WHATEVER we may think or say about Husain Haqqani — and his role, statements and explanations — he was not primarily responsible for the US assault in Abbottabad on the night of May 1 and 2, 2011. The final decisions with regard to the fateful incident were not his to make. Whatever he did or did not do he claims he did not exceed his authorisation and instructions. He denies he had anything to do with the planning and execution of the assault, and despite widely held and deep-rooted reservations about his conduct as ambassador in Washington (which may or may not be justified), nothing has surfaced that contradicts his denials.
However, his recent statements do raise questions. In a recent article in the Washington Post Haqqani states “the relationships I forged with members of Obama’s campaign team ... eventually enabled the US to discover and eliminate Bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamic militants”. This language, without explicitly saying so, strongly suggests, whether intentionally or not, an active and purposeful interaction with US security officials which enabled the discovery and elimination of OBL “without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military”.
This interpretation of Haqqani’s own statement is neither far-fetched nor unreasonable. But equally Haqqani’s article is not a confession. He goes on to say in the article that ”friends I made from the Obama campaign were able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan. I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved“… and these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to carry out the operation without notifying Pakistan. Once again, while not explicitly saying so, there is here an even stronger suggestion of an active role and a sense of pride in achieving a shared objective.
Our leaders are focusing on the person of Haqqani rather than the real tragedy of Abbottabad itself.
So? Pakistan was under an international obligation to cooperate in the apprehension of OBL. An elected government apparently decided to act upon this obligation. The leaders of this government instructed their ambassador in Washington accordingly. They also sent specific instructions to enable the ambassador to facilitate the rapid issue of necessary visas to US Special Operations and intelligence personnel — who obviously disguised their real identities in their visa applications — and who proved “invaluable” when the time for action came. What is wrong or illegal about this? And if there was anything, who should be held responsible: the subordinate and active ambassador or the elected leaders who gave him instructions while allegedly keeping the military and intelligence out of the loop?
But, then, why not stand up and say so — publicly as well as in testimony to the Abbottabad Inquiry Commission? In fact the president, the prime minister and the COAS declined to meet with the Commission. Haqqani who did meet with the commission has always publicly criticised the US attack on Abbottabad and has similarly denied all prior knowledge of or involvement with the attack. Despite some possible misstatements to the commission regarding the issue of visas there has been no proof of his involvement until the suggestions he has himself made in his recent article. Why is he simultaneously denying any purposeful involvement with the US assault on Pakistan and strongly suggesting the contrary in his recent article in the Washington Post?
Whatever conclusions one may draw about the consistency and purpose of his statements and the credibility of his behaviour as Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, they do not add up to treachery. He was, at most, a willing instrument of his political superiors. Unfortunately that is what politically appointed ambassadors are now expected to be. Nevertheless, in embellishing his personal role — for reasons one can only speculate about — while distancing himself from any responsibility for what occurred, Haqqani has effectively pointed a finger towards his civilian leaders at the time. No wonder, they are denouncing him and calling for another commission of inquiry!
Our media and political leaders, however, are concentrating on the person of Haqqani rather than the real tragedy of Abbottabad itself. This is a measure of their immaturity and irresponsibility which ensure their continuing irrelevance for the suffering people of Pakistan. In 2013, Pildat (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency) noted a leaked interim draft of the Abbottabad Commission concluded that the Abbottabad assault was the “result of inadequate threat assessments, narrow scenario planning and insufficient consideration of available policy options. If the institutions and whole system of governance were ‘dysfunctional’ they were so because of irresponsible governance over a sustained period, including incorrect priorities and acts of commission and omission by individuals who had de jure or de facto policymaking powers”.
Pildat further noted that according to the draft report the “government’s response before, during and after May 2 appears in large part to be a story of complacency, ignorance, negligence, incompetence, irresponsibility, and possibly worse at various levels inside and outside government. Institutions either failed to discharge responsibilities that legally were theirs or they assumed responsibility for tasks that legally were not part of their duties, and for which they were not trained. This reflected the course of civil-military relations and the power balance between them.” The leaked draft also observed the ISI had “become more political and less professional”. Because of a lack of consensus in the Abbottabad Commission the final report submitted to the then prime minister comprised a main report and a dissenting report. Very irresponsibly, the government has not presented the full report to parliament or made it public despite a unanimous resolution of the Senate and National Assembly.
The Commission of Inquiry Act of 1956, moreover, is expected to be replaced by a new act which will require the government to make such reports public within 30 days of submission. The prime minister, accordingly, should now release the main and dissenting report without further delay. This matter, and not hounding Haqqani, should be our urgent priority.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan. He was a member of the Abbottabad Commission.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2017