“Daily Times” Interview with Amb. Haqqani

Husain Haqqani is Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC. A trusted advisor of former Pakistani Prime Minsiter, Ms Benazir Bhutto, Ambassador Haqqani is known as a Professor at Boston University and former Director of the Center for International Relations. He is also the Co-Chair of the Hudson Institute’s Project on the Future of the Muslim World as well as editor of the journal ‘Current Trends in Islamist Thought’ published from Washington DC.

Mr Haqqani came to the U.S. in 2002 as a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC and an adjunct Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He is a leading journalist, diplomat, and former advisor to Pakistani Prime ministers. His syndicated column is published in several newspapers in South Asia and the Middle East, including Oman Tribune, Jang, The Indian Express, Gulf News and The Nation (Pakistan).

Haqqani started his journalism career with work as East Asian correspondent for Arabia – The Islamic World Review and Pakistan and Afghanistan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review. During this period he wrote extensively on Muslims in China and East Asia and Islamic political movements. Covering the war in Afghanistan enabled him to acquire deep understanding of the militant Jihadi groups.

Haqqani has contributed to numerous international publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic and The Financial Times. He regularly comments on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Islamic politics and extremism on BBC, PBS, CNN, NBC, Fox News and ABC.

Haqqani also had a distinguished career in the government. He served as an advisor to Pakistani Prime ministers Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Nawaz Sharif, and Benazir Bhutto. From 1992 to 1993 he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Mr Haqqani’s 2005 book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military’ has been praised in major international journals and newspapers as a path-breaking book on Pakistan’s political history. The book received favorable reviews in Foreign Affairs , Wall Street Journal , Boston Globe, and academic journals and has sold more copies than any other book on Pakistan in the last decade.

SK: I have always wanted to ask you this question and that is why I am going to start off with it; the Kerry Lugar Bill got approved and for the first time ever, a democratic Government was receiving aid which was linked with the democracy, it was civilian aid, but the reaction that we saw from the media, the parliament and the ISPR was a bit unexpected, what were you expecting in this regard?

HH: I was not really expecting anyone to congratulate me because when you have an experience of a lifetime, you know very well that in situations like these, no one congratulates anyone, but the least I was expecting was some sort of acknowledgment that we achieved our purpose. The biggest problem is that people here do not stop for a few seconds and quietly observe what the other person’s job is, so when I became the Ambassador, people started raising question and they said that I do not share the same views about America as the rest of the people in Pakistan. They fail to understand that it is the job of an Ambassador to make the relationships of two countries better in any and every way possible that is why I even said that if I was an Ambassador in Mauritius, I would have been making efforts to make the relationship between Pakistan and Mauritius better. You do not strengthen relationships by talking ill about people of a country or pointing fingers at them, so even if the people of Pakistan share different views, it is not the job of an Ambassador to talk ill about the other country, that is not what he is there for, that would obviously make the relationship worse.

Something similar to this happened in case of the Kerry Lugar Bill, it was something that extended over a time period of two weeks, first of all, I would want to say that most of the people had not even read the bill and some time after it was introduced, when people started giving their reviews and feedbacks, I told them that this is a Bill presented by the American Congress, I clearly said that this has not been made by Pakistan, this has not been made with the consent of the Pakistani Government, it was America that approved this Bill in their Congress to give aid to Pakistan and they also approved how much aid they were going to send and for what purposes. Along with that they set some conditions, they wanted updated reports on whatever was going on here so that they stay updated with how the aid is reaching and fulfilling its purpose. But here in Pakistan, it was presented in an entirely different way, and misunderstood. Apart from that there was a lot of speculation and disturbance, people raised question as to how and why it got approved instead of just reading about its history, but that is when I realised that there aren’t many people who check everything about something before raising objections on it. They realised that Pakistan has been receiving aid for a very long time now and it has happened before as well, for example back in 1954, and in every case there have been conditions set for us to accept and comply to, some have been harsh and others easy. Back in the time of General Pervez Musharraf, there was a condition that there will be no infiltration to India from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and even back then the Government was told to give updated reports regarding that issue and it happened, and even back then, whoever was the Ambassador must have thought that trying to get the required said was more important that protesting over a single sentence uttered by their Government. Let me tell you that the Americans or their Government, Congress and all its members do not look at Pakistan the way we see them, they have very important issues on their agenda and the fact that they have approved a bill for providing us confirmed and approved aid worth Billions of Dollars spanning over a time period of five years is really something and the main purpose for this money here in Pakistan is to help in making the education, health and infrastructure better. I was not really expecting anyone to congratulate me for any efforts that I made, but I was not even expecting such a huge misunderstanding among the people here, the views and confused reaction of the people was a bit upsetting and we faced an adverse affect of this, some of the hardliners that we had managed to soften for this bill; they have become even more harder than before following the reaction.

