By MIRA SETHI, Islamabad, Pakistan
‘There are forces in Pakistan that want us to live in fear—fear of external and internal enemies.” So warns Husain Haqqani, until November Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington and now a de facto prisoner of the Pakistani generals whose ire he has provoked. “But just as the KGB and the Stasi did not succeed in suppressing the spirit of the Soviet and East German people, these forces won’t succeed in Pakistan in the long run, either.”
I am speaking to Mr. Haqqani in a spacious room in the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, where the 55-year-old former ambassador—wearing a cotton tunic, loose trousers and white rubber slippers—has been living for weeks, mainly for fear that he might be assassinated outside. The living arrangements may seem odd for those unfamiliar with Pakistan’s fractured politics. But his fear is not ill-founded.
Mr. Haqqani’s fall from political grace began on Oct. 10, 2011, when an American businessman of Pakistani descent, Mansoor Ijaz, took to the op-ed pages of the Financial Times to broadcast an explosive claim. In the aftermath of the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, Mr. Ijaz alleged, he was approached by a “senior Pakistani diplomat” to pass on a memo to Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. The memo sought U.S. help in fending off a possible military coup in Pakistan and effecting a civilian takeover of the country’s security program.
Some weeks after publishing his op-ed—and, it turns out, after secretly meeting with the chief of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter-services Intelligence (ISI)—Mr. Ijaz claimed that Mr. Haqqani was the diplomat who had asked him to draft the memo. He said he had corresponded with Mr. Haqqani via Blackberry messages, phone conversations and emails to formulate the memo.
Mr. Haqqani denied the allegation and returned to Pakistan to clear his name after “Memogate”—as the issue was breathlessly dubbed in Pakistan’s media—threatened to rupture civil-military relations. When he landed at Islamabad airport on Nov. 20, the military seized his passport.
“I did not craft or write the memo that is currently the cause of controversy,” Mr. Haqqani tells me flatly. Nonetheless, he offered his resignation as ambassador to facilitate the inquiry. Shortly afterward, Pakistan’s supreme court took up the matter and banned Mr. Haqqani from leaving the country.
Back in the U.S., Adm. Mullen claims to have only a hazy recollection of having received, but not taken seriously, an unsigned memo that did not bear the imprimatur of the Pakistani government. The upshot, as Mr. Haqqani points out, is a Pakistani scandal that “involves a memo written by an American and delivered through an American [retired Gen. Jim Jones], to an American military official who consigned it to the dustbin.”
It also bears noting that the central “conspiracy” in Memogate supposedly involves an attempt by civilian agents of Pakistan’s government to protect that government from yet another illegal military coup. That didn’t stop Pakistan’s supreme court from taking up charges of “treason” against Mr. Haqqani that could carry the death penalty. Nor has it prevented elements in Pakistan’s media from seeking to convict Mr. Haqqani as a traitor and “American agent.”
Such incitements are not idle in the context of Pakistan’s violent street politics. Last year saw the assassination in broad daylight of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s largest province, whom media had vilified for criticizing the country’s notorious blasphemy laws and championing the cause of a Christian woman sentenced under them. Taseer’s assassin—one of his own bodyguards—instantly became a hero in many quarters. Four months later, investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad was abducted, tortured and killed after he exposed al Qaeda’s infiltration of the Pakistani Navy. ISI involvement in Shahzad’s killing is widely suspected though it was officially denied by a recent commission of inquiry led by a supreme court judge.
These precedents weigh on Mr. Haqqani, but he seems determined to press on. “I lived in the United States and taught in the United States,” he says, referring to his time as professor of international relations at Boston University and his stint as ambassador. “But I never sought American citizenship because I wanted to be able to contribute to the process of reform and the idea of civilian supremacy in Pakistan.”
This points to the issue at the heart of Mr. Haqqani’s—and Pakistan’s—predicament: The failure of “the idea of civilian supremacy” to gain both a practical and uncontested grip. Instead, Pakistani politics lives in a kind of halfway-house neatly captured by Mr. Haqqani’s halfway-house status as both guest and prisoner—a guest of the country’s democratically elected leadership, a prisoner of the military and associated antidemocratic forces that want to make an example of the urbane diplomat.
