by Ann Snyder
Politics can be a dangerous business in Pakistan.
As the "memogate" controversy shows no signs of abating, a group of American and Canadian Muslims joined the push for U.S. government intervention on behalf of Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. In a January 12th letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the group called upon the Secretary and the Obama administration to "let Pakistan's military chief General Kayani and ISI boss General Pasha know that they will be held responsible for any harm that comes to Ambassador Haqqani."
Penned by the American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC), the letter was joined by several prominent moderate and reform-minded Muslims, including signatories M. Zuhdi Jasser, Tarek Fatah, Raquel Evita Saraswati, and Mona Eltahawy. The letter speaks in glowing terms of Haqqani, saying:
As North American Muslim leaders, we highly regard Ambassador Haqqani as not only the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., but also because he has always represented moderate Islamic values and has been vocal in his opposition to radical elements in Islam. He is a source of pride for moderate Muslims in North America. During his stay in the United States, Ambassador Haqqani was an effective, intelligent and articulate refutation of all the negative stereotypes of Muslims created by the Islamist leadership inside America.
The request follows a similar letter by a group of scholars on January 7th, as well a plea by Hudson Institute's Nina Shea, to make saving Haqqani a key issue on the U.S.'s "priority diplomatic agenda with Pakistan."
The "memogate" controversy began in October when Mansoor Ijaz published an op-ed in The Financial Times claiming that "a senior Pakistani diplomat" had requested his help delivering a letter to Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, requesting the U.S. to intervene in support of the civilian government against a possible military coup. Already tense relations between the military and the civilian government worsened following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As the world (including some in Pakistan) speculated who might have been complicit in allowing bin Laden to hide in what seemed like plain view, tensions rose within Pakistan over where blame should lie for allowing a U.S. raid into Pakistani territory in the first place. The memo called for U.S. assistance in tipping the scale toward civilian control but also made significant concessions to the U.S. including promises to take steps to rout out those who may have been involved in aiding bin Laden and al-Qaeda, to develop a more transparent system with regard to Pakistan's nuclear program, and to turn over perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Haqqani became embroiled in "memogate" when Ijaz named him as the previously unidentified senior diplomat---a charge that Haqqani flatly denies. Haqqani returned to Pakistan to address the matter but has since resigned his post. He may not leave the country (his passport was taken) and the media frenzy over the affair, including accusations he committed treason, has left him in fear for his life.
His fears are well founded. Just last year, Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, and minority affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated for criticizing Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Haqqani, who gave the eulogy at Bhatti's funeral, is a more moderate, anti-Islamist voice in Pakistani politics, a fact that may have placed him in jeopardy. Nina Shea suggests, "There is every reason to believe that the real reason Haqqani is being targeted is that he is a prominent moderate Muslim, one of the few remaining in Pakistan's government." Haqqani's wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, echoes these sentiments, saying of the situation, "It is part of a broader issue: the systematic elimination or marginalization of every intellectual and leader in Pakistan who has stood up to the institutionalization of a militarized Islamist state."
If Haqqani falls victim to either an unjust legal process or street "justice," it will only reinforce the harsh message already being directed at those in Pakistan and elsewhere who might otherwise speak out against Islamism—Keep quiet, or else!Ann Snyder
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