By Lucky Gold, CNN
Haunted by the remnants
Pakistan President Asif Al Zardari is scheduled to attend a U.N. summit on Afghanistan in Chicago this weekend. However, his meeting with President Obama may depend on whether Pakistan will open the critical NATO supply route into Afghanistan. That route was closed after a NATO air strike killed twenty four Pakistani soldiers and the U.S. refused to apologize.
In this atmosphere of distrust and dysfunction, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, and now residing in America, appeared Thursday on Amanpour.
“We must understand that there are two parallel narratives here,” said Haqqani, speaking from Washington. “Pakistanis think that the Untied States is an untrustworthy ally; the Americans think that Pakistani’s don’t always fulfill their end of the bargain, especially when it comes to terrorism.”
But how to end the deadlock and distrust? Haqqani realizes it won’t be easy: “Christiane, remember we need to crack down on these extremists for Pakistan’s sake. More Pakistanis have been killed by them than they have killed Americans…. America will leave Afghanistan someday. But we will still be haunted by the remnants.”
Among the things that “haunt” his country, he said, is the refusal to allow for honest debate and accountability: “Look, I am, as a Pakistani, very concerned about the direction of my own country. I am among those who feel that there are elements in Pakistani society who don’t allow us to have an honest and realistic debate about foreign policy.”
“We just want to blame our neighbors, our enemies,” said Haqqani, “we don’t want to take account of what’s wrong at home.”
Talk to any Pakistani for five minutes
However, he did not minimize his country’s legitimate concerns: “We are concerned about the future of Afghanistan. We don’t want India to create a kind of presence in Afghanistan that the U.S. wouldn’t have tolerated if the Soviets had created it in Mexico during the Cold War.”
But hampering any honest discussion between Pakistan and the U.S., he said, is “a small group of people ideologically motivated and seeking essentially the domination of an Islamist ideology within Pakistan, but unable to get votes.”
“Talk to any Pakistani for five minutes,” he said, “and by the fifth minute he will be getting angry about America far more than he would about whoever hid Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Now there’s been a year that’s gone and we haven’t yet prosecuted anyone for hiding and protecting Osama bin Laden there. So my point is, as Pakistanis, we need to take some responsibility.”
At the same time, “Pakistan demanded an apology for the Salala incident (the lethal air strike) when Pakistan’s troops were killed. America disregarded that request.”
We were left with the baby
He was speaking of reciprocity: “Look, we helped the Americans fight the Soviets in the ‘80’s and what was the result? Civil war in Afghanistan, the Americans left, we were left with the baby and we paid the price for the civil war. Then 9-11 came, we became partners with the Americans again, and this time when the Americans leave, we will still be picking up the pieces.”
“Pakistanis have to wake up to the fact that whatever advantages they have as the ground line of communication provider, that advantage is not going to last forever. As the Americans withdraw, yes, they need Pakistan to withdraw their heavy equipment. But in a worst case scenario, they can say ‘Blow up the equipment, let’s get out of here through other means.’”
However, he cautions that America has its own inflammatory political climate and that, too, hampers any honest discussion between the two nations: “Your domestic politics and our domestic politics often come in the form of a clash, and when they clash nothing good comes out of it.”
I got punched by both sides
Haqqani said that he was not alone among Pakistanis advocating relations between their country and the United States. However, he admitted they are “not always understood there.”
“Well, look, you know Christiane, that I did not come to a very good end as ambassador. I ended up being accused of all sorts of things because I was trying to explain to people in Pakistan that the sentiment in America was now turning against our country. And I kept telling people in America that they need to be a little more understanding of what’s going on in Pakistan. So the proverbial middleman, I got punched by both sides.”
He risks more than punches if he were to return to his homeland. “I will not go back to Pakistan for the moment,” he said. “Purely because there are elements there who have been threatening my life…So until such time as the ideologically motivated hateful rhetoric against me is ending, it’s better for me to stay out.”
But that doesn’t mean he intends to stay out of the argument. “Pakistan has to decide,” he said, “Do we want to embrace a future that will make Pakistan a future South Korea, or do we want to embrace a future that will make us like Iran and Somalia? And I think we should opt for an optimistic future, not a hateful future.”
CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.