Pakistan: Some thoughts on Husain Haqqani and Memogate
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Pakistan: Some thoughts on Husain Haqqani and Memogate

Well, the sordid saga is finally over. Husain Haqqani has resigned as Ambassador to the U.S. and, notwithstanding demands for inquiries and follow ups, I am resting assured that this matter will be forgotten relatively soon. At the very least, the inquiries and commissions and investigations will be buried in paperwork and bureaucraticese to the point where no one will care anymore. This is what happens with every single inquiry or commission into something controversial, and I suspect this will be the same.


Who are angry right wing Pakistanis going to send abusive tweets to now? Photo: AP

Here are some questions I’ve been mulling over the last few days:

1. What exactly happened here?

Obviously, nobody knows for sure. Well, correction: two people know for sure. But really, nobody knows for sure.

Of course, that shouldn’t stop us from speculation. Here’s my best guess:

The Blackberry exchange is real. The memo, however, was not written by Husain Haqqani (the language and writing is terrible; Haqqani is Zardari’s go-to man for all those fake op-eds in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post… go and read the memo and see for yourself if it reads by someone who’s written for those publications, albeit under someone else’s name).

The memo was probably written by Mansoor Ijaz himself, and its contents were probably agreed upon by the two. That’s my guess.

Of course, this sets up a series of follow up questions. Such as…

1a Why would Haqqani go through someone so clearly untrustworthy and unreliable?

On the one hand, it makes absolutely no sense. Haqqani is a street-smart guy who knows about the daily practice of politics better than most people alive. It wouldn’t make sense for him to commit such a rookie mistake. And because it seems so unlikely, people seem eager to believe that this entire thing is an elaborate conspiracy.

I’m not so sure. If the best defense is “why would he do something so stupid?” then I’m sorry, that’s not up to the mark. My view is that smart people do stupid things all the time. One of my favorite books ever is David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, a book that shines a light on smart people committing one strategic blunder after another in Vietnam.

Let’s not pretend that people good at their job are immune to mistakes of judgment. Napoleon was a pretty good military commander, then committed a pretty big mistake. His cost him all but 10,000 soldiers in an army of half a million. An ambassadorship is chump change compared to that, I’m sure you’ll agree. People screw up. It happens.

1b Was Ijaz playing Haqqani?

By the end of it, Ijaz was obviously firmly in the GHQ-ISI camp. The question is: when did he join them? Was at some point during the crisis? Or was it before the entire thing began? If it’s the latter, then that is essentially another way of saying that Ijaz played Haqqani the whole frigging time.

I don’t buy that. Haqqani is clearly an order of magnitude brighter than this guy. I can’t believe that Ijaz was acting on behalf of the ISI in some conspiracy the whole time and not once did Haqqani suspect what was going on. That just strikes me as highly unlikely. More likely, Ijaz flipped somewhere in the middle, when the controversy was just gathering apace and the khakis probably presented him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

2. How will this move impact US-Pakistan relations?

Not very seriously, in my opinion. On the list of things that matter to US-Pakistan relations, the personality of the ambassador from one of the countries to the other country is pretty low down on the totem pole.

Another way of thinking about this is to accept this disjuncture: Haqqani was, by almost all accounts, a fantastic ambassador and brilliant diplomat. And yet US-Pakistan relations are about as bad as they’ve been in a decade.

What does that mean? Well, for me, it means that individuals don’t matter a great deal when it comes to figuring out outcomes and processes between states. Institutions, interests, geography, the balance of power — these are the things that clearly matter a lot.

I’m sure Haqqani’s excellence in his role mattered a little bit on the margins, maybe a billion dollars of aid here or there. But individuals simply don’t impact the overarching trajectory of interstate relations. If Kayani was replaced by a generic khaki tomorrow, the US-Pakistan relationship would be largely the same. Bob Gates was replaced by Panetta, and the relationship was largely the same. Haqqani will be replaced, and the relationship will be largely the same.

