Leverage in US-Pakistan relations

Of the many sharp insights, Hathaway notes the missteps which now characterise the U.S.-Pakistan relationship beyond the personalities of certain leaders

While attending Robert Hathaway’s book launch this past week, for which the who’s who of Washington, DC had gathered, I was taken back to the time we first met about two decades ago. Hathaway was then serving as the director of the Asia Program at Washington, DC’s prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which was hosting a launch of  the Jinnah film.

The Center’s event report for that memorable evening states that, “This event, which played to a capacity crowd of well over one hundred, featured the controversial film ‘Jinnah,’ the film biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan…. Following the film, Akbar Ahmed, one of the world’s leading authorities on Islam and the driving force behind the making of this film, spoke of his experiences in producing the movie and of his understanding of Jinnah’s place in 20th century history.”

Today, in an era of increasingly unstable relations between the U.S. and Pakistan,Hathaway, a historian by training and a leading expert on U.S.-Pakistan relations remains active. Before serving as the Asia Program director at the Wilson Center, Hathaway served as a professional staff member on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

His book,The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States, is a concise and balanced presentation of a complicated relationship. It seeks to explain why it is that despite the U.S. being the world’s sole superpower, Pakistan has long been able to take American attempts to leverage its behavior and turn it against Washington. Thus, as the U.S. grapples with new challenges in its relations with Pakistan, with President Trump’s New Year’s tweet condemning Pakistan’s “lies & deceit” escalating an unnecessary crisis between the two allies, it is important for leaders in both countries to heed Hathaway’s sage advice. While it may be too early to produce an obituary for U.S.-Pakistan relations, the matter is causing widespread speculation and anxiety.

Hathaway opens his book with a captivating quote among others from the great Greek scholar Archimedes: “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” The study opens with a succinct executive summary – a tactic more scholars would be wise to employ in sharing their valuable insights.

Here, he lays out his core questions: “Why, over a period of seventy years, has the United States so frequently failed in persuading, bribing, or coercing Pakistan to follow policies that Washington desired, and which seemed to U.S. policymakers to reflect Pakistani interests as well?”and “How has Pakistan, with some frequency, maneuvered Washington for Islamabad’s own purposes—indeed, seemingly wielding leverage over the United States?”

Bringing the book fully up-to-date, Hathaway in his executive summary also criticizes the approach Trump has taken in acting as if aid alone is sufficient leverage over a country. He explains that for Pakistan, American aid has been “welcome but not essential—prizes worth working to acquire, but not at any price.” Thus, Hathaway cautions that, “Americans, in dealing with Pakistan in the years ahead — and with other nations — need to be more modest in their expectations for leverage.”

He opens the mainbody of the study by recounting President Musharraf’s conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the intelligence chief’s conversation with Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, in the hours following the 9/11 attacks. Hathaway is able to utilize this story to make the point that the message Pakistan most likely heard from the U.S. following 9/11 was, “Pakistan had no option but to enlist in the campaign to punish those responsible for 9/11.”

US policymakers should take to heart the book’s closing argument: “Both the Old Testament and the Quran tell the story of David and Goliath, where the callow youth, bearing only a slingshot, felled the fearsome giant. It’s a cautionary tale that strong states, not least the United States, would do well to remember”

Another story Hathaway deploys well is that of the November 2011 drone misfire on the Salala military checkpoint which killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers, and how controversy over the attack and an inadequate American apology reveals both the dependency America has had on Pakistani cooperation in arenas such as Afghanistan and the limits of Pakistan’s leverage over the U.S. Hathaway also uses sharp historical analysis in discussing how Zia was able to leverage America’s top foreign policy goal of containing the Soviets, and thus back Pakistani support for the mujahideen, to continue to receive American aid while still developing nuclear weapons against their will. These are but a few examples of the historical topics Hathaway addresses throughout the study.

Of the many sharp insights, Hathaway notes the missteps which now characterize U.S.-Pakistan relationship beyond the personalities of certain leaders. He writes, “In recent years, as the war in Afghanistan ground on and on, Washington’s commitment to the Pakistani connection and dependence upon Pakistan has handed Islamabad huge leverage over its far stronger partner…. Americans, then, should be more modest in their expectations for leverage, and understand that there are limits to the leverage that even great power provides.”

U.S. policymakers should take to heart the book’s closing argument: “Both the Old Testament and the Quran tell the story of David and Goliath, where the callow youth, bearing only a slingshot, felled the fearsome giant. It’s a cautionary tale that strong states, not least the United States, would do well to remember.”

With the heat and anger surrounding the current interaction between Islamabad and Washington, the voice of Hathaway – reasoned, calm, and compassionate – comes as a relief. For anyone interested in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Hathaway’s The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States is compulsory reading.

 

The writer is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He tweets @AskAkbar

Published in Daily Times, January 20th 2018.