The Haqqani Test
Pakistan’s treatment of its former ambassador has far-reaching consequences.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington


Clifford D. May

For 65 years Pakistanis have been conducting one of modern history’s great experiments: Can a nation conceived as Islamic be free and democratic — the vision of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Or will Pakistan’s identity be defined by “forces that want us to live in fear — fear of external and internal enemies.”

The words quoted above were spoken by Husain Haqqani to the Wall Street Journal’s Mira Sethi. Until November, Haqqani was Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington where he was a popular figure, a proud Pakistani patriot, and a liberal-democratic Muslim intellectual tirelessly making the case that Pakistan should be seen as an important ally deserving of respect, moral support, and material assistance.

Haqqani is now back in Pakistan — a guest in the home of the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and, as Sethi phrases it, the “de facto prisoner of the Pakistani generals whose ire he has provoked.” Beyond the doors of Gilani’s Islamabad residence, Haqqani fears, assassins await.

This is not just about one man: If Pakistan has become a nation that can’t tolerate a Husain Haqqani, Pakistan has become an intolerant nation, a nation in danger of becoming what Haqqani’s wife, parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani, has called a “militarized Islamist state.” Certainly, it would be time to stop regarding Pakistan as a friend of the United States.

When I was last in Pakistan, two years ago, on a visit sponsored by the State Department, the U.S. Congress had just approved — thanks in large measure to Haqqani’s efforts — a $7.5 billion aid package. To my shock, this elicited little gratitude and much grumbling. Why? Because American envoys were to ensure that American taxpayer dollars would be spent to alleviate poverty and fight terrorists — not for other purposes. People were angry with Haqqani for having accepted such “conditionality.”

I recall the U.S. ambassador getting grilled on a Pakistani television program and sounding apologetic. I told anyone who asked — and some who didn’t — that aid is not an entitlement; that we Americans have every right to specify how our money should be spent; that Haqqani was correct not to complain about such commonsensical restrictions; and that if other Pakistanis disagree they can tear up our checks. No hard feelings.

Haqqani’s current troubles began last October when an American businessman of Pakistani descent, Mansoor Ijaz, alleged that a “senior Pakistani diplomat” had asked him to pass a memo to Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seeking America’s help in preventing a military coup in Pakistan. Mullen later said he did not give serious attention to the memo — which was unsigned and lacked the imprimatur of the Pakistani government.

Haqqani has denied writing the memo. But when he returned to Pakistan in November, the military seized his passport and the Supreme Court banned him from leaving the country. As Haqqani told Sethi, the affair boils down to nothing more than “a memo written by an American [presumably Ijaz] and delivered . . . to an American military official who consigned it to the dustbin.” Sethi raises another question: Why would anyone consider it a scandal — the Pakistani media have taken to calling it “Memogate” — to want to protect Pakistan’s elected leaders from an illegal military coup? If Haqqani did worry about such a possibility, why would that make him a “traitor” and an “American agent” as is being alleged by his enemies?