the leverage paradox

Written by Aima Raza 6:00 pm Book Reviews, Published Content

The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States

Robert M. Hathaway’s “The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States” gives a very unique picture of the relationship between Pakistan and the United States. After a careful perusal of the events, he concludes, contrary to public opinion, that it was not the United States but Pakistan that has had an upper hand.
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Miss Aima Raza graduated with a degree in International Relations from Bahria University. She is working as an Assistant Conference Manager at the National Security Division (NSD) of the Prime Minister's Office. She's previously worked as an intern at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies (IPDS).

A Roller Coaster Partnership

In the contemporary era of increasingly unstable relations between Pakistan and the United States, Robert M. Hathaway, an expert on US-Pakistan relations and a historian by training, remains quite active about these two states and their concerns. Currently, he is serving at the Wilson Centre as the Asia Program director. His book, the Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States, came out in 2017 and is divided into four portions.

Robert M. Hathaway’s focus in the Leverage Paradox remains primarily on his bid to explain the relationship between power and leverage. He uses the US-Pakistan relationship to explore the use of power and why Pakistan, despite being a weaker and smaller state in every way, fended the US leverage. As Mr. Hathaway would put it, it’s been a “roller coaster partnership”. He talks about the situation as it really was and is.

The author doesn’t go into detail and instead offers a timeline of events in his book. His focus was on understanding the leverage paradox between the two states, and the fact that he used the word ‘leverage’ more than four hundred times tells you that he did not wander far away from the topic. The book’s raison d’être is about the failure of the US to convert its power into leverage against Pakistan, and then to discuss whether power really does bring leverage.

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A Dramatic Turn of Events

He talks about how the numerous administrations at the helm of the US have thought that power equalled leverage yet never managed to bully Pakistan into doing precisely what they would have wanted it to do. In his electoral campaign, President Trump can be forgiven for saying that “he would need only two minutes to force Pakistan to release Shakil Afridi”, considering that all this was needed to be said for political point-scoring and gaining a bigger vote-bank.

On the other hand, when people like Dick Cheney say that “a more muscular approach to diplomacy is far more likely to produce desired results”, then it’s a problem. These people were in a position of power, and they had the chance to do all this, but why did the US fail then? Some analysts believe that the US had the maximum amount of leverage in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, yet Pakistan cleverly managed to play the dual game with the Taliban and stave off US pressure.

Does that mean leverage does not equal power? Some analysts even go as far as saying that the US ended up investing too much in Pakistan. President Trump promised to cut down on aid, following the steps of his predecessor, President Obama. However, is Pakistan really to blame for all this? Mr. Hathaway disagrees by quoting Paul Getty, “When you owe the bank a hundred dollars, you have a problem; but when you owe the bank $100 million, the bank has a problem.”

Pakistan Stands Tall

The Leverage Paradox explains how Pakistan has carried on despite US coercion and even managed to exert a bit of its own leverage. Be it intentional or down to lucky decisions, Pakistan has done exceedingly well. The general population might disagree, but as Mr. Hathaway explains, Pakistan stuck to its plan and used some excellent methods to prioritize its fundamental concern, that is, security and existence, over anything that the US wanted them to do.

Even when there was a conflict between the two states, Pakistan had its way, on more than just one occasion. He also explains how Pakistan, in turn, managed to leverage the far stronger US. Most Pakistanis are of the view that Pakistan was bullied into the “War on Terror”, but the officials in the US do not feel that way.

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President Musharraf may have agreed to all of the demands that the US made, even though the Bush administration was expecting agreement on only a few of those demands, the fact that the US still invested in Afghanistan seventeen years later, shows that the Americans did not get what they wanted. It was a bit like the famous argument on bullets and bandages, as Pakistan used the desperation of the US for its own benefit.

In return for the agreement, Pakistan received billions of dollars in aid, continued its ties with the Taliban groups, shut the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) and even got the great and supreme United States of America to issue an apology. In my opinion, it’s a very well-written book. There’s no bias involved, and he explains really well the limitations the US faced in its dealing with Pakistan.

The final chapter, “Deflecting Pressure, Maximizing Leverage”, concludes the book brilliantly in this regard. He mentioned that the US should have:

  • Realized the priorities of Pakistan and should have valued them. There were insecurities regarding India and the presence of a regime/government in Afghanistan with close ties to India.
  • Stopped overestimating its financial aid to Pakistan. The financial aid was definitely a lot, but it was never enough for what they asked Pakistan to do.
  • Cut down its dependence on Pakistan. Not sure how it could have done that, but leverage only works effectively if the state being leveraged does not realize that it is being leveraged and does not come across as desperate.
  • Realized the importance of domestic politics in Pakistan.
  • Realized its tone and style. It always came across as “arrogant” and “condescending”. The threats and public ultimatums gained popularity at home for the US, but they were not the right way of conducting diplomacy. The US should have learned from China’s way of “friendly diplomacy”.

All in the Cards

As Mr. Hathaway expressed, Pakistan held all three valuable cards, which a “weaker” state must have if they are to deflect, or better yet, exert leverage:

  • It occupied strategic geography.
  • It possessed considerable strength in its own right.
  • It was able to capitalize on the needs of the stronger state to further its own ends.
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All in all, even with all these methods, and the other clever tactics that Pakistan adopted, Pakistan also had another trick up its sleeve. The US could not see Pakistan fail, as it had already invested way too much. Furthermore, an unstable Pakistan would mean instability at an unprecedented level. “Pakistan might fall apart, unleashing a torrent of dangers upon the region and the world – loose nukes, refuge or extremists of various flavors, a flood of refugees, heightened tensions with India.”

It was never an option, and it will never be an option. Moreover, the worst thing for the US in all this is that Pakistan realizes the importance that it brings. As Mr. Hathaway puts it, Pakistan had “mastered the art of negotiating with a gun to its own head.” Robert Hathaway’s areas of expertise are the US and the South Asian region, and he has used his experience and years of research to compile this book which revolves around the question of leverage and encompasses the relations between Pakistan and the US.

Mr. Hathaway employs existing theories and history to discuss what leverage is and comments on domestic politics, cultures, and even on the psychological side of diplomacy in his book. He also uses a lot of different prisms to find the answer. Furthermore, it’s a detailed analysis that dissects all the important diplomatic meetings and statements that the two countries have exchanged during their relationship.

It’s all done in an effort to explain how Pakistan has responded to the carrot and stick diplomacy of the US. However, I believe it lacks the chronological order of dates. The events are scattered and do not follow an order, which makes it hard for the reader to understand what is happening, and that is what makes the writing style of the author rather confusing for the readers. It is nevertheless an insightful read.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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