Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ambassador Haqqani is Brilliant

By Saeed Qureshi

Brilliance is a God given trait and is not acquired by external means. It is ingrained and is an integral part of human personality. Hard work too is inborn but can also be acquired. Pakistan’s Ambassador Haqqani in Washington DC, is both hard working and brilliant. Notwithstanding, what his detractors say about him, the fact remains that by virtue of his wits and qualities of head and heart, he has certainly excelled so many of his predecessors.

He is sharp and blunt. He looks logical, analytical and knowledgeable when he gives vent to his thoughts and ideas. His Witticism and repartee are part of his outstanding debating skills. He can express his point of view with emphatic lucidity and candid vigor. He speaks with confidence and courage and it is seldom that he dithers and fumbles due to paucity of words and phrases. He remains entirely focused on his themes and therefore hammers these on the interlocutor with remarkable dexterity.

Long before his assuming the ambassadorial responsibility, I have had the opportunities to watch him demonstrate his debating and discussion talent on electronic media or in political or social gatherings. On such occasions, he would look resounding and overpowering. He speaks on diverse range of subjects with felicity and ease. I can use such clich├ęd hyperboles as articulate and rhetorical but I think more than that he possesses the power of eloquent advocacy of Pakistan’s point of view on various forums.

His march from one political party to another, in my reckoning, must be by conviction than by opportunism. By remaining with a political party, he might have felt that his ideals and those of the parties were not compatible. Embracing new political affiliations is the right of every individual and there should be no bickering or contention on this. Finally, the PPP must have provided him the choice platform to conform to his political beliefs and ethos. But that is beside the point and I am not defending him on this count.

Personally, I have hardly known him except for the period 1980-88, when we were all contemporary journalists. I was then the assistant editor of daily The Muslim, with political and diplomatic beats. He was working on various journalistic fronts. He covered the war in Afghanistan for Voice of America radio; served as the Pakistan and Afghanistan correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review; and worked in Hong Kong as the East Asian correspondent for the London-based Arabia: the Islamic World Review. When he became Minister of State, and Federal Secretary for Information and Broadcasting -1993-95, he was close and friendly to many journalists but was not even acquainted with me. So my eulogy of his abilities may not be taken as the tribute from one of his personal friends. I made up my mind to write this piece when, of late, I saw him answering CNN anchor’s questions.

What I am trying to make out is that his appointment as the ambassador of Pakistan in Washington DC is one of the best decisions that the incumbent PPP government has taken. Those who dub him as an “American man” should be convinced that there is nothing wrong for being so. Let me ask without going into the question whether he is or not but at least he should not be alone. In this world, the affiliations are always there. But should we not look at it from this angle that it is a plus point to be close to the United States than being hostile. If his trust and good offices with the American administration can prove to be the catalyst for cementing Pak-US relations then what, on earth, was wrong with it. But certainly he is not the one that he would give preference to the US interests over those of his own country. At best, he should be reconciling those interests. He is not an agent provocateur. Nor is he an angel that he should be expected of to be completely infallible. No one can claim to be so.

With Haqqani as the ambassador, the US Pakistani relations have never been so irritants- free as now. His close connections with the American think tanks and in other decision making departments, help in making decisions favorable to Pakistan. In these chaotic times for Pakistan, the enhanced military and economic aid that the US is pledging without strings is a laudable achievement, although it is also necessitated by the Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances. President Obama has been more than generous to give aid to Pakistan without being overbearing or oppressive like his predecessor. I can imagine that in the convergence of US-Pakistan relations, there must be some role of ambassador Haqqani’s persuasive skills and personal linkage.

From my own experience as a diplomat, I believe that invariably a kind of friction runs in our diplomatic missions abroad between self centered staffers, between the favorites of the head of the mission and those who are not. The Pakistani diplomatic missions are unfortunately plagued with divisions between groups and individuals with clash of interests. Such discord undermines the fulsome output of the embassies. Everyone tries to curry favor with the head of the mission by speaking ill about his rivals within the mission. The embassies remain rife with a galore of rumors, gossiping and backbiting. Ambassadors usually fall prey to such absurd rumor mongering, especially those that go against them.

I am not aware how ambassador Haqqani is running the embassy. Also, I don’t know, if he is a good manager and remains above such trifling and petty behavioral aberrations of his staff. I can imagine that he would be cognizant of the importance of fraternal environment in the foreign diplomatic outposts. I reckon he would be treating his staff with equanimity and evenhandedness. My experience guides me to believe that the heads of diplomatic missions sometimes cannot remain aloof of the staff’s petty feuds. But if Ambassador Haqqani loses his cool and throws his tantrums or shows partisanship, he would himself remain ill at ease. Thus, in sharp contrast to his outdoor acclaim as a scholar and a diplomat, his personal ability would remain eclipsed within the precincts of the embassy.

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