For­mer Pak­istani en­voy Hu­sain Haqqani says that’s ex­actly what diplo­mats are sup­posed to do

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @hu­sain­haqqani Hu­sain Haqqani, a se­nior fel­low at the Hud­son In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton, served as Pak­istan’s am­bas­sador to the United States from 2008 to 2011.

So what if the Rus­sian am­bas­sador met with Trump’s cam­paign aides?

At the cen­ter of many al­le­ga­tions swirling around the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­la­tion­ship with Moscow is one man: Sergey Kislyak, the Rus­sian am­bas­sador. As U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­tend that his coun­try at­tempted, through hack­ing and other ef­forts, to in­flu­ence Novem­ber’s elec­tion, Kislyak’s dis­cus­sions with Trump cam­paign as­so­ciates — in­clud­ing for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn (who re­signed for not dis­clos­ing them) and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions (who did not) — have been the sub­ject of in­tense re­port­ing and spec­u­la­tion.

While it is one thing to ques­tion Rus­sia’s ef­forts or the truth­ful­ness of Amer­i­can of­fi­cials, this de­bate is threat­en­ing the time­honored tra­di­tion of for­eign am­bas­sadors freely meet­ing po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in their coun­try of ac­cred­i­ta­tion. There is noth­ing in­her­ently wrong with meet­ing a for­eign am­bas­sador — even one from a ri­val na­tion; even one from a ri­val su­per­power on which the United States has im­posed sanc­tions. As Pak­istan’s am­bas­sador to the United States, I saw first­hand, in the as­sas­si­na­tion of Osama bin Laden, just how es­sen­tial such con­sul­ta­tions were.

We don’t know what Kislyak’s par­tic­u­lar mo­ti­va­tions were or what he dis­cussed in th­ese meet­ings, but the ques­tion be­fore the Amer­i­can pub­lic is whether Trump’s al­lies com­ported them­selves hon­or­ably and legally, not whether Kislyak did. Diplo­macy is the process by which for­eign en­e­mies are turned into friends and friends are con­verted into al­lies. Demo­cratic coun­tries such as the United States have al­ways taken pride in the rel­a­tive ease with which for­eign diplo­mats can meet Amer­i­cans of all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions. (This is not the case in more-re­stric­tive na­tions, such as Rus­sia.) No mat­ter what Moscow’s pol­icy holds, the free in­ter­ac­tion of Amer­i­cans with for­eign am­bas­sadors works to Amer­ica’s ad­van­tage.

Ibe­came Pak­istan’s am­bas­sador in May 2008, soon after the coun­try’s re­turn to civil­ian rule after nine years of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship un­der Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf. The Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had forged an al­liance with Mushar­raf in the after­math of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, hop­ing that eco­nomic in­cen­tives and of­fers of mil­i­tary hard­ware would turn Pak­istan away from its long-stand­ing pol­icy of sup­port­ing Is­lamist mil­i­tants, in­clud­ing the Afghan Tal­iban, as in­stru­ments of re­gional in­flu­ence.

By 2007, Bush had re­al­ized that Mushar­raf ei­ther “would not or could not” ful­fill his prom­ises in fight­ing ter­ror­ism, as he wrote later, and the pres­i­dent wel­comed Pak­istan’s re­turn to democ­racy. The civil­ian lead­ers who ap­pointed me as am­bas­sador — Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari and Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani — looked for­ward to U.S. back­ing in re­vers­ing Mushar­raf’s poli­cies at home and abroad. They said they wanted to end Pak­istan’s sup­port for the Tal­iban, im­prove re­la­tions with In­dia and Afghanistan, and limit the role of Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ser­vice in defin­ing the coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy. In re­turn, they sought gen­er­ous U.S. aid to im­prove the ail­ing Pak­istani econ­omy.

I had an ad­van­tage most am­bas­sadors did not: I’d lived most of the Mushar­raf years in ex­ile in Wash­ing­ton and had es­tab­lished close ties with mem­bers of Congress and oth­ers in­flu­en­tial in pol­i­cy­mak­ing. But I be­gan my job in the mid­dle of the 2008 elec­tion cam­paign, and I knew that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies might not con­tinue un­der a new pres­i­dent. Within weeks of pre­sent­ing my cre­den­tials to Bush that June, I was com­mu­ni­cat­ing with cam­paign of­fi­cials in both par­ties and soon had meet­ings with aides to both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

The State Depart­ment fa­cil­i­tated the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Wash­ing­ton-based am­bas­sadors in the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can na­tional con­ven­tions that year. In Den­ver and in Min­neapo­lis-St. Paul, we were briefed by of­fi­cials from both cam­paigns. More ac­tive and bet­ter-con­nected am­bas­sadors, in­clud­ing my­self, were able to meet per­son­ally with peo­ple we ex­pected to have ma­jor roles in the con­duct of for­eign pol­icy after the elec­tion. There was noth­ing un­usual, let alone trea­sonous, in this.

As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Obama ar­gued that U.S. suc­cess in Afghanistan was more im­por­tant than the war in Iraq, which he had op­posed. In a ma­jor speech that sum­mer, he pledged to make “the fight against al-Qaeda and the Tal­iban the top pri­or­ity.” He also had a par­tic­u­lar mes­sage for my coun­try. He said ter­ror­ists and in­sur­gents in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas were wag­ing war against the Afghan gov­ern­ment: “We must make it clear that if Pak­istan can­not or will not act, we will take out high-level ter­ror­ist tar­gets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.”

