WASHINGTON DC: Contrary to the impression being created by the current media frenzy in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill, Husain Haqqani continues to be viewed in Washington as the most influential ambassador Pakistan has had in many years.
Pakistan embassy officials are standing by their ambassador and say they are proud of him. This includes civilians as well as those from the defence wing who have questioned the ethics and knowledge of facts of those currently targeting Pakistan’s ambassador to the US in the context of what a US Congressman called a “manufactured crisis” over the Kerry-Lugar bill. Only last week Washington Times described him as “Embassy Row’s sharpest operator with instant access at the highest levels.”
Although many Pakistanis view ambassador Husain Haqqani as excessively “pro-American” the ambassador sees his role as a bridge between two allies that have in the past been very distrustful of one another. According to a close aide of the ambassador, he “diligently worked the halls of Congress according to the mandate given to him by Islamabad. He wrote at least 35 secret telegrams, which are circulated to all stakeholders in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, since January to keep everyone in the loop over the thinking of congress in relation to Kerry-Lugar bill. His access in Washington is an asset for the country. It is sad that personal likes and dislikes of some journalists and Pakistani-Americans are painting him in such a negative light.”
Immediately after his arrival as ambassador, Haqqani had an altercation with the APPNA, an organisation of 2000 doctors out of more than twenty-six thousand Pakistani doctors in the US. The ambassador is criticised by leaders of the Pakistani community who have traditionally projected themselves as influential in the US. As one embassy staffer put it, “Having lived in the US as an academic, ambassador Haqqani does not have patience for Pakistani-Americans who get pictures taken with US politicians in return for campaign contributions and then impress visiting Pakistani dignitaries. He would like to have better relations with these community politicians but he feels they consume too much time and bring little real influence for Pakistan.”
Activists among the Pakistani community consider the ambassador arrogant. Ambassador Haqqani, an academic and policy wonk in his own right, tends to lecture what he considers to be a community less well-versed in American political history than himself. Members of the Pakistani community don’t like it when Haqqani points out that the Jewish community built up influence and helped create Israel and it was not the Israeli embassy that built up the Jewish community’s influence in the US. Haqqani further points out that not a single Pakistani community leader is among senior Obama administration officials which includes 14 Indian-Americans at the assistant secretary level, including two Indian Muslims. “If the community activists were as influential as they claim, they would have reached real political office is how the ambassador sees things. This annoys those who in the past have been feted by Pakistani presidents and fallen over each other to get photos taken with visiting Pakistani dignitaries and campaign funds receiving US politicians,” according to an official of the Pakistani embassy.
Haqqani has been blamed by some media and political personalities for taking decisions on his own without keeping Islamabad in the loop. The embassy staffers disagree. All Pakistani embassies send home what are known as telegrams describing developments in the capitals of the countries they are located in. The telegram is sent to all stakeholders. Emphasising that Pakistan was a country with well-developed institutions, an embassy staffer asserted: “We are not a banana republic where an ambassador can do what he pleases.” In addition, Haqqani and his team ensured that each version of the bill was shared with Islamabad. On one occasion Haqqani even identified options for Pakistan as being (1) to forego aid; (2) accept aid and ensure there are no built-in sanctions; and (3) block conditions that Pakistan would not be able to meet so that aid continues to flow. The power centres in Rawalpindi and Islamabad know Haqqani’s input and are aware of his keeping everyone in the loop. The campaign against Haqqani is coming from the PML-N and PML-Q, fuelled by anti-Haqqani journalists including an editor who famously exchanged hot words with him in a Washington hotel during the visit of Prime Minister Gilani.
Concerns raised in July by some security officials were addressed through active lobbying and subsequently Islamabad was informed of the limits set by Congressional leaders. “Islamabad never communicated a decision to stop the process and forego aid as that was simply not an option back home,” embassy sources said. The Kerry-Lugar bill remains an achievement of the Zardari-Gilani government as it brings in three times more non-military aid for social sectors while keeping the current level of security assistance intact albeit with “boiler plate” conditions. During his press conference in Washington on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi praised the efforts of Haqqani and his team at the embassy for securing passage of the Kerry-Lugar bill.
Referring to Haqqani’s skills as well as his personal and professional contacts an embassy officer pointed out: “Haqqani met more Congressmen and Senators in one year than the past three ambassadors did in their entire tenures.” But the US Congress has its own mind, which cannot be shaped by even the most “adroit” and “savvy” ambassador, words used by the New York Times and the Washington Post to describe Haqqani on different occasions.
The final outcome is not perfect and contains language that offends some Pakistanis but it imposes no sanctions, has no intrusive enforcement measures and is not very different from similar aid bills for other US allies as well as past Pakistan assistance packages, the embassy asserts. We all know how difficult it is to obtain aid from the United States and how cumbersome the American legislative procedure is. Unfortunately Haqqani’s detractors back home do not understand this and believe in raising slogans against a competent ambassador rather than weighing his actions.
Embassy officials point out that all institutions of state in Pakistan work through Haqqani in Washington who has hosted high profile Washington parties for the army chief, the head of ISI and the prime minister in addition to President Asif Zardari with whom he is said to have a close relationship. Pakistan’s security institutions are particularly appreciative of the role played by ambassador Haqqani in defusing the crisis after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008. Embassy sources also informed us that ambassador Haqqani has received many letters of appreciation from the army, navy and air force in helping secure materiel for the various branches of the Pakistani military. As an official said: “There is no question about Haqqani’s patriotism even if his world view is different from the world view of most Pakistanis.”
Embassy officials also blame “jealousy” of some of Haqqani’s erstwhile journalistic colleagues, in addition to his brusque manner and his “complex political history” for media hostility towards him. “The ambassador’s detractors do not realise but they pay him a back-handed compliment when they say he wrote Kerry-Lugar bill. If he is so powerful that he can get 100 US senators and 435 Congressmen to do whatever he wants then maybe Pakistan needs his influence here more than Haqqani needs to be ambassador,” one of his admirers among his staff pointed out sarcastically.