Ambassador Haqqani: 'I Am a Pakistani, I Will Die a Pakistani'

I just spoke with Husain Haqqani, the embattled Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., who is the target of yet-another attempt by the Pakistani military and its intelligence branch, the ISI, to smear him in a continuing attempt to seize control of Pakistan's foreign policy from the country's civilian leadership. The latest scandal (you can read about it here) is almost incidental to the main theme: The Pakistani military's unwillingness to allow Pakistan's civilian, elected government -- represented in Washington by Ambassador Haqqani -- to function as Pakistan's actual leadership.

Haqqani has offered President Zardari his resignation, but it has not been accepted, and Haqqani (despite Indian and Pakistani media reports to the contrary) is still in Washington and still functioning as ambassador. He says he is not seeking political asylum in the U.S. (as has also been reported) and he said he will return to Islamabad to consult with President Zardari when the president instructs him to do so. In our conversation, he was in good spirits and seemed simultaneously bemused and defiant: "I am a Pakistani, I will die a Pakistani," he said, when I asked him if he was going to seek asylum in the U.S. "I've lived in the United States so many years without seeking citizenship, and this is because I have a love for Pakistan."

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He went on to say that he will continue to serve as ambassador at the pleasure of his president. "I have sought a role to play in the history of my country. I have not sought this as a job. I will continue to play this role, but I have offered my resignation as a way to defuse the current situation, in which a handful of journalists have blown out of all proportion an op-ed by a businessman." This is a reference to the recent op-ed by the Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who claims that President Zardari, through an unnamed diplomat (assumed by many to be Haqqani) tried to enlist American help after the Abbottabad raid to keep the military from completely taking over Pakistan's government.

A growing concern in Washington is that Haqqani's life would be in danger should he return to Islamabad -- I've heard people mention the chance of an Aquino-style airport assassination, but what would be more likely is that the military would place Haqqani under arrest and interrogate him about what the ISI sees as his attempts to subvert military authority. Many people in Washington assume -- or hope, more to the point -- that the Obama Administration is communicating to the Pakistani authorities its worry about Haqqani's safety. More to come, undoubtedly.