SK: Please tell me that when the Kerry Lugar Bill was approved, it was linked with the Democratic Government in order to strengthen the democracy in the country, but this democratic Government comes out of one political crisis and falls into another. how does America see all these problems?

HH: I would like to make one thing very clear that first of all, this Bill never came for a particular Government, but you have to bear in mind that the relationships of countries do not depend upon the sentiments of the people and the Governments of those countries. Of course people and governments are involved in some way or the other, but the relationships do not have any basis on what the people think, relationships are built on long term relationships and plans. Similarly, the relationship between Pakistan and America is not linked to certain people or governments, but the people and governments do play a major role in strengthening or worsening the relationships with their words and actions. The Americans think that there should
be democracy in Pakistan because they think that Pakistan can only move forward and make progress and development with a good democratic government, and when long term plans will be made and when there will be open debates on whatever issues that need to be resolved, when people sit together to work together, that is when Pakistan can make progress and be counted among the developing and developed countries of the world. People will pay attention to more important issues that need to be dealt with and will not indulge themselves in pointless chanting and agitation. They want to see a strong democratic government in Pakistan; they want to see democracy and progress in Pakistan. Of course they do get amazed by whatever reactions people here have to what they say, the Secretary of the State Hilary Clinton said that the American government has this experience that when the plant of democracy was growing in America, unfriendly winds did try to keep it from coming above the ground but there is always a need to fight those unfriendly winds and strengthen your roots. They are only hopeful that this time someone won’t come and dig that plant out of the ground and place it in another pot to ‘start a new journey or beginning’. And if you look at the Kerry Lugar Bill you will know that this is true, even though it faced a great deal of criticism, everyone raised concerns, all the people of Pakistan including me, all the institutions and the Government as well.

SK: you haven’t expressed your concerns regarding the Bill though; I have never seen you give any statements against it.

HH: My job does not require me to express my concerns here, my job is to go and negotiate with their government.

SK: if America wants democracy to reign then this is the ideal government, this is the government who have war on terror on their manifesto. If this government comes out of one political problem only to be troubled with another one and then one after the other, and because of this, if it is not able to concentrate on the war on terror, then what is America doing about that? How do they see this problem?

HH: I think and I know that these problems that the government has to face one after the other, America does not approve of them of course and they obviously look at them with dislike, but for that we always have the answer that democracy is a long journey and it will not get established in a span of a year or two and the most important thing is that the democratic experience must continue and for as long as it continues, people will keep learning from it. All the people in the government at present, in all the different provinces, in the opposition or in the federal government, know that it is their job to understand that the world has its eyes on Pakistan and they want to see a strong democratic government here, they want to see democracy and they want to see progress and development. You need to understand that two hands are required for one to clap and you cannot blame a single person for creating all the problems that are being faced by the country today, whatever problems the country and the government are facing at present they have something to do with all of us.

SK: what do you think is causing all the problems?

HH: I would like to say that, the soul of democracy lies within the way words are spoken and I have concluded that from years and years, recently President Obama said in an address that you may oppose what I have to say, but you can never doubt my love for my country. This is the basis for everything, the biggest problem here is that people only know how to oppose someone’s idea, they always think people are working against them as part of some sort of agenda against them and their country, they need to change the way that they think.

SK: Here I have another question linked to my previous question, there was another expectation that America had, and they wanted the democratic government to take decisions on the important issues of the national security themselves. Don’t you think that because it has to face the countless problems that keep coming up, the democratic government was not able to address the important issues regarding the national security? And because of this these decisions have gone back to the same institution that has always been doing it.

HH: I think that the broad perimeters of the national security and the needs of the people of the nation need approval from everyone. But that national approval does not exist in the country at the moment. Whatever party comes into the government, and I am not talking about any particular one, they know the day they step into the government that Pakistan needs to maintain good relations with the Western world, this is for the betterment of the country. Apart from that they have to make the budget and they know how much help and aid they require to establish certain necessities in the country, they know how much help they require from the IMF, they know that they need the facilities provided by the World Bank to carry out their plans. The government knows that it is best to develop good relationships with the rest of the countries of the world but the opposition thinks it is simply out of question to do so. So in our democratic structure, we first need national consensus on the broad perimeters, and this consensus needs to emerge with time and if it doesn’t then everyone will have to suffer. When the national consensus does manage to emerge on the board perimeters, and when one person will be able to state confidently that in his opinion, it is better for the country to maintain good and healthy relations with a particular country, and when someone contradicts him, they will be able to talk it out without saying that just because the other wanted to have good relations with that specific country, that automatically makes him enemy of the state. When the perimeters become better, of course in turn the nations’ security decision making will improve greatly as well.

SK: Thank you so much for your time.

HH: You are welcome.

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