THE FIRST time I ever traveled to Pakistan — in December of 2001 — I was quickly introduced to that country’s fondness for conspiracy theories and its deep mistrust of the United States.
Over a delicious dinner of rice and lamb, an elected Pakistani official informed me that the United States had perpetrated the 9/11 attack on its own people.
My fork stopped mid-air.
“Why would they do that?’’ I asked.
“To get their hands on Afghanistan, of course.’’
So the alliance between the United States and Pakistan in the so-called war on terror was always bound to be, shall we say, rocky. Ten years later, this forced marriage of convenience has been going through a nasty divorce. A string of unfortunate incidents have confirmed Pakistan’s view that Americans are up to no good: A CIA contractor shot two Pakistani men in Lahore. The United States swept in and killed Osama bin Laden - publicly humiliating Pakistan’s army. A November air strike killed 26 Pakistani soldiers - an accident for which President Obama has not seen fit to personally apologize.
Perhaps the most foreboding sign of chilly relations has been the public allegations against Husain Haqqani, a Boston University professor who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.
Haqqani has been virtually accused of treason for allegedly authoring a secret memo to the Americans that offers more transparency in Pakistan’s nuclear program, a stronger hand against militant groups, and an investigation into which Pakistani military officials knew about bin Laden’s hideout. In short, the memo offers to give the Americans pretty much everything they want. In return, Haqqani is accused of asking for one thing: protection for Pakistan’s weak elected government from Pakistan’s military, which has staged three coups and ruled for half of the country’s 64 years of existence.
You might think that an effort to protect an elected government from a coup might elicit praise from the public. Not in Pakistan. The rumor that Haqqani asked for American help has sparked such outrage that Haqqani — a tenacious survivor of numerous political battles — was forced to resign. He has been called everything from a traitor to an American sell-out. Now Pakistan’s Supreme Court has appointed a three-judge committee to investigate whether Haqqani did indeed author the memo — a charge he strenuously denies. If Haqqani — and his former boss, Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari - are proven to be behind the memo, Zardari could be forced out.
Haqqani could have shied away from this trouble and returned to Boston, where a job awaits him at BU, and settled back into a quiet life. Instead, he flew to Pakistan to fight the charges. Today, he is holed up in the prime minister’s guest annex, with extra security to protect him from assassination. He isn’t allowed to leave Pakistan without the court’s permission.
“It is an intense and scary time,’’ says Asma Jehangir, a human rights lawyer representing Haqqani in court.
Haqqani’s political survival rests on his ability to convince the Pakistani public that he didn’t write a one-page, unsigned memo. The only evidence that he did comes from a Pakistani-American businessman named Mansoor Ijaz, who sent the memo to Admiral Mike Mullen but claims Haqqani dictated it. Ijaz, who revealed the memo’s existence in an op-ed to the Financial Times, has a history of sensational claims. During the Iraq war, he claimed to have knowledge of an impending chemical weapons attack. During the hunt for bin Laden, he gave detailed descriptions of his hide-out. During the diplomatic frenzy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Ijaz announced that Iran already has one.
Now Pakistan is abuzz with delicious conspiracy theories about Ijaz and why he would try to ruin his former friend. Maybe he is a Trojan Horse, sent by the army to try to topple Zardari. Or maybe he is an American spy.
Pakistan loves conspiracy theories so much that Haqqani might yet survive this scandal. I wish I could say the same for US-Pakistani relations.