Book ReviewNationalVolume 13 Issue # 20

Magnificent Delusions

Hussain Haqqani elicits strong gut reactions in Pakistan, both admiration and derision. I picked up his latest hardcover Magnificent Delusions hoping to find a contemporary and lucid counter narrative to the “security state” theme in Pakistan – even though the book’s focus is on USA-Pakistan relations. His erudition and exposure are beyond doubt: He is Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the USA and currently a scholar at a USA think tank, the Hudson Institute. Given Pakistan’s intractable problems with the nihilist TTP, I thought this was an opportune time to be enriched by the perspective of an avowed champion of liberalism. It is certainly a lucid and readable book – peppered with anecdotes and historical references – and I did find a powerful articulation of the counter narrative that I sought, but several of the thematic analyses left me unconvinced.

Haqqani begins with a “bang and a wallop” calling into question the very desirability of creating a state in the name of religion. That was a bit disconcerting, but only because he has represented Pakistan in two different countries as ambassador. One cannot but help ask: If he had such a fundamental disconnect with the raison d’etre of the country, why ever did he agree to represent its interests and be its preeminent symbol in foreign lands? Otherwise, the argument itself is perhaps worth having in a philosophical, though not practical, sense – as water has after all flowed under the bridge. Unless, that is, he is insinuating nostalgia for a united India and a desire for reunification that we encounter in the occasional Indian.

The author argues against creating a state in the name of religion. But, to place the argument in the particular context of Pakistan, he should have analyzed the implications of the alternative i.e. staying within the Indian Union, equally rigorously. He should have traced the history of simmering communal tensions in India, from intransigent grassroots segregation and antipathy to the Hindu symbolism of Mahatma Gandhi to the rise of Narendra Modi, and helped answer the question: Would Pakistani Muslims been better off as part of India, or would there have been a long drawn out civil war far deadlier than the suffering caused by Partition? After all, the motivations of Mr. Jinnah and Allama Iqbal had both an analytical and experiential basis and energized and rallied millions; they also deserved some “air-time.”

Haqqani’s next major theme is that Pakistan, starting with Mr. Jinnah, was unnecessarily paranoid about its existence. Now the author himself presents several contemporary perspectives which were inimical to or else skeptical of Pakistan’s existence: India, which withheld vital committed supplies, Afghanistan, which refused to accept the Durand Line, and Americans and other Westerners, who cherished secularism and were wary of a religious state. Add to the milieu: the pronouncements of British and Indian leaders, who looked upon Pakistan as a temporary anomaly, and the threat of revolutionary, expansionist Communism lurking in the background. Would not any state in such a geo-political vise be rightly paranoid? Like the self-revelatory title of a book by a founder of Intel reads: “Only the paranoid survive.”

Another theme in the book is Pakistan’s sense of grandiosity: Mr. Jinnah is quoted as stating to a Life magazine reporter that “the USA needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the USA,” causing the reporter to pejoratively call Mr. Jinnah “a clever man who happened to create a country.” Well, even if we lend credence to the views of a reporter, would it not be expected that the leader of a new country, whose very existence is shaky, would try to project the importance of his country in order to acquire international support? The author reveals that Mr. Jinnah termed his country “the lynchpin of the world,” as he and subsequent leaders sought large amounts of American military aid – requests that were apparently often met with incredulity. Was all this a “magnificent delusion”? Well, history proved otherwise as Pakistan did become one of the major recipients of American military aid, and a key player in the decisive war of the last half of the twentieth century with Communism. Once again, if Haqqani truly considered the founder of Pakistan to be delusional then why did he choose to serve under the gaze of his large portraits in his ambassadorial offices in Washington D.C. and Colombo, Sri Lanka? Would you expect a former American ambassador, for example, to denigrate George Washington, who happened to be one of the largest slave owners of his time, let alone call into question the desirability of American independence from Great Britain?

Now one is not being jingoistic here. It would be a folly to state that Pakistani governments did not make errors of judgement. And of course, it is sad that scarce funds are being spent on arms rather than on the amelioration of widespread poverty. But the characterization of Pakistan as deluded, (and as one reads the book, one realizes that the title refers only to Pakistan, the USA is at most “duped”) and the portrayal of the USA as a benign, if not avuncular, power lacks nuance. The criticisms of USA foreign policy – from the waging of offensive wars to the toppling of democratically-elected governments to the support of dictators in the pursuit of self-interests – are too well-known to merit repetition. Is it therefore possible that even if Pakistani governments liked to fan public anti-American sentiment every now and then as part of their “carrot and stick” policy, as Haqqani alleges, that America too was not entirely above board in its dealings with Pakistan? Or are we to believe that the USA was nothing less than a teacher, even parent, or at the least an uncle – pristine-intentioned, principled – seeking only to guide and groom its spoilt charge?

