Life for many members of Washington’s diplomatic corps is, one imagines, pretty much a picnic. For example, the ambassador fromBarbados generally faces no career-threatening crises. Nor does the ambassador from Luxembourg.
Others have trickier assignments. The ambassador from Yemen, Abdulwahab Abdulla al-Hajjri, can’t be having an easy time lately, especially since his brother-in-law is his country’s beleaguered and despised president. The ambassador from Bahrain, Houda Nonoo, is in the supremely odd position of being a Jewish woman representing a Sunni Muslim monarchy that oppresses a Shiite majority.
The ambassador with the hardest job in Washington is undoubtedly Pakistan’s Husain Haqqani, a skilled and wily diplomat who faces the near-impossible task of representing a country that Washington considers at once a crucial ally and a treacherous adversary.
A one-time Islamist turned pro-democracy Americaphile, Haqqani is seen by many in his own country as an American toady. But some of his critics, including many of Pakistan’s generals, benefit materially from Haqqani’s work as his country’s most effective interpreter and apologist.
Bin Laden Dilemma
Haqqani’s entire tenure as ambassador has been an exercise in crisis management. But the crisis has become truly perilous since a U.S. Navy SEAL team found Osama bin Laden living quietly in a city not far from Pakistan’s capital and killed him May 2.
Pakistan saw the raid as a gross violation of its sovereignty; the U.S. saw Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan as, at the very least, proof of Pakistan’s unwillingness to fight terrorism. Since the raid, the countries have behaved like an about-to-be-divorced couple: The Pakistanis have been rolling up CIA networks, and the U.S. has suspended $800 million in military aid.
I visited Haqqani recently at his embassy, which is across the street from the Israelis (of all people), to talk about the diverse impossibilities of his assignment. He didn’t completely disagree with me when I suggested that he has the worst job in the city.
“You can call it the worst, or the best,” he said. “I see it as the single most challenging.”
Haqqani faces a double-layered problem. Not only is his country viewed by many on Capitol Hillas an enemy state, but also Pakistanis at home have turned ferociously anti-American. So Haqqani spends as much time explaining America to Pakistan as he does explaining Pakistan to America.
He recently visited his country’s National Defense University and asked a group of officers, “What is the principal national security threat to Pakistan?” A plurality named not India, or al-Qaeda, but the U.S.
Haqqani blames Pakistan’s democratic nature (he has taken to speaking as if the Pakistani military doesn’t have veto power over decisions made by the civilian government) for part of the country’s anti-U.S. turn.
“Because we are a democracy now, the political leadership, while maintaining good relations with the United States, does not want to risk too much politically in terms of speaking out on behalf of this relationship. So I end up having to do the speaking out for this bilateral relationship.” He paused, then said, “Which causes issues for me.”
He also blames the policies of the U.S. “You can’t have a relationship with a country just by making demands on it. Pakistanis ask why you don’t understand our domestic politics. Americans have to take into account that the primary emotion on the Pakistani side is abandonment and a feeling that America doesn’t respect us. Of course, I turn around and say that these are reasonable assertions, but with all due respect we have to understand their domestic compulsions as well.”
He went on, “If the primary emotion on our side is abandonment, the primary emotion on the American side is deception, that the Pakistanis deceived us.”
Whatever their reasons, it’s delusional for Pakistanis to think of the U.S. as an enemy. Although the U.S. has sometimes been a feckless partner, it is no more an enemy of Pakistan than it is of India. The U.S. spends billions of dollars on civilian and military aid to Pakistan (much of it negotiated by Haqqani), and Washington would very much like to trust in Pakistan’s friendship.
The American street, however, is deeply frustrated. One doesn’t have to believe that top Pakistani officials knew of Bin Laden’s Abbotabad hideaway — I don’t — to view Pakistan’s support for the militants killing Americans in Afghanistan as the action of a hostile state.
And so Haqqani spends most of his time patching the relationship, especially on Capitol Hill.
His work was made particularly difficult last week, when accusations surfaced that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, was secretly funneling money to U.S. political candidates to sway them to Pakistan’s side. “Out of 11 congressional offices I visited, five put the newspaper with that story in front of me. I’m trying to come and talk about the big picture issues,” he said.
