Suddenly PML-N and PPP politicians are playing dumb. They are distancing themselves from Husain Haqqani’s self-congratulatory column in the Washington Post. As Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington (2008-2011), he brags of facilitating the “presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorisation of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.” This is not breaking news as our overly-hyper media would have us believe today.
The issue of visas being doled out by Haqqani on his own is not a fact and is hugely contested. There is a lot of validity to the contention that no visas can be given without the knowledge of the ISI and other intelligence agencies. Visas are usually vetted by the interior ministry and the information is shared with the concerned agencies. Even if that cross-checking process were somehow bypassed, the information would be available at the time of someone’s entry into Pakistan.
However, a retired army general in the know says that the intelligence agencies [read ISI and MI] were not in the loop when the civilian government of Zardari along with Ambassador Haqqani were issuing visas to the CIA operatives. “Our intelligence is not as advanced as people think. Often information comes to light after the fact and that’s what happened in this case. Visas to CIA guys were not only given from Washington, but from other Pakistani missions abroad.” If the ex-general’s words are true, then one only hopes that our spying apparatus has undergone a big overhaul.
Husain Haqqani may be out to ingratiate himself to the Trump administration, but is he really the only villain?
But what is laughable is the hypocritical handwringing of PML-N leaders. They have taken Husain Haqqani’s words at face value and pounced on Zardari for his supposed collusion in doling out visas to CIA operatives comprising Blackwater personnel. It’s common knowledge that these hired guns were free to roam the countryside in a bid to gather sensitive intelligence. These men were part and parcel of the US military and enjoyed the complete backing of the outgoing Bush Administration that had vowed to “smoke out” bin Laden. Don’t forget, General Musharraf had readily offered military help by joining hands with President George Bush’s war against terrorism.
Equally amusing is the knee-jerk reaction of PPP’s opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah, screaming blue murder and declaring Husain Haqqani a “traitor.” Aitzaz Ahsan is another spin-master who, when told by a TV commentator that the ambassador was allegedly only doing Zardari’s bidding, slyly deflected the question. How convenient for the PPP wallahs to pretend ignorance! Asif Zardari, the then president, was known to have a hotline with his envoy and friend in Washington. Haqqani was one of Zardari’s most trusted men. Benazir Bhutto too trusted this master of political acrobatics who was her steadfast ally in Washington DC when she was in exile. For the PPP to feign ignorance about Haqqani’s ‘mischief’ now is dishonest and disingenuous. As is their leader’s wont, Zardari has thrown his friend and ally under the bus, as the Americans would say.
When the PPP won the polls in 2008, the first high level appointment was that of Haqqani as our ambassador to Washington. The presidential race in America was in full force and the Democrat candidate Barack Obama was slotted to take the White House in November of that year. Obama had publicly stated that it was imperative to target the Taliban and Al-Qaida with the aim to get Osama bin Laden, who was suspected to be hiding on the Pak-Afghan border. Haqqani claims in his column that after getting the blessings of his “bosses in Islamabad [read Zardari and the Establishment]” he messaged Obama’s campaign team that “we would be willing to play ball.” In his column, he takes the credit for helping America hunt down bin Laden by allowing the presence of US Special Operations and intelligence personnel in Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party men too are acting coy. They should grow up and stop pretending that Haqqani is the villain of the piece. That is not true. The one to play the theatre of the absurd is Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. He is demanding answers from Zardari. How about us demanding answers from him and his Chief Minister Punjab? The duo were holding the same jobs in 2011. So how, why and when did they let killer Raymond Davis, the chief protagonist of ‘Lahoregate’ (January 27, 2011) slip out of Pakistan? Either they are suffering from amnesia or fooling the media.
Granted that our ambassador in Washington stamped Davis’s visa to come to Pakistan, but it was the civilian governments at the Centre and Punjab along with the Establishment that allowed spies like Davis and his Blackwater associates free access to the most sensitive no-go areas in Pakistan. Why not ask our then intelligence agencies as to why CIA operatives were allowed to roam scot-free in the country?
Enter Husain Haqqani, the ultimate opportunist. He now goes for the big fish where the stakes are real high in power politics. As our former ambassador to Washington, Haqqani was the face of the Pakistan government which favoured Prince’s Blackwater firm by dishing out hundreds of Pakistani visas. Perhaps it’s payback time for Prince and perhaps Haqqani is wanting his due. But he is doing it in a convoluted way. His Washington Post column is meant to attract Trump and Prince’s attention. How? By gloating that giving visas to Blackwater spies eventfully led to Osama bin Laden’s hideout. In fact, he’s killing two birds with one stone.
Who owned the notorious Blackwater firm that sent hundreds of its mercenaries to Pakistan? Billionaire Erik Prince is the founder and owner of Blackwater. Readers must read Jeremy Scahill, an editor of the online news publication The Intercept and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, who profiled Erik Prince as a “Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” According to Scahill, these Blackwater thugs worked with US military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan, numbering over 80,000 operatives that “exceeded the total strength of the US troops and CIA personnel in that region … making the level of privatisation of war unprecedented.”
Fast forward today: Billionaire Eric Prince and his family have donated large sums of money to the Republican Party and are very close to President Donald Trump. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s Education Secretary. Enter Husain Haqqani, the ultimate opportunist. He now goes for the big fish where the stakes are real high in power politics. As our former ambassador to Washington, Haqqani was the face of the Pakistan government which favoured Prince’s Blackwater firm by dishing out hundreds of Pakistani visas. Perhaps it’s payback time for Prince and perhaps Haqqani is wanting his due. But he is doing it in a convoluted way. His Washington Post column is meant to attract Trump and Prince’s attention. How? By gloating that giving visas to Blackwater spies eventfully led to Osama bin Laden’s hideout. In fact, he’s killing two birds with one stone: to Trump, he’s posing as an Osama hunter, and to Prince, he’s posing as his friend who gave visas to Blackwater contractors making Prince earn more millions.
An avid supporter and admirer of Haqqani once wrote, “There is no general like Sahibzada Yaqub Khan to at least record dissent with the nation’s madness [read the Establishment]… Our self-made and well-read man in Washington, Husain Haqqani, probably comes closest… [he] continues to quietly persuade Americans to be patient with Pakistan and to plead with Pakistanis to understand the global power equation. But at home he is reviled frequently for not joining the ‘Crush America’ ghairat brigade.” If I’m not mistaken, it was the Washington-based columnist, the late Khalid Hasan who penned these words before his death in 2009, long before the ‘Lahoregate’ or ‘Memogate’ controversies that dragged Haqqani into the quagmire.
In sum, to blame Zardari and Haqqani is being short-sighted. There were a lot of wheels within wheels in this whole saga that need to be revealed. Setting up a commission will not get us the truth. While Haqqani wrote the Washington Post column no doubt with a view to promoting himself to the Trump administration, he is also right to point out the ‘eyes wide shut’ approach of our Establishment that failed abysmally to spot bin-Laden living for years just a kilometre or two away from the military academy in Kakul.
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 26th, 2017