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(Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State)

Review by Jon P. Dorschner

Reimagining Pakistan (Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State)

by Hussain Haqqani

Pakistan has been decried as a failing state for as long as I can remember. Its travails have been discussed in hosts of books during this period. Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani has now added his own title. Much of the material Haqqani covers has been dealt with elsewhere. It is difficult to determine what new contribution this book can make, and whether readers pressed for time should select it out of the many other titles.

It would be easy to dismiss Reimagining Pakistan as a throwaway, but I think this would be a mistake. The book falls squarely within the classic academic mold. It posits a problem, supplies the background necessary to understand and analyze the problem, and concludes with policy recommendations, to address the problem. Haqqani does a good job of sticking within these parameters, making a solid contribution to the literature.

Haqqani, one of Pakistan’s most outspoken political and cultural liberals, describes Pakistan’s malaise, enumerates its causes, and hypothesizes about a possible way out. Pakistan’s once-powerful liberals, with their strong emphasis on moderation, at one time dominated the political/economic mainstream and maintained an open-minded and secular outlook stressing personal freedom. They are now an endangered species, driven out of the country and forced to seek sanctuary abroad. Haqqani himself faces death threats in Pakistan and must reside in the United States for his own personal safety. Pakistan’s liberals have a rapidly shrinking constituency within the country, and are taken far more seriously by foreign scholars than their own people.

Pakistani liberals have been supplanted by increasingly outspoken Islamists, bent on eliminating the last vestiges of westernization and liberalism from the country. Haqqani points out that this was not always the case. Pakistan was founded as a homeland for South Asian Muslims, but not a theocracy. Its founders, including the father of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were thoroughly grounded in the Western democratic tradition and meant to establish a secular state where all Pakistanis could worship freely.

But, Haqqani emphasizes, Pakistan’s founders proved incapable of realizing their liberal ideal. Ill-equipped to administer a new country facing serious economic and political problems, it proved easier to fall back on Islamic obscurantism, hatred for India, and military adventurism. In the process, economic and social development became forgotten priorities. The result was a state relying on the “Pakistan ideology,” rather than pragmatic problem solving.

Pakistan is plagued by seemingly unresolvable paradoxes. The Pakistan ideology stresses Islamic identity, replaces Pakistan’s South Asian identity with an artificial identification with the Middle East and eradicates the country’s ancient, pre-Islamic, heritage. Haqqani notes that Pakistan “has adopted a radical version of Islamic orthodoxy as a state ideology even though its people’s practice of Islam is generally based on heterodox Sufism.” While decrying the non-Islamic West, Pakistan is politically and economically dependent on it. Instead of implementing genuine economic development, Pakistan sells its “strategic location” to foreign powers and relies on massive infusions of foreign aid. “Its political tradition is largely authoritarian even as it speaks of itself as a democracy.” Obsessed with perceived security threats, Pakistan embraces nuclear weapons and supports terrorist groups that undermine the stability of India and Afghanistan.

Haqqani provides a succinct expression of the Pakistani liberal point of view, a plausible causality between conscious decisions made by Pakistani elites and the consequences Pakistan now faces, and a list of course corrections the country can take to address its problems. Haqqani argues that, since the country’s dire straits are the result of conscious ideological positions and decisions made by ruling elites, these same elites can consciously change course and rework old assumptions to adopt, new, more workable positions.

Pakistan is, and has always been, a country dominated by tiny powerful elites. They initially consisted of the landlord class, the military, and the civil service. Later, Islamic clerics (Maulvis) joined this exclusive club. Pakistan always favored an economic model based on state dominance of the economy, and the Pakistan government consciously created an industrialist/capitalist class. These new captains of industry also joined the policy elites.

To cement their hold on power, policy elites have cultivated a sense of grievance among Pakistanis, spinning ever more elaborate conspiracy theories. They refused to accept responsibility for their mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption, choosing instead, to blame Pakistan’s problems on India, the United States, Israel, and other conspirators. By renouncing secularism and bringing the Maulvis into the political system, they opened a veritable Pandora’s box. They espoused an overarching Islamic identity, but failed to define what Islam means. Pakistan’s Muslims belong to a wide variety of sects and orientations. Intra-Muslim conflict has mushroomed into violence and terrorism. While Pakistan has long exported terrorism to its neighbors, it has now come to Pakistan with a vengeance. The Pakistan Army, which works hand in glove with terrorist groups active in India and Afghanistan, must now fight homegrown Islamic terrorists bent on destroying the Pakistani state and replacing it with some imagined Islamic ideal.

Pakistan’s elites decided to transform the Pakistani population into “Islamic warriors,” and maintain an enormous (and very expensive) military establishment. This has now been compounded by the ongoing development of a Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal. This militarization has diverted valuable funds from economic and social development, leaving Pakistan with some of the world’s lowest social and economic indicators. Pakistan has an extremely low literacy rate, its educational and medical infrastructure is poor. Its people suffer from a lack of access to medical facilities, medicine, and doctors.

Haqqani points out that any ruling elite in any country must make policy decisions based on national interest. Not only have Pakistan’s ruling elites failed to adopt this outlook, they have embraced what historian Barbara Tuchman calls the “March of Folly,” continuing to pursue policies proven over time to contradict national interest.

Haqqani urges Pakistan’s ruling elites (especially the military), to rethink their approach. He calls on them to cut Pakistan’s ties to terrorism, normalize its relations with its neighbors, especially India and Afghanistan, remove barriers to regional trade, and shift investment from the military to economic development, infrastructure and social services. He urges Pakistan to change from a nation of “Islamic warriors” to a nation of traders. Haqqani points out that Pakistan’s client relationship with the United States, which continued for decades, is now coming to an end. As the United States departs, Pakistan turns to China as its new benefactor.

Pakistanis are often quick to point out that despite ongoing predictions of imminent collapse, the country continues to soldier on. This, say many Pakistanis, provides proof that Pakistanis are stronger and more resilient than anyone gives them credit for. They have the power to overcome any obstacles. Haqqani expresses great affection for his country and his countrymen. He is proud of them, and believes they deserve better. Unlike many of the doomsayers, Haqqani does not predict Pakistan’s demise. He concedes that with Chinese assistance, Pakistan can likely continue on its present course for some time. This survivability does not denote success, however. Pakistan is surviving while other countries in the region are surpassing it. Likewise, the clock can run out. There is no guarantee that Pakistan can continue indefinitely. Historical precedent has shown that other states, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, unraveled quickly and the same could happen to Pakistan.

Haqqani has done a good job of analyzing Pakistan’s existential problems. He has done so in a book aimed at the general reader rather than the South Asia scholar. The book is easy to follow and easy to read, and does not confuse the reader with masses of data. Haqqani has made his best effort, but he would agree that it would be difficult to convince Pakistani elites to adopt his policy recommendations. While elites in an authoritarian set-up such as Pakistan can implement policy changes quickly, Haqqani’s recommendations would require normative changes. These take time and it is not clear whether Pakistan has enough time.

Pakistan has done nothing to control its population growth, which continues at a rapid pace. This rapidly increasing population must rely on meager and creaky infrastructure and is outpacing Pakistan’s moderate economic growth. In addition, climate change will hit Pakistan hard. It appears as if no one in Pakistan has given any thought on how to address the far-reaching changes that will result. It is a recipe for disaster.

I wish Haqqani could have addressed the implications of Pakistan’s demographic and environmental challenges. These are so enormous, however, that they may require another book.End.


Jon P. Dorschner
Jon P. Dorschner


Jon P. Dorschner, PhD, a native of Tucson, Arizona, currently teaches at the University of Arizona.  He was a career Foreign Service Officer from 1982 until 2011, serving in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Iraq, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington. Jon earned a PhD in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona, has taught South Asian studies at the University level and published articles and books on South Asian subjects.

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