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It’s not every day that an ambassador’s departure from office makes international headlines. But then Husain Haqqani, who resigned Tuesday after serving for more than three years as Pakistan’s envoy to Washington, was no garden-variety diplomat. He managed to be unapologetically pro-American, while representing one of the most anti-American places in the world.
The extraordinary circumstances of Mr. Haqqani’s departure reveal much about Pakistan’s precarious politics. He was forced to step down, reportedly under pressure from the country’s notorious intelligence agencies, amid unconfirmed allegations that he secretly sought U.S. assistance to weaken the grip of the military. His exit should make clear that Pakistan’s generals have no intention of accepting the democratic principle of civilian supremacy. In turn, that should compel American policy makers to reset their relationship with Pakistan into something more limited, transactional and realistic than before.
For now, the focus is on Mr. Haqqani and the dramatic revelations leading up to his resignation. Last month, an op-ed in the Financial Times by Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, hinted at the ambassador’s involvement in a backchannel effort to rein in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency right after the U.S. raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden. A few weeks later, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked for his resignation pending an official inquiry into the scandal.
Mr. Haqqani denies any involvement in the alleged plot. But Mr. Ijaz, who has a reputation for grandstanding about his diplomatic derring-do, has released Blackberry chat transcripts with the ambassador that seem to show Mr. Haqqani was one of the authors of the memorandum at the heart of this scandal.
In a nutshell, the memo, delivered on May 10 to Adm. Mike Mullen—then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Obama administration’s point person for contact with Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani—offered to curtail Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism and bring more transparency to its runaway nuclear program. In return, it sought U.S. assistance in warding off an alleged coup attempt by an army made skittish by the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, 40 miles outside Islamabad. Despite the absence of firm evidence linking Mr. Haqqani to the alleged plot, and Adm. Mullen’s denial that he paid it any heed, the memo’s publication last week seems to have convinced many Pakistanis that Mr. Haqqani is a traitor.
For Pakistan, Mr. Haqqani’s departure is bad news. That the army was able to claim his head despite his public profession of innocence, and before a formal inquiry could prove the charges against him, highlights the disproportionate power unelected generals wield over their ostensible civilian masters. The shrill public trial conducted by the Pakistani media show how public space for reasoned debate in the country continues to shrink and how easy it is to drum up anti-Americanism.
With Mr. Haqqani gone, there is one fewer civilian official in Pakistan resisting the military and maintaining some semblance of Islamabad’s friendship with Washington. A professed fan of Thomas Jefferson and the Boston Red Sox, he steadied the hand of bilateral relations at a turbulent time for both nations. Mr. Haqqani has been a voice of reason at home too: His 2005 book “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military” is the definitive account of how the army has flamed the fans of jihadism to retain power and influence.
On a more practical level, his departure means that Pakistan—including its military—loses a diplomat widely lauded for his work ethic, impressive rolodex, and mastery of policy detail. His successor, Sherry Rehman, while a well-regarded liberal lawmaker, lacks her predecessor’s political clout and intellectual heft.
Ironically, the worst effects will be felt by Pakistan’s army and its powerful spy wing, the ISI—even though they may not realize it yet. The treatment the ISI reportedly meted out to Mr. Haqqani shows how the military remains unreformed. This will surely open the door to tougher U.S. action against both institutions should they fail to quell long-standing support for radical Islamist terrorist groups such as the Afghan Taliban.
For the U.S., then, the end of the Haqqani era in U.S.-Pakistan ties is an opportunity to transition from cautious optimism to hard-bitten realism. Arguably, the process was already well under way. In January, the two countries clashed over what Washington saw as Islamabad’s failure to honor the diplomatic immunity of Raymond Davis—an alleged CIA subcontractor who shot two Pakistanis dead in Lahore, supposedly in self-defense during a botched robbery. In May came Abbottabad and its implications of Pakistani complicity in hiding the world’s most wanted terrorist. Since then, stepped-up attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan by Pakistan-based militants have further soured the relationship.
The best American response to Pakistan’s double game of fighting some terrorists while helping others is to move from a strategy of engagement to one of containment. This would place less emphasis on carrots such as aid and advanced equipment. Neither Washington’s promise of an enhanced security partnership nor upward of $20 billion in aid over the past decade have worked. Grand initiatives like granting the country non-NATO ally status haven’t reduced anti-American sentiment in the country.
Instead, the U.S. should rely more on sticks such as targeted sanctions against military officers involved in aiding America’s enemies and more unilateral Abbottabad-style raids against high-value targets. Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar are believed to live in Pakistan. While containing the recalcitrant military and pro-jihadi elements, Washington will have to aid and engage with civil society to strengthen Pakistan’s fledgling democracy. Military aid should focus on educating officers about democracy and civilian rule. Home to 180 million people, a fast-growing nuclear weapons program, and a plethora of jihadist groups, Pakistan is simply too important for the U.S. to ignore. The U.S. does nobody—least of all ordinary Pakistanis—a favor by refusing to nudge the Pakistani army toward reform. As Mr. Haqqani’s experience shows, unchecked, the generals in Rawalpindi will continue to encroach on both U.S. interests in the region and Pakistan’s fragile democracy.
Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at AEI
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