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Opinion

March 17, 2017

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The Haqqani affair

Is Husain Haqqani a traitor – as members of the party he used to serve are now having to say? Questioning the patriotism of those who have a liberal mindset has long been a hobby of the right-wing and is usually without any merit.

Haqqani himself has long been dogged by accusations that he is an American agent. And the man certainly hasn’t helped his case. First, there is the fact that, even for a politician, Haqqani is an especially slippery character. He changes allegiances at will and has no problem with playing the dirty tricks role for the party he is serving.

But none of that makes him a traitor. He may be in politics for the advancement of self rather than country, like almost everyone else in politics. Haqqani just doesn’t have the suave to disguise the naked self-interest that rules his every action.

Consider the Washington Post column that triggered the latest denunciations of Haqqani. In it he mentions that he forwarded the request of the Barack Obama administration to have US spies placed in Pakistan. He does this in the course of a column laying out the case why he is indispensable for any US administration that wants to deal with Pakistan. It is self-serving tripe; Pakistan’s relations with the US weren’t any better when Haqqani was representing us in Washington.

Haqqani tries to take credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, claiming that his facilitation of the US spy network in Pakistan helped locate Bin Laden. And he is nauseatingly obsequious to Donald Trump and his administration, playing down the controversy over its links to Russia. The message it sends is clear: Hire me!

One can see why some might be inclined to call Haqqani’s actions traitorous. Helping the spooks of another country is never a good look, especially for someone who has always had a cloud hanging over him. Haqqani has been accused of a lot over the course of his long career, from Memogate to a vile dirty tricks campaign against Benazir Bhutto when he was part of the PML-N. This time, though, distasteful though his actions as ambassador may have been, it is difficult to state with any certainty that Haqqani is consciously guilty of treason.

The defence for Haqqani is that he did what he did out of a genuine love for country; that he was so worried about the militancy problem and the lack of action from the state that he was even willing to work with the US if it would help in the fight against the TTP and Al Qaeda. What is less convincing is the defence Haqqani himself has been trotting out in talk shows, where he is essentially negating what he wrote in the column.

In the Washington Post column, Haqqani specifically wrote that friends of his in the Obama administration wanted his help in “stationing US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan.” On talk shows, Haqqani has claimed he had no idea about spies being stationed in Pakistan. On one show, he outright contradicted what he had written in the column by saying: “The point is that Central Intelligence Agency operatives who notified and came to Pakistan, they all notified the Inter-Services Intelligence. They didn’t phone me and say I’m a CIA man, I’m travelling, please give me a visa.”

No one in the Trump administration watches the Mehar Bukhari show; so suddenly Haqqani isn’t as interested in claiming credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and his supposedly indispensable role in that.

What is more interesting is how Haqqani casually threw the PPP into the muck. In his column, Haqqani says, “I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved.” This gives Haqqani plausible deniability over the issuance of visas to American spies, especially since he is correct in saying that the ultimate authority over visas does not lie with the ambassador. The PPP position is made even more difficult by the fact that both the party and Haqqani were at the centre of a visa scandal in 2010 when it was alleged that 400 Americans were issued visas without seeking security clearances from the army.

We shouldn’t get too judgmental about Haqqani or even the PPP being inappropriately close to the US. That they sometimes have to agree to do things that seem against our own interests is forced on them by the nature of our relationship with the US. That Pervez Musharraf was handing over suspected militants to the US in return for bounty payments was extremely distasteful but also understandable since Musharraf was left with little choice by a country that threatened to bomb us back into the Stone Age.

Similarly, if Haqqani and the PPP sometimes had to turn a blind eye to US spy activities in Pakistan, that is unfortunate but unsurprising. If anyone thinks the Musharraf and (now) the Nawaz governments have not issued any visas to US spies, either knowingly or unwittingly, they are naïve in the extreme. What makes the Haqqani situation worse is the gauche way he went about bragging about doing this in the course of sucking up to Donald Trump.

The one thing we should not do is scapegoat the PPP for the odiousness of Husain Haqqani. There are certain facts of life that every political party in Pakistan has to accept and dominance by the US is one of them. Having to grudgingly accept US actions while publicly condemning it crosses party lines. Take the US drone campaign. It is an open secret that Islamabad and Pindi have permitted these strikes in secret even while furiously denouncing every specific strike. That makes our leaders pragmatic, not traitorous.

Instead of relitigating Husain Haqqani, which the PPP feels the need to do since it too will now have its patriotism questioned, we should we looking at how we got in this position in the first. The brief of every Pakistani ambassador to the US is to keep the aid spigot flowing. Haqqani was successful in that. That aid does not come without attached strings. To act as if Haqqani is solely responsible for selling out the country ignores the history of our transactional relationship with the US.

If we do have to look back to the past and refight old fights, it would be more useful to explore how Osama bin Laden managed to stay in Pakistan undetected for so long. Maybe we could even finally make public the Abbottabad Commission Report, which spread the blame far and wide. Scapegoating one man for the failures of a nation may be satisfying but it does not get us any closer to the truth. Husain Haqqani was a creature of the circumstances Pakistan found itself in.

 

The writer is a journalist based
in Karachi.

Email: [email protected]

 

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