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Toughest envoy job in Beltway

world Updated: Jun 24, 2011 01:31 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Yashwant Raj

As the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani probably has the toughest job in town, talking up his country's plunging equity to a skeptical US that has trouble calling itself an ally, preferring the lesser term partner.

But Haqqani doesn't see the relationship in such calamitous terms.

"There are challenges in US-Pakistan relations, but I don't think they can be called a crisis," he told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.

Ties between the US and Pakistan hit first of its recent string of lows low over CIA operative Raymond Davis, and it's been on a slide ever since, hitting an all-time low over the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Pakistan lost many friends and made new enemies.

Haqqani went studio hopping, covering two or three major television network every day, staring down aggressive anchors, stealing byte moments whenever possible, arguing strenuously for understanding.

Wolf Blitzer on CNN and Charlie Rose on PBS, many oped pieces in leading publications and - his most popular and potent tool yet - twitter.

He is an avid tweeter, with a devoted band of followers.

From tweeting Urdu couplets over the weekend, Haqqani has been forced into tweeting aggressively in defense of his country - he explained in one of his tweets - being driven from one meeting to the other.

Yet it's not a crisis, Haqqani maintains.

"It would be a crisis if either side did not want the relationship to work," he explained, adding, "a challenge is when both sides want it to work but have somewhat different perspectives on certain specifics."

From Pakistan's perspective, the ambassador laid out two main issues: respect for its sovereignty (read, concerns over US operations on Pakistani soil, including the bin Laden raid), and recognition of its sacrifices in the war against terrorism.

"There are certain things about which our American partners need to be given much more information than they have had," Haqqani said without elaborating, when asked about the lack of trust between the two countries.

The US suspects Pakistan knows more about the Taliban networks but doesn't readily share that information. Even on bin Laden, the administration has pointedly stressed that only the Pakistani leadership didn't know, not no one.

The ambassador was making a larger point on trust between saying, it was not the result of any one incident or event.

There was a series of events leading to it, including some "misunderstandings that muddied the water".

What about US lawmakers threatening to make all further aid to Pakistan conditional its contribution to the war against terrorism?

"An overwhelming majority of US congressmen know that putting conditions on aid or cutting aid has never been productive in US-Pakistan relations," said the ambassador, adding, "There is a lot more to this relationship than just aid."

Pakistan has received $20 billion US aid since 2002, making it the largest recipient of US aid. About $9 billion of that went as reimbursements for costs incurred by Pakistan in assisting the US-led war in Afghanistan.

The demand for aid cuts has since died, but skepticism remains.

Blaming media for some of this, Ambassador Haqqani said, "The good news is that all those who are in decision making positions in the US including the Congress have been listening to our point of view with tremendous openness."

The ambassador has been busy obviously. He has met lawmakers on either side of the aisle - both Democrats and Republicans. "We have received significant support from Speaker John Boehner and senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry."

But there is still a long way to go, and the ambassador knows that well.