‘Unpatriotic’ Haqqani to unite an otherwise diverging PML-N
If there is anyone more upset than the PPP government about what increasingly looks like the end of Husain Haqqani’s tenure in Washington, it is Islamabad’s press corps. During his time as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Haqqani was always freely available for comment and loved nothing more than to give an unsolicited titbit or two, ironically enough, usually on BBM.
But journalists are also finally realising how Haqqani may have played them. Soon after Mansoor Ijaz wrote his infamous column in the Financial Times, Haqqani was quick to get into action. He was typically vigorous in giving off-the-record briefings, all of them trashing Ijaz as a fabulist. He would begin by praising Ijaz, calling him a successful businessman who has plenty of contacts in the US, only to end up burying him. He would rhetorically wonder what made Ijaz think he had any skills as a freelance diplomat and then say that he may have contacts but none of them actually pay any attention to him.
Haqqani, possibly reliving his days as a journalist, also loved telling journalists which stories they should be actually doing, with his stories somehow coincidentally deflecting attention from any controversy facing him. In the memo affair, he had spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince reporters to do an expose on Ijaz and his delusions.
While the ultimate fate of the PPP government will now rest with the military, the PML-N will be close behind trying to take advantage.
In recent months, the split between the hawkish Shahbaz Sharif camp of the PML-N and the more moderate Nawaz Sharif side has become more pronounced. On Haqqani, though, they are on the same page but will use different strategies, said a source in the PML-N.
Shahbaz Sharif and those closer to him than his brother in the party, like Javed Hashmi, will lead the charge, arguing that “memogate” proves that the PPP is not fit to govern, has taken actions that are treasonous and should resign in shame. Nawaz Sharif, meanwhile, plans to take a high-minded, statesmen-like approach. He will call for a judicial inquiry into the innocent, and as has been his wont lately, throw in a few barbs at the military even when he’s attacking the government.
Where the PML-N is united, though, is in their disdain for Haqqani. Not only does the PML-N still consider him a turncoat for abandoning their party for the PPP in the 1990s, but they also buy into the popular sentiment that Haqqani was better at representing US sentiments in Pakistan than vice versa. Expect the word “unpatriotic” to float around with some regularity when the PML-N speaks about Haqqani.
The PPP, meanwhile, has yet to make up its mind on whether to accept Haqqani’s resignation. The prevailing sentiment is that Haqqani will be made the scapegoat, but sources within the PPP are insisting that letting Haqqani go will only lead to further demands from the military – demands that will only end after they have forced the PPP from power.
Defiant though the PPP may be on the Haqqani issue, it looks more like the last, desperate stand of a government that knows it is in jeopardy, than the fighting words of a party that truly believes its own words.