Articles in the Washington Post rarely make ripples in Pakistan, but that authored by Husain Haqqani a past Pakistani ambassador to the USA and published on Friday 10th March — does. Since he resigned, allegedly under pressure, Mr Haqqani has not missed an opportunity to speak his mind, and does so from a position within the American academic establishment. To say that his relationship with Pakistan and its military and political circles is chequered in recent years is something of an understatement. His latest excursion into the hinterlands of diplomacy — he has no formal diplomatic role since leaving the ambassadorship in November 2011 — is guaranteed to raise eyebrows as well as call into question exactly what the role of an ambassador is.
Appointment as an ambassador, particularly to a posting such as Washington, is not only a considerable honour and recognition of the value of an individual it is also a burden in terms of responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of relations between two sovereign states. It is axiomatic that not everything that an ambassador does is in the public domain, his or her job extending far beyond cutting ribbons and opening festivals and exhibitions. Indeed some of what an ambassador does either of their own volition or at the behest of their masters in the homeland edges into the clandestine, not for public consumption. This is by no means unusual, and is an accepted way of doing business in the world of international diplomacy.
Grey-area activity loses acceptability when exposed to the light, at which point it becomes downright murky rather than merely grey. Once again Mr Haqqani has stepped out of the shadows carrying a bag of grey with him, and is claiming that it was his connections with the Obama administration that enabled the US to target and kill Osama bin Laden, the then-leader of al-Qaeda. He claims that these connections ran for the duration of his ambassadorship and were known to the civilian leadership which at the time was the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Specifically, the civilian leadership was aware of an American request for help in stationing CIA officers in Pakistan without the knowledge of the military or the intelligence agencies. The reason for this subterfuge was that the Americans were hunting Osama bin Laden, thought he was in Pakistan, and did not trust the military and intelligence establishments not to tip him off if they were getting close, and of being sympathetic towards Islamist militants.
The context of Mr Haqqani’s disclosures is that he is defending members of the Trump team who had contact not only with the Russian ambassador to the USA, but with other officers of the Russian government both in the US and in Russia itself. This, says Mr Haqqani, is business as usual for ambassadors and unworthy of the scrutiny and criticism that it is currently on the wrong end of. He defends his own ambassadorial actions in the facilitation of visas for CIA operatives (of which he apparently has a complete record) as being legitimised by his political masters — the PPP, and by extension President Zardari.
By oblique inference Mr Haqqani is suggesting that the PPP administration played a straight bat in the fight against terrorism and Islamist extremism, but that its successor government led by the PML-N less so. Attitudes towards Islamists avers Mr Haqqani have changed little, again inferring that the state nurtures vipers in its bosom. Whilst there is a whiff of the holier-than-thou about the latest ripple-maker from Mr Haqqani, there is also a whiff of something nasty in the woodshed. We remain on olfactory alert.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2017.