India is dealt in a similar manner and is characterized as a docile status quo power that is intermittently challenged by a belligerent, and unnecessarily existentially-threatened, Pakistan “punching above its weight. “India’s sense of being “wronged” by the partition of the subcontinent, its pervasive belief in its aftermath that partition was a temporary price to be paid for independence from the British, and its consequent attempt to strangulate the infant state, are not investigated – beyond mentioning that some supplies were blocked. Neither is the Kashmir issue discussed in terms of the emotions it historically evokes at the grassroots level in Pakistan or in terms of India’s unconscionable stance particularly in the wake of its military invasion and annexation of the independent states of Hyderabad, Sikkim, and Junagadh. India’s role in the secession of East Pakistan is dealt with summarily and as an inevitable and isolated reaction to Pakistan’s own follies, though it is now widely acknowledged as being far more sinister. There is no mention of India’s aggressive postures in other neighbouring states such as Sri Lanka, through support to the LTTE, and obviously Pakistan, against whose Eastern borders are arraigned the bulk of Indian Army attack formations and Air Force bases, and along whose Western borders with Afghanistan are juxtaposed several Indian consulates that allegedly support separatist and terrorist movements inside Pakistan. Once again, the manuscript would have benefited from more nuance and context.


Though mired in intrigue and controversy, Mr. Hussain Haqqani has been viewed as a champion of liberalism and secularism – leitmotifs here as well. It is in this realm, rather than in foreign policy, where the book manages a brief flourish. He presents two intriguing propositions neither of which may be new, but which nevertheless resonate: That Mr. Jinnah was largely unclear about how Islam would inform governance in the new state. And that militancy is an inevitable consequence of the creation of a state in the name of Islam.

While he successfully establishes the former proposition, but only implies the latter, he does not explore causes in either case. Pakistan was envisioned and created at a time when Western democracy had dealt itself near death blows in the World Wars, capitalism had temporarily collapsed in the USA with the 1929 stock market crash, a sanguinary Communism was massacring its own citizens, and Hinduism was but an anachronistic and racist ideology. So was it not understandable that the founding fathers sought another option: one that sought balance between the pursuit of happiness and that of compassion, between the pursuit of wealth and that of spirituality, between individual initiative and the public weal? Was it beyond belief that for this balance they sought an Islamic framework?  Mr. Jinnah did not want a theocratic state and he did announce that personal religious beliefs were no business of the state, but at the same time he did clearly envision some Islamic character for the state portraying it as a “laboratory of Islam.” Well, laboratories can get messy! The conflict between retrogressive, insular, even brutal Islam and Islam as a force of modernization, intellectual ferment, and good governance has waged throughout its history. What tips the scale in these battles? It would have enriched liberal discourse if somebody with the credentials and intellect of Haqqani had taken a stab at these questions.

Lest the very notion of a state informed by religion raise the hackles of diehard secularists, one can refer to Javed Ahmed Ghamidi who opines that an Islamic state should be secular and that any law legislated by an elected assembly in a Muslim country is Shariah-compliant by definition. Or to Tariq Ramadan who also believes that an Islamic state should be secular with every religion being “equi-distant” from the state. His reasoning is that to make the concept of an Ummah viable, the lowest common denominator of each Muslim states practices have to be adopted and Muslim minorities in Non-Muslim states need to be catered.

I appreciate Mr. Haqqani’s clarion call for “more butter, less arms.” Who would not, when parts of the country appallingly compete with Sub-Saharan Africa in malnourishment? But that does not explain why he did not even deign to mention the inexcusable corruption of the democratic governments that he has served.

I do not impugn Mr. Haqqani’s intentions like some who accuse him of playing to American or Indian audiences. As a former ambassador and muse to prime ministers, I believe that like any patriotic Pakistani, he seeks for his country a tolerant, educated society, a democratic government, a well-fed, healthy populace, and a military that can defend its borders. But Magnificent Delusions is not going to help make much headway in that direction by fostering a better understanding in its readership or changing mindsets.

It does not evolve liberal discourse; it does not engage rightists; it presents the uninitiated with a skewed picture of Pakistan’s context and motivations; and it provides grist to the self-righteous element in Indian perspectives. As a Pakistani, it pained me to read this account by my country’s former ambassador.