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Pakistani Ambassador slams US policies on AfPak

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
April 17, 2009 13:07 IST
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Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, went ballistic at a forum in Washington DC, slamming Congressional critics, the media and leading analysts who have predicted that Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state and bound to implode, and those who have accused the ISI of colluding with al Qaeda and the Taliban while Islamabad rakes in the massive largesse of American economic and security assistance.

The envoy, appearing along with the Afghan Ambassador to the US Said T Jawad, at an conference titled Afghanistan and Pakistan: Challenges of the New Obama Strategy organized by The Atlantic Council--a Washington think tank--also took some hefty swipes at US foreign policy toward Pakistan over the years and also faulted much of President Obama's AfPak strategic review saying it needed modification if it were to work.

Haqqani said that while he likes the United States, particularly since it' s a 'fix-it' and 'can-do' nation, there was a problem in this because "it creates the attitude that the world is a problem for Americans to fix." "The reality is that the world is a situation for Americans to understand and deal with. And, so you can't fix things," he said, and spoke of the mess Washington left the region when it "went into Afghanistan to fix something," in the wake of the erstwhile Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.

Haqqani said, "My request would be, please don't try to fix us. We are nations with history and Afghanistan and Pakistan go back many, many centuries. We have much in common—culturally, ethnically, religiously, historically, and we will work together to solve the issues in our region." He acknowledged some positives in the Obama Administration's AfPak strategy, including that it took a comprehensive approach and understood "that there is no military solution to the problem of extremism and terrorism alone."

Haqqani said the other positives in the Obama policy was that "they understand the regional linkages of the problem," and also lauded the " willingness to put resources and the willingness to make a commitment for sustained engagement." But he said that while the aid package $1.5 billion annually for 5 years for Pakistan introduced in Congress "may look big to some, but very frankly, I think that a company on the verge of failure is quite clearly able to get a bigger bailout than a nation that is accused of failure."

Haqqani asked, "Why does Afghanistan or Pakistan get less resources allocated to solving a bigger problem (of extremism and terrorism), which will have longer-term implications for the security of the United States and the world, than say for example some failed insurance company or some car company whose real achievement is that they couldn't make cars that they could sell?" And then taking on the Administration and the Congress' warning that the aid to Pakistan would be conditioned with scrupulous benchmarks, he said, "It is important also to understand that both our Afghan brothers and we, understand the need for accountability. Anybody who writes checks has the right to have some system of accountability in place." "But, at the same time, there is a difference between accountability and intrusiveness and that is something that needs to be understood," since Afghanistan and Pakistan "are both proud nations," he said.

Haqqani recalled that "the President of the United States said recently that there would be no blank check for Pakistan and our Foreign Minister very rightly said that Pakistan will neither accept blank checks nor will it write any." "So, Pakistan will negotiate over every detail of commitments that are made to Pakistan and we would like to do them in a way in which the assistance and aid that is given to Pakistan brings real value in terms of changing the lives of our people and strengthening our security capabilities." Haqqani asserted that "neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can be micromanaged from Washington,DC. You can have big picture ideas, you can have a strategic outlook, but you certainly cannot have micromanagement of domestic politics."

Without mentioning India, Haqqani said, "There needs to be some consideration, or reconsideration of the idea of involving all the regional powers." "It is much better for us to be able to engage bilaterally with the various regional powers, instead of trying to create a new institutional mechanism, which could run into a logjam because there will be too many people with too many ideas," he said. Haqqani said, "If Pakistan is going to be a partner of the United States in the effort to root out violent extremism and terrorism, then there has to be a willingness to build trust." While acknowledging that "there is mistrust about some of our security institutions," the envoy said, "Let me just say that these problems need to be addressed again, by talking to us not by beating up on us."

"For the reporters, I'll repeat that because that's a quotable quote even though I say so myself—the lack of trust between our security institutions will be addressed by talking to us, not by beating on us," Haqqani said. 

He said, "Pakistanis are very concerned about what they see as a unbridled indictment of Pakistan's security services, giving no credit to Pakistan for the efforts that have been made." Haqqani said, "It is importance that the institutions that are to be partners in this effort, do not start feeling under attack—whether it's the Pakistani ISI or the Pakistani military. They should feel that there is room for creating a better future in the relations, and yes, Pakistan has to ensure that Pakistani soil is not used for training or conducting terrorist operations anywhere in the world, and we intend to do that." "Pakistan no longer lacks the will to fight terrorists and extremists," he added, and declared, "even if we do not get assistance," from the US, "we will fight the terrorists." Haqqani said, "It is a war that we are fighting to save the soul of our nation."

Former Central Intelligence Agency veteran and ex National Security Council staffer in the Clinton Administration, Bruce Riedel said the Mumbai terror attacks had all the hallmarks of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and noted that elements in the Inter-Services-Intelligence for years had been training and funding the LeT and could have been part of the conspiracy and planning in the launch of the Mumbai attack. Haqqani said his message "to our friends from the great 'can-do' nation," was that while "it's important to have the 'fix-it' approach," if this is tried "too quickly and in a manner in which you don't have the regional and local stakeholders fully on board, you are going to run into difficulty."

The envoy also slammed the US for the predator drone attacks in Pakistani territory targeting al Qaeda targets, which has also resulted in much collateral damage vis-à-vis the deaths of innocent men, women and children. Haqqani, arguing that these attacks impinged on Pakistan's sovereignty, said, "It would be easier for Pakistanis to accept American technology being used to take out extremists and terrorists on Pakistani soil if it done in partnership with Pakistan." "It is not the fact that the bad guys are being killed by drones that bothers Pakistanis—not at all," he said. "What bothers us is that this is without sufficient regard for our sovereignty and it creates an opinion in Pakistan that runs contrary to our joint mission."

Haqqani reiterated that "if we are going to move forward as partners, we have to get our people on board. You, in the United States have to start recognizing and giving more respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan." "We, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have to make sure that our people do not continue to be fed anti-American propaganda to the point where they start considering the Americans bigger enemies than the terrorists." Haqqani said consequently, "If an attack to eliminate one terrorist, is going to create anger which will produce more terrorists in the future, it needs to be reviewed."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC