The South Asia Channel

Out with the old, but what of the new?

I first met Husain Haqqani in 2007 when I served on the Pakistan Desk at the Department of State. At that time, he was a Boston University professor known for his very public criticism of Pervez Musharraf’s government and pointed analysis of the military’s role in fomenting Islamic militancy in Pakistan, most notably in his ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

I first met Husain Haqqani in 2007 when I served on the Pakistan Desk at the Department of State. At that time, he was a Boston University professor known for his very public criticism of Pervez Musharraf’s government and pointed analysis of the military’s role in fomenting Islamic militancy in Pakistan, most notably in his 2005 book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." So, when he became Ambassador under the new Asif Ali Zardari-led government in 2008, many in Washington wondered how the newly minted Ambassador Haqqani might reconcile his strong views on Pakistan’s military with a U.S.-Pakistan policy so heavily centered on the security establishment. Turns out he never did.

Haqqani resigned on November 22 over his alleged involvement in preparing a secret memo to the United States offering to replace Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership in the aftermath of May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Haqqani continues to deny any involvement in the memo, but his longstanding views on civil-military relations render his participation plausible. The question of responsibility is an important one for the Government of Pakistan and its citizens. Pakistan’s democracy is still stifled by its history of military dictatorships, but its active civil society and media continues to push for an explanation, as a legal debate unfolds over whether Haqqani’s alleged involvement in dragging the U.S. into Pakistan’s internal affairs constitutes treason.

It remains to be seen whether Haqqani will face a legal inquiry. Any elaborate proceedings, however, are not in the interest of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government. President Zardari no doubt faces a risk that with Haqqani’s resignation, the political opposition and military may begin to question the possibility of his involvement in "Memogate," as was suggested, then denied,then suggested again by Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman at the center of the scandal. The Supreme Court and the activist-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry could also take up this issue as part of its agenda against PPP’s corruption and bad governance. The government must strike a balance between accommodating public calls for justice and maintaining its strength in the lead up to the March 2012 Senate elections, during which the PPP is expected to win a majority of seats.

The government must also contend with public perceptions, especially among the Western foreign policy community, that the military is so incensed by this incident that it will overthrow the government. In substance, this argument has no legs. At least under Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s leadership, the military continues to avoid overt involvement in civilian affairs, primarily due to Kayani’s desire to improve the military’s image following the bin Laden raid. However, if Pakistan’s civilian leadership continues to disappoint, Kayani will have a harder time convincing the rest of the senior military leadership,which views the civilians as corrupt and inept, to stay out of domestic politics.

But it’s not just the military that needs to stay out of politics. The memo shows how much the U.S. government is pulled into domestic affairs in Pakistan, whether it chooses to be or not. The United States smartly stayedout of it this time, with the White House, Department of State, and the embassyin Islamabad issuing statements that the memo issue was an internal matter for Pakistan’s democratic institutions to address. The United States should push for more balanced civil-military relations in Pakistan, but it should limit how it exerts its influence to resolve those civil-military conflicts. Doing so under the circumstances of "Memogate" would have only confirmed the views of Haqqani’s critics, who identify him as an American stooge, and of his supporters, who credit him with holding together a broken bilateral relationship. Both views exaggerate Haqqani’s influence on the United States and Pakistan, which are bound together by forces greater than personalities, namely the ability of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to conduct attacks on the United States from Pakistani territory.

Haqqani’s weakness was not that he was too close to theU.S., or underperforming as Ambassador. Rather, it was his inability to convince the military establishment that he represented the entire Pakistani government, and not just the civilian leadership. Do not forget that before "Memogate,"the 2009 scandal over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation pulled the United States into another domestic conflict that revolved around Haqqani. At the time, the military blamed Haqqani for the legislation’s attempts to contain the military’s role in civilian affairs. What was intended to be a historic moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations and an effort to focus on the needs of the Pakistani people become mired in a decades old imbalance in civil-military relations.

The job of Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States hasnever been easy. Over the past year, during which time I served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council, the United States cooperated with Haqqani on many unexpected developments; the shooting of two Pakistanis by American contractor Raymond Davis, managing the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, the unfortunate death of key interlocutor Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a tremendous expansion of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, as well as attempts to revitalize civilian engagement in the country.

No one can doubt Haqqani’s appetite for politics, or his feisty attempts to attack challenges or seize opportunities in his path. I am reminded of a story he told me from his time as a 24-year old Karachi-based journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review. During his first meeting with General Zia-ul-Haq, Chief Martial Law Administrator and 6th President of Pakistan, Haqqani asked him when he would "step down and implement democracy?" Zia’s response was that Pakistan needed democracy but also stability. For someone who started his career in politics in the student wing of the conservative religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, this was no doubt a bold move on Haqqani’s part, and propelled him into a career that would analyze the hard realities ofthe Pakistan military’s stronghold on civilian politics.

However, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship now faces some of the most challenging policy questions it has faced in decades, related todefining Pakistan’s role in an eventual reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the impact of the 2014 international troop drawdown in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s national security interests. Because of the high risks these questions pose for both the United States and Pakistan, the next envoy to Washington must be able to speak to the whole gamut of bilateral issues, including Pakistan’s security priorities, which will remain front and center to U.S. national security interests in the foreseeable future.

Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia Analyst at the Eurasia Group and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.

Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and Senior South Asia Fellow at New America. She served as Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010 – 2011.

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