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WASHINGTON, D.C.—The reputation of Ambassador Husain Haqqani in Pakistan as the most influential Pakistani in the US capital received a beating last week when it became known he was denied entry to the While House and was abandoned at the gate during a high-powered dinner hosted by US president for foreign diplomats.
The incident occurred on 5 Oct. 2010, when Ambassador Haqqani was seen arguing with US Secret Service officers at the gate of the White House. The officers refused to allow him entry because his data conflicted with the information in the computer database.
As President Obama and his wife toasted the diplomats in the glittering reception in the East Room of the White House, Ambassador Haqqani and some thirty other diplomats from several countries were refused entry to the reception. Some ambassadors left in protest.
The White House kept the incident under wraps in order not to hurt foreign bilateral relations.
Ambassador Haqqani, however, tried to remind Secret Service officers of his credentials as the envoy from Pakistan who enjoys open communication lines with the principals in the US capital. But the White House Secret Service officers weren’t impressed. Finally, Mr. Haqqani was left with no option but to join other envoys leaving in protest. No one from the White House came to his rescue.
Next day the US Department of State went into damage control and called the affected ambassadors to apologize, laying blame on a computer glitch.
But according to Pakistani diplomats in Washington, this did not sit well with Ambassador Haqqani’s self-image. After all, ever since he played a crucial middle role between late Benazir Bhutto and the US administration, and now between President Zardari and the Americans, Mr. Haqqani has savored the limelight and the quick access to powerful people in Washington. He has come to see his role as being similar to the one played by the legendary Saudi envoy to Washington during the Cold War, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
“Ambassador Haqqani felt insulted,” a Pakistani diplomat in Islamabad told PakNationalists.com in a telephone interview, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the incident. “He’s not like those other envoys, from Oman or Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is crucial to the administration’s hottest foreign policy issue these days, Afghanistan, and the Pakistani ambassador, and especially Mr. Haqqani, is supposed to be held in high esteem and trust by US officials. And then this happens. Doesn’t reflect well on him.”
What the diplomat didn’t say is that Ambassador Haqqani might have also been worried how this would play back home. He worked hard to establish his credentials inside the ruling PPPP, the Pakistan Foreign Office and the media as the most wired Pakistani in DC. He is supposed to be the go-to guy if someone in Islamabad wants financial aid, political support or military hardware from the Americans. Renowned Pakistani journalist Shaheen Sehbai, quoting from the latest book by Bob Woodward, writes that when US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, newly inducted into the Obama administration, first met Mr. Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador referred to himself as ‘Pakistan’s Mr. America’.
Recently, some of the members of his party have noticed how Mr. Haqqani’s public statements in support for his beleaguered boss, President Zardari, have become sparse and far-between. But it is known he’s been quietly fighting Mr. Zardari’s case in Washington in recent months. Yet despite all his hard work, he continues to be viewed with suspicion inside his own party, a small price to pay for his reputation as an opportunist quick to jump sinking ships.
Haqqani’s White House humiliation occurred five days after US military helicopters killed three Pakistani soldiers resulting in partial Pakistani blockade on US and NATO supply into Afghanistan. Ironically, Ambassador Haqqani, who keeps a direct communication line with the state-run wire service APP, made sure this news is not highlighted in Pakistan, not even when he received a telephone call from a senior official at the US Department of State next day apologizing for the incident. Mr. Haqqani, or ‘Pakistan’s Mr. America’, apparently didn’t want to inflame passions back home. After all, what’s a little humiliation among friends, right Mr. Haqqani?
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