Their Man in Washington

By Barry, John | Newsweek International, October 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

Their Man in Washington


Barry, John, Newsweek International


Byline: John Barry

Ambassador Husain Haqqani walks a tightrope in convincing America and his country, Pakistan, to respect each other's agendas.

"What we have are two competing narratives, both simplistic and one-sided," Husain Haqqani says. "The Pakistani narrative is American betrayals. The American narrative is Pakistan's untrustworthiness."

As Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Haqqani is caught between the two. After a trio of attacks in and around Kabul, top U.S. military brass charged that the insurgent group responsible for them "acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency." Haqqani was berated at the White House for Pakistan's failure to crack down on insurgents. Yet he remains disconcertingly calm. "One has to see what one can do to reconcile the narratives," he says. Haqqani explains Pakistan's priorities to America, while he urges Islamabad to understand U.S. concerns. After Pakistan's new foreign minister warned the U.S. to "respect Pakistan's red lines," Haqqani's cool response was "We must also remember America's red lines."

His calm attitude comes from a personal journey hinted at by the photos at his official residence. One shows him and his family with President George W. Bush. Flanking the picture are prints of Pakistan's first U.S. ambassador, Mirza Ispahani. An industrial mogul--and Haqqani's wife's grandfather--Ispahani bought this mansion just off Embassy Row and left it as a residence for his successors.

Born in a poor suburb of Karachi 55 years ago, Haqqani has come a long way--emerging with no illusions about how governments behave. His family was among the tidal wave of Muslims fleeing India after partition; his father "made no money" as a lawyer defending refugees. The young Haqqani opted for escape. After high-flying student years at the University of Karachi, he was a journalist in Hong Kong and then covered the Afghan mujahedin uprising, where he met, and underestimated, Osama bin Laden.

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