3. Is this a win for the khakis and a loss for the civvies?

On the surface, sure. And that’s certainly how it was being played up by the liberal twitterati. The basic tenor of this analysis was: woe is us, the khakis have pulled a fast one, the poor civvies lose again.

I think that analysis is lazy. Sure, this is a win for the khakis, they’ve hated Haqqani since he lobbied against Musharraf in DC and wrote a book heavily criticizing the military and its role in Pakistani politics and society (and probably well before then actually). They would obviously prefer to live in a world where someone they don’t trust and don’t like is not the primary face of the Pakistan government in Washington.

That said, the belief that this was some elaborate conspiracy and the poor PPP is once again the victims of the dastardly GHQ is dumb. Understand this: there is not a single democracy in the world, even (especially?) the ones in which the civilians rule the roost, where someone who did what Haqqani allegedly did would survive. Not a single one. In our rush to decry the civilian-military (im)balance in Pakistan, this fact seems to have gotten lost. What Haqqani is accused of doing is a really, really big deal!

Even if you agree with the larger goals of the memo and the intellectual basis behind it, this was a really stupid and bad way to go about it. No reasonable person can disagree that this is a fireable offense, all over the world, democracy or not.

Of course, the question then becomes: was he actually party to the fireable offense, or was this an elaborate plan concocted by the GHQ-ISI from the beginning? I have very serious doubts about the latter proposition — I think we sometimes give too much credit to the military for strategic adroitness and tactical brilliance that it doesn’t really have.

The bottom line is: none of us can know for sure. I think that my belief that there’s no smoke without fire here is a reasonable one. Others may disagree. That’s fine. Just be aware that angrily and decisively asserting that this was an unjustified or unfair move rests on the supposition that he is absolutely not guilty. And there is no way that all the Haqqani defenders out there know that for sure. So why are they pretending that they do?

I would also add that I don’t think Haqqani would have gone away so easily, or that Zardari would have let him go so easily, if there wasn’t some evidence backing up his involvement that they have both seen. This, after all, is not the first time the military has wanted to get rid of one of Zardari’s men. How long, for instance, have they tried to get rid of that fool Rehman Malik? And unlike Haqqani, Rehman Malik is terrible at his job, so he can’t even play the competence card. Or what about Haqqani himself, who was rumored to be on the chopping block post-Kerry/Lugar?

And yet, Malik has survived, despite the odds, and Haqqani hasn’t, not this time anyway. That tells me that there was something different about this case that forced Zardari’s hand in a way the other cases did not.

4. If Haqqani can be fired for a fireable offense, why can’t the military brass be fired for a fireable offense?

This is the key issue for me. Post Osama raid, I (along with others) urged the government to form a consensus on cutting the military down to size, to strike while the going was good. The military was thoroughly discredited and there would be no better opportunity for true accountability.

Unfortunately, the khakis got away with their mistake (as they often do) while the civvy got stuck with his. That’s obviously not an ideal set of circumstances for the state’s development.

The ironic or tragic thing about this whole episode is that Haqqani was — if you believe he is somehow involved in this — trying to achieve something that we all wanted, at the same time as we all wanted, but in a way very, very different to what we wanted. The correct way would have been to try to get the two big parties and a couple others on board for a thorough parliamentary inquiry. I wonder if he tried that way at all, and whether he was rebuffed by Zardari and Gilani if he did.

Either way, my point is that Haqqani is suffering for a mistake he allegedly made. But the khakis are not suffering for a mistake they definitely and incontrovertibly made. That’s a problem.

Here’s the thing though: only the civilians can solve that problem. Relying on the goodwill of the khakis for self-accountability is a strategy doomed to failure. Getting a collective backbone, and getting a critical mass of politicians together who feel more comfortable taking the military on than they do taking each other on, would be two good steps. In a weird way, we need our civilians to act more like the khakis: ready to strike when they have to, taking no prisoners, and showing no mercy.