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Haqqani uses virtual space to announce his resignation

November 22, 2011

President Asif Zardari and Husain Haqqani. — Photo by AP

WASHINGTON, Nov 22: “I have requested PM Gilani to accept my resignation as Pakistan Ambassador to US,” popped up a message on Twitter at around 8pm Pakistan time from Husain Haqqani’s personal account.

Exactly two minutes after the first message, he shot another: “I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance. Will focus energies on that.”

Later, in a message to an American journalist Roza Lauren, he wrote: “I have resigned to bring closure to this meaningless controversy threatening our fledgling democracy.”

This perhaps is the first time in the Internet’s history that an ambassador used this virtual space to announce his resignation.

The announcement ended the guessing game but it started another: Has Mr Haqqani been made a scapegoat or been “pushed under the bus?” as one of his followers asked.

And one Twitter user noted, while Amb. Haqqani announced his resignation, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said he was made to resign and pledged that “an appropriate level” a probe against the outgoing envoy would be "carried out fairly, objectively and without bias."

“Is this fair to treat a departing colleague like that?” many asked. Others wanted to know if Mr Haqqani will be allowed to return to the United States and join Boston University where he taught before he became an ambassador.

His friends in Washington, and he has many, pointed out that Mr Haqqani has always lived in “virtual reality” so it’s no surprise that he chose the Internet to announce his resignation.

“The reality is that the military is the strongest institution in Pakistan. But Mr Haqqani believed that now was the time to bring it under the civilian control and pushed for it,” said one friend.

“Some in Pakistan can’t/won’t appreciate all he did for his country,” wrote Chrstine Fair, a Georgetown University professor and a Pakistan expert. “This is bad for Pakistan. But I look forward to having him as a colleague again!”

“The one person who kept US-Pak relations on track in fraught times,” tweeted a Pakistani columnist.

“Hussain Haqqani resigns: no enquiry, no commission — just a behind-closed-doors decision. Justice has forgotten Pakistan’s way,” commented a popular Pakistani TV anchor.

“Now he can serve his master. His green card is greener,” tweeted someone who obviously does not admire Mr Haqqani.

“Good riddance,” wrote another.

“The resignation was a mature move regardless of guilt. Help inquiry as well. A healthy democratic move,” tweeted a neutral person, trying to maintain a balance between the two positions.

“Husain Haqqani’s replacement will be a key indicator if the GHQ has succeeded in becoming the lead player in relations with the US,” commented one.

The remarks show that Mr Haqqani remains as controversial after quitting as he was as ambassador. Soon after he assumed his office, Mr Haqqani was hooted at a physicians’ meeting in Washington where some US physicians of Pakistani origin thought he was “America’s ambassador to Islamabad and not Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington”.

Weeks later, he was cheered at another gathering as Pakistan’s “strongest advocate ever” in the US capital. And this has been the pattern throughout his tenure, forcing the ambassador to once declare that he was “an ambassador to the US government, not to the Pakistani community in America”.

But he had influence where he needed it the most: the White House, the State Department, the US Congress and the media. And he used his influence to serve Pakistan when the country needed it the most.

The period that followed the May 2 US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad has been the most difficult ever in the history of US-Pakistan relations. This was a time when nobody in Washington wanted to know if Pakistan also had something to say on this issue.

Mr Haqqani said it and said it loud. And he also succeeded in winning some sympathy for Pakistan. But the man was also an expert on shooting himself in the foot. Soon after he would return from successfully defending Pakistan at a gathering of Americans, he would go to another of Pakistani-Americans and use such phrases — “call girl”, “ungrateful wife” — to describe Pakistan that would annoy his audience.

The American media loved him. During the so-called memogate scandal, they described him as a friend whom Pakistanis disliked because he was for America. This only increased his unpopularity among the Pakistanis.

His relations with the Pakistani media have always remained tense. He never spared a chance to tell Pakistani journalists how unprofessional and immature they were, using words like “cheats and liars” to describe them. He had a big fight with Pakistani journalists at the Pakistan Embassy a day before he left for Pakistan, even trying to grab a camera. He later apologised.

Yet, he had many friends in the Pakistani media and the Pakistani-American community too. And some of them urged him not to go to Islamabad and instead send his resignation. They feared that he may not be allowed to return. Now they hope they are proven wrong.