Richard Leiby, a Washington Post staff writer, was the paper’s Pakistan bureau chief from 2012 to 2013.

Read his book and you might think Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2011, is no friend of his homeland. Its leaders are liars, double-dealers and shakedown artists, he says. They have been this way for decades, and, as Haqqani ably documents, the United States often has served as Pakistan’s willing dupe. But for all its criticism of Pakistan, “Magnificent Delusions” is a necessary prescriptive: If there’s any hope of salvaging what seems like a doomed relationship, it helps to know how everything went so wrong. Haqqani is here to tell us.

These days Haqqani lives in virtual exile in Boston. A liberal academic and player in Pakistani politics since 1989, he has long been a critic of the country’s all-powerful military and intelligence apparatus. In 2011, in a curious episode dubbed “Memogate,” he was accused of seeking U.S. help to subdue the Pakistani military. He denied the allegations but lost his post. Later, a commission established by Pakistan’s Supreme Court tarred him as a traitor, making it dangerous for him to return to the country once he left.

“My detractors in Pakistan’s security services and among pro-Jihadi groups have long accused me of being pro-American,” he writes; “they failed to see that advocating a different vision for my troubled nation was actually pro-Pakistan.”

Owing to an earlier book, which bored into the links between the military and Islamic extremism, Haqqani is no stranger to political retribution. This may color his views, and sometimes he goes into tedious historical detail, but even so, “Magnificent Delusions,” which traces 67 years of the ill-matched partnership between the United States and Pakistan, stands as a solid synthesis of history, political analysis and social critique.

“Magnificient Delusions: Pakistan, the United Nations, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding” by Husain Haqqani (PublicAffairs Books). ( / )

But why read it? Most Americans have made up their minds about Pakistan, and vice versa. We don’t trust them; they don’t like us. You might, however, want some answers: Where’s the payoff for that $40 billion in aid (Haqqani’s figure) we’ve showered on the country since it was formed in 1947? Why does it remain an economic basket case and a snakes’ nest of Islamic terrorism?

Having reported there, I see the problem with Pakistan — with its leaders, anyway — in simple terms. It’s like a shiftless, sort-of friend who comes around periodically for a handout, swearing that self-reliance is just around the corner. But he just might mug you if it serves his interest. So do you hand over more cash? Sure, if you don’t mind being fleeced again.

Haqqani holds essentially the same view. Yet Uncle Sam has almost always caved to Pakistani demands, the book makes clear, to pursue America’s expedient, realpolitik ends. “Since 1947,” Haqqani writes, “dependence, deception and defiance have characterized U.S.-Pakistan relations. We sought U.S. aid in return for promises we did not keep. Although even strong allies do not have 100 percent congruent interests, in the case of Pakistan and the United States, the divergence far exceeded the similarities.”

Pakistani leaders have had to balance their appetite for greenbacks against the nation’s standing as an independent actor. Sometimes Pakistani officials must create a fiction of not cooperating with the Americans when in fact they are. For example, as recently reported by The Washington Post, as ambassador, Haqqani was briefed by U.S. intelligence officials about drone strikes while his bosses in Islamabad were denouncing them as intolerable violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

It’s fascinating to learn how little the fraught relationship has changed over the decades. “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” the father of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, declared in 1947. Pakistani leaders were saying the same thing in 2012 after shutting down NATO supply routes through the country, forcing the U.S.-led Western powers to find expensive alternatives.

Jinnah cast Pakistan as “the pivot of the world,” in terms of geostrategy, and a bulwark against Soviet communism. But it has frequently overreached in its demands for aid because of an inflated sense of its own importance. “In 1947-48 Pakistan had yet to do anything for America, yet it still expected huge inflows of U.S. cash, commodities, and arms,” Haqqani notes. It requested a $2 billion loan; the United States responded with 0.5 percent of that — $10 million.

During the Cold War, though, Pakistan’s playing of the Soviet card proved quite lucrative. It became a favored U.S. ally, assisting in spy operations against the Russians. Gary Powers’s U-2 plane flew from a base in Pakistan’s northwest, and Pakistan permitted the installation of a National Security Agency listening post. Richard Nixon was a true believer when it came to Pakistan’s strategic value against the communists. “Pakistan is a country I would like to do everything for,” he said after visiting the subcontinent as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. “The people have fewer complexes than the Indians.”

As president, Nixon used Pakistan to launch secret U.S. overtures to China. The reward was unquestioned financial support. Pakistan similarly prospered during the Reagan years, enlisted in the battle against the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan, as well as under George W. Bush, who launched what turned out to be a troubled counterterrorism partnership after Sept. 11, 2001. Over the years, in generously arming Pakistan, Haqqani shows, U.S. leaders enabled it to turn those guns against India, its existential enemy, and blunder into unwise military adventures.

Pakistan’s paranoid obsession with India courses through “Magnificent Delusions.” The goal of seizing Indian-held territory in Kashmir has allowed Pakistan’s generals to keep the country on permanent war footing, the better to hog revenue, even while the majority of the populace suffers in penury. A narrative of persecution also runs through the pysche of Pakistan as a whole. The public, whipped up by the military and mullahs, is led to believe that the nation’s problems are the work of “hidden hands.” I noticed how often leaders blamed conspiracies by India, Israel and America — that is to say, Hindus, Jews and Christians — for undermining the country, rather than owning up to social and economic ills of Pakistan’s own creation.

James M. Langley, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, is one of the prescient figures we meet in Haqqani’s book. Langley called it “wishful thinking” to consider the Pakistanis pro-American and warned of the danger of building up Pakistan’s military to fight the communist bloc: “In Pakistan we have an unruly horse by the tail and are confronted by the dilemma of trying to tame it before we can let go safely,” he said. And, he noted, this horse that “we assumed to be so friendly has actually grown wilder of late.” He wrote that in 1957. It is still true.

For many Americans, the fact that Osama bin Laden lived for nine years in Pakistan before he was killed by U.S. commandos was proof enough that Pakistan belongs in the “enemy” column, not “ally.” The shame is that Pakistanis are a pious, warm and hospitable people — at least the many I met during my year and a half there. Haqqani’s book would have greatly benefited from showing us some of them: Giving common people voice helps us know who they are, how they live and what they think.

They are not the enemy. Just like average Americans, they simply pay the price of their leaders’ magnificent mistakes.

Richard Leiby, a Washington Post staff writer, was the paper’s Pakistan bureau chief from 2012 to 2013.


Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding

By Husain Haqqani

PublicAffairs. 413 pp. $28.99