Did Osama bin Laden raid and pro-US tilt cost Pakistan's US ambassador Husain Haqqani his job?

Pakistan's US Ambassador Husain Haqqani has been embroiled in controversy at home over a claimed civilian government promise to rein in the military's Inter Services Intelligence agency.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States at the St. Regis in Washington, DC on Wednesday.

When wealthy Pakistani-American investor Mansoor Ijaz penned an op-ed in the Financial Times describing his alleged role as a secret intermediary between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs Mike Mullen in the aftermath of  the Osama bin Laden raid, he set in motion a train of events that exposed the growing rifts between Pakistan’s military and civilian governments.

Now the urbane Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani may be out of a job, thanks to the machinations of anti-American politicians and officers who consider him too close to the US – which is seen by many in the country as a bane, not a benefactor. His departure, not yet confirmed, would be fallout from not just the US assassination of bin Laden but from growing rifts over Afghanistan, the future of the Taliban, and the security of the region.

On Wednesday Mr. Haqqani, ambassador since 2008, tendered his resignation, according to Pakistani news channels Geo and ARY. Haqqani is popular in the US, the point man in a relationship that involves billions of dollars in military aid, worries about Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and allegations in America that Pakistan is a better friend to the Taliban in Afghanistan than it is to the US.

Foreign Policy's blog The Cable also reported that Haqqani told them he has sent a letter to Zardari offering his resignation

Haqqani spoke at a Monitor breakfast this morning. While he gave no indication a resignation was impending – and insisted a coming trip home was part of the normal diplomatic routine – he also hinted at the difficult position he's in as someone who both needs to be close to the US in Washington while representing the opinions and positions of the country's political class.

"The hostile environment towards the relationship also impacts the messengers," Haqqani said. "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 on his use of Twitter and his detractors at home from this morning

Haqqani, according to Mr. Ijaz, had been a collaborator in drafting a memorandum to Mullen urging the US to take a firm hand n preventing a military coup in Pakistan in the days following the raid that killed bin Laden on May 2. Ijaz said he was chosen for this task to “bypass Pakistan’s military and intelligence channels.” In the memo, claims Ijaz, was an offer from President Zardari to eliminate a key section of the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency charged with maintaining links to Islamist militant groups like the Taliban.

The op-ed’s claims, though unverified and initially denied by both Pakistani and US governments, proved incendiary, particularly among domestic supporters of Pakistan’s military who view the United States as the root cause of Pakistan’s problems. On Wednesday, Foreign Policy reported Mullen had received the memo, while Mansoor responded to denials by publishing a transcript of Blackberry Messenger messages with an unnamed diplomat (taken to mean Haqqani) on the website of The News, a Pakistani daily.

Earlier this month, outspoken cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, a rising star in Pakistani politics, accused Haqqani of working against Pakistan’s national interests at a political rally of over 100,000 people. On Tuesday, Ambassador Haqqani was recalled by the government to Islamabad to explain the memo.

In person, Ambassador Haqqani is a smooth-talking and skilful diplomat, who is forced to balance a fine line in a relationship that is defined by mutual mistrust. Despite criticism at home from conservative Pakistanis, he has helped negotiate billions of dollars of civilian and military aid to the very generals who view him with deep suspicion. And when CIA contractor Raymond Davis was jailed by Pakistani authorities for killing two civilians in the streets of Lahore in January and thereby creating a furore among the Pakistani public, Haqqani masterminded a solution based on the payment of blood money that is compliant with Islamic Sharia law.

Pakistani Twitter users were sharply divided over the news on Wednesday night. Twitter user Feisal Qureshi claimed Haqqani was a “US agent,” while others expressed support against military interference in the country’s political life. “Hope the Hussain Haqqani news isn't true. The guy knew what he was doing. Establishment hydra raising its head aggressively,” tweeted columnist Fasi Zaka.

According to Ayesha Tammy Haq, an Islamabad based broadcast journalist, the episode is indicative of the Pakistani military’s determination to see off its perceived enemies. “I think what’s really disturbing is you have [an] ambassador who is pretty effective at doing his job and has been fairly successful,” she says. “If this was true, he obviously hasn’t done this on his own, he’s done it on instructions. He’s taken a fall because the military government demanded his head on a platter.”

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