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Husain Haqqani: United States Must Earn Pakistani Trust

Controversial ambassador returns to his academic stomping grounds

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Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. Photo by Seth Rolbein

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, told an audience at Morse Auditorium last night that if the United States hopes to have a constructive long-term relationship with Pakistan, it must persuade the people of that country that it can be more than a fair-weather friend.

“There are some great things about the United States,” Haqqani told the assembly. “There are also some weaknesses, and one of them is that Americans are instinctively isolationists. When they deal with the world, they want to deal with it in their own way.”

Haqqani, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of international relations currently on a leave of absence, said Americans’ preference not to become engaged in other cultures, but to “get in and get out,” made many efforts unsuccessful.

“Americans need to understand that the world is not a problem for them to solve,” he argued. “The world is a situation for everyone to understand.”

The Karachi native declined to answer questions about intelligence matters or the political wishes of his government. He recently worked with U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) (Hon.’05) to fashion a $7.5 billion, five-year aid package to Pakistan, a deal that has been denounced by Islamic militants and the Pakistani military, in part because it could bolster the country’s unsteady civilian government, which is locked in a power struggle with the military.

At last night’s talk, sponsored by the CAS department of international relations and the BU Center for the Study of Asia, the ambassador said that the history of American operations in Pakistan — building military bases to repel the Soviets and abandoning those bases when that conflict ended — had led most Pakistanis to doubt America’s commitment. He recounted a meeting with a tribal leader who had been encouraged to embrace the Mujahideen, then fighting the Soviets, as “freedom warriors.” Now, he said, the same tribal leader was being told that those former freedom fighters were the enemy, because they were fighting against U.S. forces.

Haqqani told his audience that Pakistan was a country that wanted to be “part of the 21st century,” a place where people favored the education of women as well as men. At the same time, until last year’s election, the Taliban was not seen to be a negative force. Now, he said, while the United States is still seen in a negative light, the Taliban has fallen from favor.

He said the challenge for U.S.-Pakistan relations is that “the United States needs to have a bilateral relationship with Pakistan based on mutual interests. Pakistan is the world’s second largest Muslim nation, with 170 million people and with nuclear weapons. It’s a country that wants to be able to move forward. It wants to be part of the capitalist system, and to do that it needs some support from the United States.”

“In my lifetime of dealing with Americans,” he said, “you are great people, but you guys don’t do patience so well. It’s a mind-set that doesn’t work in places where change is slow.”

Haqqani, who came to BU in 2004, was exiled from his homeland in 1999 for criticizing the government of President Pervez Musharraf. He is the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (2005), and has been an influential figure in Pakistani politics for decades, serving as an advisor to three Pakistani prime ministers. From 1992 to 1993 he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka. Last year, when Musharraf resigned and Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was elected president, Zardari called on Haqqani to represent Pakistan in Washington.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

5 Comments

5 Comments on Husain Haqqani: United States Must Earn Pakistani Trust

  • Anonymous on 11.13.2009 at 6:21 am

    No

    I think it should be the other way around. Pakistan should earn American trust. For 8 years, Pakistan has fooled the American government into believing that they are serious in intercepting hardline terrorists but in reality they have just been eating away precious aid. Whats more the aid was not used for humanitarian or anti-terror. It was used to fill up the Swiss accounts of corrupt politicians and generals. And to pay for its personal illogical aprehensions of India.

  • Anonymous on 11.13.2009 at 7:26 am

    I fundamentally disagree with the ambassador. In fact his comments (at least portrayed in this piece) are almost laughable. How can anyone say the US is not engaged in so many places around the world and in a myriad of ways? Isolationists. That’s not genuine. And why would we spend billions upon billions of dollars to help these countries who cannot help themselves and not want it our “own way”? And then these very countries complain that WE aren’t doing enough! How arrogant.

  • Jack Keenan on 11.13.2009 at 9:42 am

    Let me understand something, we’re giving them an aid package from our tax dollars when we can’t even take care of our own economy? Who doesn’t believe that Bin Laden and his ilk are hiding out in the Pakistani highlands? Didn’t Mussharaf make a deal with the Taliban a couple of years ago, when he was supposed to be ‘helping’ the U.S.?
    They shouldn’t get a dime from us.

  • Rajesh on 11.13.2009 at 10:04 am

    Look who's talking!

    Pakistan has siphoned off billions of dollars from the US, harbored and trained terrorists, has not improved its own education or economy, displayed complete disregard for democracy and now asks the US to earn it’s trust!! What next? I suppose Osama is standing next to line to ask the US to earn it’s trust as well :)

  • Jeremy King on 11.13.2009 at 1:50 pm

    RE: Husain Haqqani: United States Must Earn Pakistani Trust

    The United States must participate in rebuilding Pakistan. Pakistan is a casuality of someone else’s war and people who have sold their own motherland for profit.

    The Pakistani and Afghani people caught in the middle must be rehabilitated and empowered to stand on their own two feet to crush the forces of evil disguised as messengers of God.

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