It is because the Obama administration, and Congress, like Haqqani more than they like other Pakistani officials that he can be as effective as he is.
Perhaps his finest moment came during the case of Raymond Davis, the bungling CIA contractor accused of fatally shooting two people on a street in Lahore. The U.S. claimed Davis possessed diplomatic immunity; the Pakistanis disagreed.
The case was turning into the biggest crisis between Pakistan and the U.S. in years when Haqqani helped engineer an elegant solution: He turned to sharia, Muslim law, which allowed the dead men’s families to be compensated with blood money. This is the ploy that sprang Davis from jail.
But the Davis matter pales in comparison to today’s tensions. Pakistan and the U.S. are near the point of breakup, with devastating consequences for the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hillary Clinton, who was visiting India last week, essentially designated Pakistan’s traditional adversary as a strategic partner.
There’s only so much a single ambassador can do. What’s most noticeable today in the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is the fatigue caused by the comprehensive dysfunctions between them. Haqqani sees this fatigue wherever he goes.
“I try to explain these countries to each other. Sometimes I meet people who say, ‘Oh, God, here is the man who has an explanation for everything.’”
(Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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The Article is originally published as http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-26/husain-haqqani-hardest-working-man-in-dc-commentary-by-jeffrey-goldberg.html
In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan was forced to revise, on short notice, policies that had been pursued for the preceding three decades. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and America’s response to these attacks, presented the country with few alternatives. But the change of direction was sudden and without adequate national debate. An individual who had assumed power in a coup d’état felt compelled to adapt to international pressures, events and a changing regional scenario. His survival, rather than a broader view of changed national interest, dictated the policy changes that were introduced piecemeal in 2001.
There is no question that Pakistan needs a new direction to realise the vision of its founding fathers. We have to bounce back from the brink.Terrorism lives among us. It is the biggest challenge for the people of Pakistan and the international community. The country must also tackle rising global oil prices, high inflation, energy shortages, unemployment, low foreign investment and political instability.
What, then, should be the course of action for those seeking a secure, democratic, modern and progressive Pakistan, with respect for the rights of the people and a stable environment for all citizens to progress and develop?
First and foremost, we must renegotiate our understanding of recent history and national identity. Do we want to be a country associated with extremism and militancy? A country that is considered a safe haven for terrorists from around the world? One where extremists kill and maim citizens and soldiers with impunity? Do we want to be on the right side of history?
The correct answer to all these questions involves our continuingalong the democratic path. If consent of the governed is the most fundamental concept of democracy, its most essential right is that of citizens to choose their leaders in free, fair and regular elections. Freedom of press is obviously vital for the nourishment of democracy. It is important that the voice of the people, with all its diversity, is not suppressed. At the same time, if the media fails to protect the democratic ideal, then it is not playing its role in a free society. A truly independent judiciary is another vital requisite for ensuring democratic culture.
Democracy needs great patience. It may be tempting to dislodge a government prematurely or demand midterm elections but true democracy lies in governmental stability between scheduled national elections. Only if democracy is given the time to mature will Pakistan have a chance to join the rank of nations where the majority prefers sensible policy over immediate patronage.
Since 2008, Pakistan has been in the process of rebuilding a democratic tradition. President Zardari relinquished the sweeping presidential powers he inherited from Pervez Musharraf by signing the 18th Amendment which returned Pakistan to a parliamentary democracy more in line with its 1973 Constitution. The political reconciliation process initiated by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and carried forward by the government has the potential to restore people’s confidence in the democratic forces. But the political class has to change its culture of endless bickering and constant one-upmanship.
Pakistan has taken the challenge of defeating the Pakistani Taliban seriously. Pakistan’s army and Frontier Corps are taking up the fight and have the citizenry with them.While limited resources are available, the country has made enormous investments in its internal security apparatus. This menace is not going to go anywhere soon. We must have the backbone to confront it — and, over a longer period of time, to defeat it.
The country’s challenges are daunting but there is no alternative to staying the course. We can allow our difficulties to lead us down the road of restiveness, as has been the case in the past. The result would be an illusion of change, possibly with a saviour or strongman emerging only to leave the nation’s fundamental direction unresolved. The only way forward towards a liberal, progressive Pakistan is through patience and faith in democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2011.