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

In answering those questions, Pakistanis will define who they are and who they wish to become. On my first visit to the country, almost 30 years ago, I traveled by motorcycle from Karachi to Islamabad (accompanying fabled publisher Malcolm Forbes, so this wasn’t exactly Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries) discovering a nation that was both Islamic and welcoming. Later, guided by a former Pakistani army officer — a marvelous man whom I still count as a friend — I trekked in the mountains near Kashmir and in the Swat Valley, with stops in Hunza and Gilgit, believed by some to have inspired the legend of Shangri-La.

During my last visit, however, Pakistan was different. Over the course of a single week, four terrorist attacks were carried out — one of them targeting the Pakistani equivalent of the Pentagon where Taliban insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers, fought for 22 hours. I expected such violence to outrage Pakistanis — to make them implacable foes of terrorism and the ideologies that drive it. But that was not necessarily the case.

A too-common view: The Taliban that attacks Pakistanis should be condemned, but the Taliban that attacks Americans may be condoned. America, after all, had wronged Afghanistan by abandoning it after the Soviet defeat, and then had wronged it a second time by returning. The self-contradiction in these indictments generally went unrecognized.

Many Pakistanis were as gracious and friendly as ever. But not all. When I spoke at one university about the evils of terrorism and the kind of Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah, a student threw a shoe at me, then limped off to boast to the press of his courage and defiance. The next day, this was front-page news throughout Pakistan.

I had to be guarded by armed men (whom I had to hope I could trust). I was instructed not to linger long in public because, should a suspicious foreigner like me be spotted, a phone call might be made and within minutes those specializing in express abductions would have completed their assignment.

Now, such agents of the “forces that want us to live in fear” may be lingering in the shadows not far from the house in which Haqqani is a virtual prisoner. Putting a brave face on the situation, he told Sethi that “just as the KGB and the Stasi did not succeed in suppressing the spirit of the Soviet and East German people, these forces won’t succeed in Pakistan in the long run, either.”

Haqqani is himself the test of that thesis. Here’s the first thing that the American, British, Canadian, and other Western governments should do (indeed, should have done by now): Send their ambassadors in Islamabad to take tea with Haqqani. That would send the message that if Pakistan fails this test, there will be consequences.

 — Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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