Pakistan’s reckoning, six years after the Bin Laden raid
An old controversy regarding former Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani recently resurfaced following an Op-Ed he penned for The Washington Post. In the column, Haqqani discusses the importance that ambassadors in Washington often place upon building and nurturing professional and personal relationships with the White House. The controversy, however, arose when he wrote: “The relationships I forged with members of Obama’s campaign team ... eventually enabled the US to discover and eliminate bin Laden.”
As a result of his column, the former ambassador is facing widespread condemnation from various media and political circles in his native Pakistan. But perhaps the real controversy is that there is even outcry at all over Haqqani’s actions and candor. Osama bin Laden was one of history’s biggest mass murderers and for years was able to escape justice and detection. If Haqqani did indeed play a role — no matter how small — that would have in any way enabled or supported the operation to neutralize bin Laden, then he deserves a medal for his efforts.
Though accusations of treason are being cast by his detractors, it is clear to me that the former ambassador acted nobly and, frankly, for the greater good. In addition to the thousands that his henchmen slaughtered on Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden and his acolytes set in motion a chain of events that has now engulfed a sizable portion of the Arab and Muslim world in turmoil. Though he was the most hunted man in the world, bin laden was able to evade capture for nearly a decade. Regardless of the means by which he was brought to justice, there can be no doubt that the world is a better place with bin Laden gone.
Getting the US-Pakistani strategic partnership against terrorism on the right track is a central component of ensuring that Bin Laden’s legacy does not continue to catalyze destruction long after his death.
Now in quasi exile in the US, Haqqani offers important insight as the director for South and Central Asia Studies at the Hudson Institute think tank. The intent of his published article — perhaps ironically — was to provide much needed context in the US media and political world on the controversy surrounding the meetings between Trump campaign officials and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington. Haqqani rightly cut through the hysteria and offered a sober analysis on how, historically, ambassadors of key nations — whether adversaries or allies — can play a constructive role in maintaining strong ties with the White House and both US political parties.
Ensuring the continuity of US-Pakistani strategic relations on the anti-terror front is crucial for both countries and for international stability. In that regard, Haqqani played an instrumental role during his tenure as ambassador.
But now, because of his forward-leaning initiative in attempting to build a better bond with the US while also bringing justice to an international criminal, Haqqani is facing some pointed accusations from witchhunt-obsessed media outlets and political critics in Pakistan.
The ire of these critics is massively misplaced. It has now been nearly six years following that fateful night in which elite US SEAL forces descended in their specially modified stealth helicopters into Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad. “Operation Neptune” was a bold gamble by President Obama, one that was rife with danger given the nature of the raid. Moving that deep into Pakistani territory undetected and engaging in a firefight in a well-to-do suburb not only carried operational risks but political ones as well.
Nonetheless, it was the right call. At the time, bin Laden was still playing an important role as a leader, ideologically and operationally, for Al-Qaeda and its many affiliates. The fact that the government was not informed by the US prior to the operation should not take away from the overall net benefit of the success of the raid and the justice it served. That point is a sensitive one among those attempting to shift the discussion away from how bin Laden remained undetected in Abbottabad and instead cast aspersions against former the former ambassador’s patriotism.
Haqqani is proud that the connections he built in Washington eventually enabled the successful raid against bin Laden. It was a bold move on his part, as the US had made the decision to move forward without the buy-in of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or military, due to fears that elements within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence could leak word of the raid to extremists. But it is time to move on. The extremists that bin Laden and his warped ideology birthed are still killing innocents. Pakistan itself remains a target of much of these terror attacks.
Getting the US-Pakistani strategic partnership against terrorism on the right track is a central component of ensuring that bin Laden’s legacy does not continue to catalyze destruction long after his death. History will judge Haqqani well, even if he does not fare well in the unforgiving court of punditry and politics.
• Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.