and internal demands for ethnic identity or pluralism. He suggests that it may be an appropriate time to revisit the ideas of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who had opposed the conjuring of this [Islam based] ‘ideology of Pakistan’. He thinks if the Pakistani establishment decides to turn the corner; it would have to stop treating Pakistan’s anti-jihadists as its enemies and gradually embrace a new national narrative for the country. Confronting the jihadists comprehensively would make Pakistan more secure, paving the way for greater prosperity and a place under the sun. Refusing to confront and marginalize them will only lead to recurrent tragedies like the one in Peshawar, followed by grief and outrage. He proposes Pakistan could plot its course out of the disaster by changing the defensive national narrative and raison d’etre about Pakistan’s creation and prospects of survival.

In this article, Husain Haqqani has tried to sell the narrative which outside world, more specifically the US led Western block and India is trying to popularize. Whenever positivities about Pakistan comes his way, Haqqani is inclined to attribute them to chance; and has basic assumptions that Pakistan has worked hard for accumulating all its negativities. Due to self imposed artificialities upon him; Husain is hollow in his arguments and has numerous factual and textual contradictions. He is trying to say what all is music to American and Indian ears; while at the same time he wants a passage for return journey on as required basis.  His main onslaught is on ideology; and while recommending alternatives he fails to factor in the stresses being faced by secularism and the fate of USSR which was based on the concept of ethnic sub-nationalities. While he refers to some of the figures for drawing a comparison between India and Pakistan he is not ready to give any allowance to Pakistan for having braved compulsive environment since Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. His assumptions that Pakistan would continue to be in difficult situations indefinitely are like jumping the gun. At the same time all is not well in India with respect to economic development, secular ideas and treatment to its minorities; which he ignores. Husain Haqqani has made a considered choice to go along with a certain non-Pakistani narrative to reap its benefits, and is likely to continue his pursuits.  There is hardly anything in this article that he had not narrated earlier, in one form or the other.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this rejoinder are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI Policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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