Who says the Americans hate all the Haqqanis? Take the case of Husain Haqqani, the recently disgraced Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who was such a darling of the Washington neocons that he was publicly feted as a close ally.
Who says the Americans hate all the Haqqanis? Take the case of Husain Haqqani, the recently disgraced Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who was such a darling of the Washington neocons that he was publicly feted as a close ally. Ordinarily, this would raise alarm bells in any foreign ministry but Haqqani managed to cling to his post because his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari protected him and used him as a personal emissary rather than as envoy of the country. Haqqani regularly arranged for the “boss” to secretly meet US officials in Dubai. Why Zardari would not want to meet US officials in Pakistan raises serious questions about his loyalty to the country.
Haqqani has moved far up the scale from his modest beginnings in Malir, Karachi where he was born in 1956. But like the proverbial monkey (the higher it climbs, the more you can see its a--), he may finally have suffered a fatal fall in what has come to be called the Memogate Affair.
Ever the opportunist, Haqqani launched his political career in 1972 by becoming president of the Islami Jami‘at-e Talaba, student wing of the Jama‘at-e Islami. But this was merely a steppingstone for his oversized ambitions. From 1980 to 1988, he worked as a journalist for the Voice of America. He then became a correspondent for the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review covering Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also worked for Arabia: the Islamic World Review, published from London and financed by the former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yemeni until his ouster in the late1980s when the magazine collapsed due to lack of funding. Haqqani’s mercenary nature is evident from the numerous masters he has served.
In 1988, Haqqani joined the political alliance led by Nawaz Sharif, a protégé of the late military ruler, General Zia al-Haq who died in a mysterious plane crash in August 1988 that also killed a number of other senior generals as well as the US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Rafael. In the political campaign that followed Benazir Bhutto’s dismissal from office in August 1990, Haqqani masterminded the printing of millions of leaflets showing Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir’s mother, dancing with then US President Gerald Ford. These were dropped over major cities to discredit Benazir. The photo was taken at a state dinner in the White House in March 1975 when her husband, then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was on an official visit to Washington.
For services rendered to Nawaz Sharif, Haqqani became the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant and spokesman from 1990–1992. In 1992, he was appointed ambassador to Sri Lanka. When Nawaz Sharif ran into trouble with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and was forced to resign in 1993, Haqqani jumped ship and joined Benazir Bhutto. He then served as her spokesman from 1993–1995. When President Farooq Leghari, a long-time People’s Party member, sacked Benazir Bhutto as prime minister in October 1996 on charges of corruption and incompetence, Haqqani also went into the wilderness but with his oversized ego, he used the time to indulge in personal romance, marrying in March 2000 his third wife, one Farahnaz Ispahani, a former producer at CNN and MSNBC. Ispahani is a US citizen and currently member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. She also serves as advisor to Zardari. Under the constitution, Ispahani cannot be a member of the National Assembly because she is a foreign (American) national but the Pakistani constitution is a disposable commodity. If it were properly implemented, Zardari would not be the president and more than 60% of the current crop of assembly members would be disqualified. In any case, marrying Ispahani enabled Haqqani to move to the US in 2002.
A man for all seasons, Haqqani soon landed a job as Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC and as adjunct Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. In 2004, he joined Boston University as associate professor of International Relations. He also cultivated close links with the neocons winning their confidence by passing on sensitive information about Pakistan, especially its military and the country’s nuclear program. When Zardari became president in 2008, Haqqani was a natural choice to assume the most important post as ambassador in Washington. He was Zardari’s direct link to the US establishment as well as the neocons. Zardari’s real fear was the powerful military against which he sought American help to stay in power. Like his wife and mother-in-law, Zardari has been eager to appease America by betraying Pakistan. Haqqani became a willing accomplice in this game of treason, hence Memogate.
Haqqani’s political record shows that he is an ideological mongrel. Starting in the student wing of the Jama‘at-e Islami, he had no problem joining the Muslim League and when its shelf life expired, he joined its archrival, the People’s Party. Haqqani has now become a card-carrying neocon but it is difficult to visualize how he will wriggle his way out of the mess he has landed himself in by taking on the military. These are certainly interesting times in Pakistan.