If anyone is equipped to analyze these dilemmas, it is Mr. Haqqani. His 2005 book, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military” drew attention to the Islamist proxies of Pakistan’s military that have killed thousands of Pakistanis and destabilized Afghanistan for two decades. “One of the reasons some people in the establishment hate me so much is because of my book. In fact, when I was made ambassador, somebody said to me that until you recant your book, you will never be forgiven by the Pakistani establishment.”
He explains that “Pakistan has a long history of military intervention in politics. There were years when the military did not directly intervene but used proxies. Throughout the 1990s, we had four changes of government and forced early elections each time. For example, among the first allegations against Benazir Bhutto”—the former prime minister assassinated by al Qaeda affiliates in 2007—”was that she was somehow going to compromise the country’s nuclear program. So, there are elements entrenched in the apparatus of state who are very reluctant to fully trust the elected leaders of the country.”
I press him on the invisible pressures on President Asif Ali Zardari’s unpopular government. “Soon after I resigned President Zardari fell ill,” he notes. “The psychological-warfare machine tried to give it the color of President Zardari fleeing the country. He went [to Dubai] to get treated and then came back.” Speaking perhaps as much to reassure himself as to lend some support to Mr. Zardari—who, if he stays in office through the end of his term in 2013, will be the first Pakistani president to do so—Mr. Haqqani adds that “In all psychological warfare, if the targets keep their nerves, then nothing happens.”
Indeed Mr. Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani—Mr. Haqqani’s other main protector—are both continually fighting for their political survival. For Mr. Gilani, charges of contempt of court could cost him his prime ministership. For Mr. Zardari, longstanding corruption charges still dog him, and his rivals on the Supreme Court could soon strip him of his presidential immunity. If either man is convicted, the government will fall, possibly dooming Mr. Haqqani and his cause.
As ambassador in Washington, Mr. Haqqani was often referred to as “silver-tongued,” a man able to communicate effectively with officials of different political persuasions. Cultivating a relationship with a senator based on shared appreciation of a book on, say, tribal warfare, was the kind of thing that came easily to him.
He says he represented Pakistan diligently at a time when U.S.-Pakistani relations were deeply strained. “There is a longstanding culture of grievance in Pakistan,” he says. “A lot of Pakistanis feel the U.S. has not always been responsive to Pakistan’s geostrategic concerns. The Pakistani national narrative also says that Pakistan has been deserted by the United States many times. And the U.S. has not done enough to try and change that national narrative.”
As for the current U.S. administration, he says that it “does not have the human resources right now to fully understand the complexities of Pakistan and engage with them. They don’t have the people who understand.”
The traditional pattern of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been that American intelligence wants working relations with Pakistani intelligence, and the State Department wants working relations with Pakistan’s foreign office. “The U.S. will have to find a balance between their immediate needs and the long-term usefulness of their actions,” says Mr. Haqqani. “They always say the civilian government is ‘too weak’ for them to engage with. But how will the civilian government become strong if, on all major issues, U.S. officials keep running to Pakistan’s military leaders for advice and consultation?”
Still, Mr. Haqqani is not about to blame the U.S. for Pakistan’s failures to develop into a normal state. The progressive dreams of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, have been “shattered by religious extremism and repeated military interventions in politics.” Enunciating his words carefully, he adds: “While I respect the Pakistani armed forces, I certainly do not support the idea of a militarized Pakistan.”
Things may yet work out in Mr. Haqqani’s favor. The military and its allies may detest him and want to wound his friends in government, but they do not seem prepared to bring the government down, much less formally take the reins of state. Pakistan is still dependent in many ways on the U.S., which is its biggest trading partner and supplier of military resources. Two weeks ago, U.S. Sens. John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk issued a statement saying they were “increasingly troubled” by the treatment of Mr. Haqqani and were “closely following” his case.
Yet it says something dark about Pakistan that an episode as preposterous as Memogate can all but paralyze the politics of a country already reeling from a faltering economy, sectarian violence and a parlous international situation. The military establishment is still pursuing an arms race with India and helping the Taliban in Afghanistan—and it has been remarkably successful in casting its domestic opponents as agents of the CIA or Indian intelligence. Thus Mr. Haqqani’s concern: “Sometimes I wonder if Salmaan Taseer’s fate awaits all those of us who stand up for a different vision for Pakistan.”
Ms. Sethi is an assistant books editor at the Journal.
Courtesy: Wall Street Journal