From Obama’s pub­lic po­si­tions and from my meet­ings with his aides, it was clear that a demo­cratic, civil­ian gov­ern­ment in Pak­istan could join with him to help at­tain his ob­jec­tives in Afghanistan in ex­change for sup­port of con­sol­i­da­tion of democ­racy with greater U.S. eco­nomic as­sis­tance. I sent this mes­sage to my bosses in Is­lam­abad and told Obama’s cam­paign team that we would be will­ing to play ball. Once Obama took of­fice, this is ex­actly what hap­pened: Civil­ian aid to Pak­istan was en­hanced to record lev­els in an ef­fort to se­cure greater co­op­er­a­tion in de­feat­ing the Tal­iban.

What’s more, the re­la­tion­ships I forged with mem­bers of Obama’s cam­paign team also led to closer co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Pak­istan and the United States in fight­ing ter­ror­ism over the 31/2 years I served as am­bas­sador. Th­ese con­nec­tions even­tu­ally en­abled the United States to dis­cover and elim­i­nate bin Laden with­out de­pend­ing on Pak­istan’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice or mil­i­tary, which were sus­pected of sym­pa­thy to­ward Is­lamist mil­i­tants. Friends I made from the Obama cam­paign were able to ask, three years later, as Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil of­fi­cials, for help in sta­tion­ing U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions and in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel on the ground in Pak­istan. I brought the re­quest di­rectly to Pak­istan’s civil­ian lead­ers, who ap­proved. Al­though the United States kept us of­fi­cially out of the loop about the op­er­a­tion, th­ese lo­cally sta­tioned Amer­i­cans proved in­valu­able when Obama de­cided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 with­out no­ti­fy­ing Pak­istan.

Un­for­tu­nately, the United States did not at­tain vic­tory in Afghanistan, and the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment’s be­hav­ior to­ward mil­i­tant Is­lamists did not change on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. But for the pe­riod I was in of­fice, the two na­tions worked jointly to­ward their com­mon goals — the essence of diplo­macy.

After I be­gan read­ing about the af­fairs of Kislyak, I rum­maged through my files and di­aries to re­trace my steps as am­bas­sador in the fall of 2008. I main­tained re­la­tions with three teams of Amer­i­can of­fi­cials, politi­cians and pro­fes­sional staffers: the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and the two ma­jor­party can­di­dates. I met se­nior mem­bers of the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic na­tional com­mit­tees, more than a dozen sen­a­tors and con­gress­men from each party, and sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als from both sides who were tipped to emerge in se­nior gov­ern­ment po­si­tions after the elec­tion. This is to­tally nor­mal for am­bas­sadors.

Kislyak, who pre­sented his cre­den­tials just a cou­ple of months after I did, has prob­a­bly ad­vanced shared Rus­sian-Amer­i­can in­ter­ests through sim­i­lar con­tacts in the three U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cy­cles that he has cov­ered as am­bas­sador. I do not know if he reached out to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s camp as vig­or­ously as he did to Trump’s (he prob­a­bly al­ready knew Clin­ton’s top for­eign pol­icy play­ers from his work with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, in which many of them had served), but it does not mat­ter: Am­bas­sadors do not make pol­icy. They only fa­cil­i­tate un­der­stand­ing be­tween coun­tries that leads to pol­i­cy­mak­ing in their re­spec­tive cap­i­tals. Any Rus­sian de­ci­sion to covertly in­ter­fere in the U.S. elec­tion would have been made in Moscow, not nec­es­sar­ily with Kislyak’s knowl­edge, just as Pak­istan’s breach of prom­ises with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion oc­curred in Is­lam­abad, not in my em­bassy.

In Novem­ber 2011, I was forced to re­sign as am­bas­sador after Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary-in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus gained the up­per hand in the coun­try’s peren­nial power strug­gle. Among the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment’s griev­ances against me was the charge that I had fa­cil­i­tated the pres­ence of large num­bers of CIA op­er­a­tives who helped track down bin Laden with­out the knowl­edge of Pak­istan’s army — even though I had acted un­der the au­tho­riza­tion of Pak­istan’s elected civil­ian lead­ers.

Rus­sia is, of course, un­like Pak­istan, but U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions have see­sawed, too, and Kislyak’s means were no dif­fer­ent from what prob­a­bly ev­ery am­bas­sador of ev­ery coun­try hopes to use, even if his ends were unique.

Amer­i­cans have a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in fig­ur­ing out whether Rus­sia tried to covertly in­flu­ence U.S. pol­i­tics. In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cials who may have per­jured them­selves about their diplo­matic con­tacts also seems rea­son­able. It should not, how­ever, cre­ate the im­pres­sion that en­gage­ment be­tween a for­eign am­bas­sador — even one from a coun­try with which re­la­tions are strained — and peo­ple who might hold se­nior po­si­tions in a fu­ture ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­her­ently sin­is­ter. Such en­gage­ment is es­sen­tial if new pres­i­dents want to trans­late their for­eign pol­icy plans into re­al­ity.



FROM TOP: For­mer Pak­istani pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf, for­mer Pak­istani Am­bas­sador Hu­sain Haqqani and cur­rent Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak. Haqqani writes that after he took his post in 2008, he quickly be­came ac­quainted with of­fi­cials in the cam­paigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.


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