Haqqani Hopes to Improve Pak-US Relations

Associated Press of Pakistan
October 5, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Oct 5 (APP): Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States Hussain Haqqani is focusing on encouraging continuity and predictability in the bilateral relations of Pakistan and United States. “For too long, our relationship has been one between certain individuals in the U.S. and Pakistan.  This has created anti-Americanism,” the ambassador said in an interview to Washington Mutual magazine published in its October issue.
“We are on the verge of a major shift in our worldview – we want to have close relations with Afghanistan, and we want to negotiate all our outstanding disputes with India, including Kashmir, and find an amicable solution to these problems. So my priority is to expand the range of U.S.-Pakistani relations and make it a stable relationship instead of a yoyo relationship.”

According to Haqqani, ending the so-called short-sightedness that has characterized U.S.-Pakistani relations in the past will require an end to the U.S.  pattern of heavy aid to Pakistan followed by sanctions.

“That’s how it’s been since 1954,” he complains.  “I don’t think it can be done during the tenure of one ambassador, but I want to lay the foundations of a relationship that is multidimensional: political, military, cultural, economic and social.”

“Pakistan has acted very responsibly in relation to its nuclear weapons capability,” he insists. “We acquired these weapons because of a regional threat, not because it wanted to use them internationally. We have always cooperated with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and have put the whole Khan affair behind us. His network has been finished off,” he says, referring to A.Q. Khan.

Haqqani notes though that “Pakistan has not been accused of any proliferation-related activity or any irresponsible behaviour in any way.”

He also had nothing negative to say about a recent nuclear agreement between the United States and India.  The deal lifts the longstanding U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India and provides U.S. assistance to India’s civilian nuclear energy program – even though critics say it reverses half a century of U.S.  nonproliferation efforts and undermines attempts to prevent countries such as Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“The United States has opened the way for non-nuclear proliferation nations like Pakistan, Israel and India to acquire civilian nuclear technology,” he says.  “We hope that now, Pakistan will also be considered for a similar arrangement. Pakistan has a burgeoning population and its energy needs are increasing rapidly.  It makes sense for us to have nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.”

On Dec. 27, 2007, Hussain Haqqani was at home in Brookline, Mass., when the phone rang.  “Someone told me to turn on CNN immediately,” he recalled. TV images were broadcasting horrifying footage of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination as she was addressing a large rally of supporters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. “I immediately called my wife, who is a member of Parliament and was with her. It was devastating.”

Only two days earlier, Bhutto had completed the manuscript of her 328-page autobiography, “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West,” and had emailed it to Haqqani and Mark Siegel, a Washington lobbyist who helped her write the book.

And following an earlier assassination attempt in Karachi that killed 179 people, Bhutto had also sent an e-mail warning that if anything were to happen to her, the country’s then president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, would be partly to blame.

“By now, two or three local TV crews had arrived at my home in Boston,” Haqqani says. “I rushed to the TV studio at Boston University and spent all day as her spokesman, giving interviews. On my laptop, I wrote an opinion piece that was published the next morning in the Wall Street Journal.”

Not a surprising course of action for a seasoned journalist who came from a conservative Muslim background and started writing when he was 16. After graduating from college, Haqqani moved to Hong Kong, where he covered East Asian and Islamic affairs for the Far Eastern Economic Review. He later returned home to cover Pakistan and Afghanistan for that same magazine.

At the age of 34, Haqqani switched gears and launched his political career, convincing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to send him to Colombo as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka. But he soon returned to campaign for Bhutto, who by 1993 had replaced Sharif as Pakistan’s head of state.

“After that, there was no turning back,” Haqqani mused. “I used to say that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up, or a professor. And sometimes I’d say that I wanted to be a diplomat or even an ambassador.  Now, at the age of 52, thank God, I’ve been all three.”

Given the current tumultuous state of bilateral relations though, being Islamabad’s envoy in Washington isn’t a job many Pakistanis would even want.

Since Haqqani presented his credentials to President Bush at the end of May, U.S.-Pakistani ties have taken a dramatic turn. The resignation of Musharraf, an ally in Bush’s war on terrorism, and the installation of a democratically elected civilian government has shifted the fundamental dynamics of Pakistani-U.S. relations.

“No Pakistani wants foreign troops on Pakistani soil. And the people who understand that region know it is not in America’s advantage to land troops in Pakistan,” he told. “But a lot of this is political noise. People here are asking why Osama bin Laden hasn’t been found in seven years. Why has the U.S. not succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan in the border areas? So a simplistic answer is that we’re going to do something about Pakistan. I think once the American elections are held, we’ll go back to the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department and elected political leaders of the United States working with Pakistan’s leadership and make this a collective effort.”