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Pakistan's US ambassador pressured to resign for supporting his president

Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani's offer to resign hasn't been accepted yet, and perhaps won't. But the reasons for a raging Pakistani controversy are worrying.

By Staff writer / November 17, 2011

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor

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Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, has a tough enough job as it is: telling skeptical US leaders that his country wasn't deliberately harboring Osama bin Laden; keeping the military aid pipeline open despite mounds of evidence that Pakistan's military is supporting the Taliban and attacks on US troops in Afghanistan; and convincing them that civilian rule is being deepened and entrenched.

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Now Mr. Haqqani's popularity and influence in Washington is beginning to hurt him at home. Yesterday he tendered his resignation to President Asif Ali Zardari.

Why? There's a storm of controversy over allegations that he had a hand in reaching out to the US to lean on the country's generals to decrease their role in the country's nominally civilian political life. He's also alleged to have conveyed a promise from President Zardari to reduce the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency's support for the Taliban and other militant groups.

Monitor correspondent in Islamabad, Issam Ahmed rounded up the story for us yesterday. That morning, Haqqani spoke to a Monitor breakfast in which he made no mention of resigning, but referred to strong opposition against his role at home.

"The hostile environment toward the relationship also impacts the messengers," Haqqani told the audience. "There are people in Pakistan who basically do not approve of the United States. As I said, approval rating is only 12 percent ... when they do not approve a close relationship between the United States and Pakistan and then there is this person whose job it is to have this relationship, they become hostile to that person.”

Haqqani remains on the job today, and it looks likely that his resignation will not be accepted. But the hostility he's dealing with – for allegedly expressing support for civilian rule and cutting ties with the Taliban – is just the latest reminder of the frequently dysfunctional relationship between the US and Pakistan.

Not only had bin Laden lived freely in Abbotabad, near the Pakistani capital, for years, but Afghan militant groups, both the Taliban and Haqqani network, continue to operate across the Pakistani frontier with relatively impunity. The US, meanwhile, remains reliant on the port of Karachi for supplying its troops in Afghanistan. So while it frequently grumbles about the behavior of Pakistan's military (which controls the ISI), it doesn't do much about it.

The US provided about $2 billion in US military aid to Pakistan last year. In the past decade, the US has provided over $20 billion in both military and non-military aid to Pakistan, seeking to secure support for the Afghan war and create an alliance with a country that is, after all, a nuclear power. Money being fungible, part of that money represents a subsidy for Pakistan's support for the Taliban. In an indirect way, the US has helped pay for bullets used to fire at American troops across the border.

Now Haqqani is fighting a political skirmish over steps that would bolster civilian rule and limit support for militants – both made apparently at the behest of his president. The politically powerful military is clearly nervous about this, and they've sent a signal they'll do whatever they can to preserve the status quo.

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