Since independence, Pakistan’s security establishment has managed to find champions among western scholars who are willing to overlook the transgressions of the military-intelligence-jihadi complex, or worse, actively find excuses for it. Instead of helping the troubled country introspect honestly into the genesis of its problems, some of these apologists have tried to blame the conflict between Muslims and Hindus and, later on, between India and Pakistan for the disastrous policies that Pakistan has adopted since its inception. One such person is Professor Anatol Lieven, who follows, with less impressive credentials, in the footsteps of Sir Olaf Caroe, who projected Pakistan as the west’s best hope in containing communism. Professor Lieven keeps pleading the Pakistani establishment’s case that, despite being the architect of almost everything that went wrong with Pakistan, especially its foreign policy, they remain the only ones that the western powers should do business with.
This time around, the diehard apologist of the Pakistani junta has chosen the latest edition of the New York Review of Books (NYRB) to unabashedly proclaim that “the Pakistani intelligence services may be unreliable and infuriating, but they are also indispensable.” In a shotgun approach to book reviews, titled ‘Pakistan: the mess we cannot ignore’, Professor Lieven has clubbed together not just one or two but a whopping seven books, including two novels, to arrive at a devious thesis: if US intelligence services try to check and upend the Pakistan-based terrorist networks there will be a reaction, potentially a violent one, from among the Pakistani diaspora in the west. This new scarecrow looks remarkably similar to the ones like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or the Defence of Pakistan Council, which the Pakistani establishment keeps propping up at home to frighten the west to work with and through it. The bulk of Professor Lieven’s review is focused on Dr Daniel Markey’s wonderfully nuanced work No Exit from Pakistan, Mr Mark Mazzetti’s formidably detailed The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and War at the Ends of the Earth, and the former Pakistani ambassador Professor Husain Haqqani’s Magnificent Delusions, which true to its subtitle is an epic history of misunderstanding between Pakistan and the US.
With virulently twisted logic, Professor Lieven appears to justify the Pakistani establishment’s use of the Haqqani terrorist network (HQN) for attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan as some sort of concession for not striking inside India. He writes: “So while the campaign against India itself has been suspended, the ISI continues to help the Haqqani network to attack Indian targets in Afghanistan, and to shelter the Haqqanis from attack by US forces.” While Professor Lieven criticises Dr Markey for suggesting a policy ‘containment’ vis-à-vis Pakistan, there is not a sliver of remorse or even concern about his friends’ friends raining death in Afghanistan. In justifying Pakistan’s transgressions in Afghanistan, Professor Lieven comes close to Sir William Fraser-Tytler who had advocated the fusion of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1950s under Pakistan’s stewardship, without regard to Afghanistan’s long uninterrupted history antedating its eastern neighbour.
Professor Lieven’s view, like in his own book Pakistan: A Hard Country, is based on the usual rationalisation advanced by the Pakistani ruling elite, mostly from the military, whom he has befriended since his first assignment in the 1980s. His 1988 obituary of General Ziaul Haq for The Times, UK, remains the English counterpart of the panegyric that Pakistan Television’s Urdu broadcaster Mr Azhar Lodhi sang to the dead dictator. Professor Lieven had infamously written then: “He won respect even from some of his political enemies for lack of vindictiveness. It was said that his repression, unlike that of his predecessors, stopped with the individuals and was not extended to attempts to destroy their families.” Professor Lieven never bothered to ask the hard questions then, did not do it in his book and does not do it in the present review on how and why the ‘hard country’ is such a mess. His polemics only explain the Pakistan army’s conduct as a reaction to Indian and US ‘mistakes’. He praises the generals frequently and consistently for keeping Pakistan together. The good professor apparently has never met a general he has not liked. The Pakistani civilian leadership and scholars like Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, who Professor Lieven recently hounded, have not had such luck. And his present tirade is no exception.
Failing to critique the merits or demerits of Professor Husain Haqqani’s book, Professor Lieven parrots the security establishment propaganda that the former ambassador did not discuss the Raymond Davis affair in detail in his book because he “had also been the official primarily responsible for granting the visas that allowed the wave of CIA agents into the country”. Interestingly, Professor Lieven writes about Mr Mazzetti’s discussion of the CIA and Raymond Davis’ role in Pakistan, before dovetailing into this allegation against Professor Haqqani. However, quite disingenuously, he fails to mention Mr Mazzetti’s description of General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s role in getting Davis off the hook, chronicled down to the ISI chief texting live from the courtroom to then US Ambassador Cameron Munter! He slyly insinuates that Professor Haqqani may not be a Pakistani any longer by referring to the Pakistanis as “his former compatriots”. Professor Lieven produces not a shred of evidence to support either one of his blatant allegations against Professor Haqqani, who remains very much a Pakistani national, perhaps because none exists. In fact, the adjutant general had testified in front of Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden judicial inquiry commission that “visas for foreign nationals working with the Pakistan army were processed by the Joint Services Headquarters, which issued no objection certificates.” Professor Lieven, like the inquiry commission, also failed to ask about any potential role of the military attaché at the Pakistan embassy, Washington, DC in the visas.
The gist of Professor Lieven’s latest rationalisation of Pakistan’s disastrous policies remains that the west and the US should allow the ‘hard country’ to have its way in Afghanistan. To him, the villains are the Pakistani civilians, Indians and the Afghans minus the Taliban, who force the Pakistani junta’s hand into doing things like keeping vipers like the HQN. To him, the Pakistani generals are almost always responding to circumstances created by the Indians or the US. However, he does not want the US to leave, cut off or contain Pakistan. The diehard apologist wants them to do what the security establishment desires, including keeping its good/bad Taliban policy active, without asking any hard questions. The least the NYRB could have done though is a bit of fact checking.
Increasingly, there is something unsavoury about old democracies like the US and UK. Not that their ...