PAKISTAN’S former envoy to the US Hussain Haqqani has a mercurial personality and a pathological obsession to raise his stature, whatever the cost. Every notable political party and brokers of real political power have often exploited this weakness of Haqqani, they have time and again used and discarded. During his ambassadorship, Hussain Haqqani was often dubbed as “the US ambassador to Washington”. And what he has been saying since his removal from ambassadorship has neither been fully true, nor fully false. Haqqani is also victim to his desire of remaining popular amongst American think tank circle, and to do so he has often been taking strong positions against the immediate interests of Pakistan. One recent example is his strong lobbying to stall the sale of six F-16 aircraft to Pakistan.
Haqqani’s credibility is quite questionable. However, his recent op-ed in the “Washington Post” has raised serious and valid questions, which cannot be brushed aside just because these originate from rascal Haqqani. We need to focus on Abbottabad tragedy and not the persona of Haqqani. However, after touching the climax, heat is receding from under the ‘Haqqani pot’, it appears that soon everyone will be back to business as usual, until the next volley is fired by Haqqani. Agreement of the political leadership for forming a parliamentary body to investigate Haqqani ripples had potential to uncover many skeletons in many cupboards. Hence, proposition could go only this far.
National Assembly Speaker has scuttled the initiative, he is now contemplating to refer the matter the NA foreign affairs committee of the lower house, which would begin consultation with other NA committees directly or remotely linked with the matter alongside opposition political parties. The sting stands removed, at least for the time being. This turnabout is interesting and meaningful; it will enable a safe passage to sitting government’s political conjoint— PPP, while also ensuring continuation of requisite comfort zone for the military hierarchy. While agreeing to Defence Minister’s demand for a parliamentary inquiry commission, the leader of opposition proposed:” There should be a joint parliamentary committee that should take up Mr Haqqani’s revelations, the Memogate scandal, Dawn leaks and whether someone had historic links with bin Laden”.
Abbottabad Commission had become controversial even before its inception, especially in the context of its terms of reference. Its nominated head was too keen to perform the role. While under similar circumstances Mr. Henry Kissinger had refused to head American commission to probe 9/11. He stated that he was not available for a “cover-up job” as he had “responsibility towards history”. At public level, Commission’s image had soon degenerated into a cover-up commission, which was reinforced by the high profile and ambiguously worded press conference after each sitting of the commission. Commission had some very honourable members as well, who disagreed the way commission tried to cobble together “middle course” findings and recommendations. One member chose to “fall sick” and not to sign the end product, another wrote a very powerful note of dissent. At least one member lost his contractual job because of his straight forward and honest approach. At the same time, fingers were pointed towards another member who reportedly acted as mole for an American NGO.
The then President, the Prime Minister and the Army Chief had declined to meet with the Commission. Haqqani did depose; he criticized the US attack on Abbottabad and had denied any prior knowledge of or involvement. Despite some possible wrongs statements regarding the issue of visas there has been no proof of his involvement until the confessions in his recent article. Because of a lack of consensus within the Abbottabad Commission the final report submitted to the then prime minister comprised a main report and a dissenting report. Despite a unanimous resolution of the Senate and National Assembly, the governments haven either presented the full report to parliament nor made it public.
One version of the report was leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2013;reportedly, the leaked inquiry report was one of the draft version. First draft had focused on identifying the people responsible and had suggested actions. Final copy is said to be a watered-down version. At least two members of the Commission had disagreed with the chairman over his alleged attempt to “play safe” in his findings. The phrase “collective failure” was included in the final report on the suggestion of Justice Iqbal who did not want any particular individual or institution to be blamed. With this sorry state of affairs, even if commission’s report is made public, it would not create a credible impression. However, until it is published or leaked, conjurers like Haqqani and Symor Hersh would continue to have their speculation shop functional.
Notwithstanding, Haqqani’s allegations are quite serious, while confessing his part he maintains that political leadership of the country was in the know of things, and that he had issued visas to a large number of CIA guys on the instructions of the then government so that they work in Pakistan outside the knowledge and purview of the military and intelligence agencies. Of those publically running for umbrella are making interesting statements. PPP has agreed to the proposal for fresh inquiry commission, hoping that ultimately noose will tighten against Haqqani’s neck only—which may not be the case. Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has stated: “Neither Mr Zardari nor I had sanctioned visas to US security officials against rules”. Within hours of Abbottabad attack, Gilani had left for an earlier planned foreign visit, leaving the nations in a states of shock and awe.
The judicial commission formed by former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry had established that Hussain Haqqani had written the controversial memo, at the core of the “Memogate” scandal; yet the Ex-CJP letHaqqani off the hook by lifting a travel ban on him. Now he has stated that: “The federal government should file an application for an expedited hearing of the Memogate case, given the recent scandal around an op-ed authored by Haqqani”. Those responsible for tragedy have since been focusing on persona of Haqqani rather than the real tragedy. Haqqani has once again unwittingly offered himself as a willing scapegoat. Notwithstanding, Haqqani was, at most, a willing pawn.
From national security perspective, the questions raised by Haqqani are several and of enduring importance. A new commission under the forthcoming new law on inquiry commissions may serve as an embankment against such recurrences. However, before commencing a new inquiry one has to be sure enough that all the influences that plagued the first commission would be denied similar space—a task easier said than done. Also there is no certainty whether the government would be able to publish the findings of the new report or take any other meaningful action. And at same time those who were responsible for making decisions at top leadership level, both military and civilian, are unlikely to come clean on the issue even if ‘under oath.’ For a change, Haqqani through his latest revelations has absolved military of any wrongdoing or complacency with regard to Abbottabad tragedy. And this has reinforced perception about PPP being a “national security risk”.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.