Many Issues Are Cultural & Social, Not Political: Haqqani
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Newark, CA: The Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, Mr. Husain Haqqani, addressed a gathering of over 200 prominent members of the Pakistani-American community at the Mehran Restaurant in Newark, California on Sunday, October 16, 2011. Hosted by a number of organizations, including OPEN Silicon Valley, PACC, PACCI and the local PPP amongst others, the afternoon luncheon turned out to be quite a relaxed affair in contrast to the situation in the home country where floods, terrorism and deteriorating relations with the host country should have produced a more somber afternoon.
Ambassador Haqqani is no stranger to the US. He has lived here before his appointment in Washington to what has to be one of the most difficult diplomatic posts in the world during which he has been at the official receiving end of an extremely problematic relationship between his country and the US. And during this time he has been in the hot seat in Washington from Pakistan for “not doing enough” to balance a very old and important relationship between the two countries. The task may appear to be “Mission Impossible” at times but by bringing to it a thick skin and a sharp intellect Ambassador Haqqani appears to be unfazed.
A fine Mehran Restaurant lunch started off the afternoon since the Ambassador was more than fashionably late due to a flight delay from Portland, Oregon. OPEN Silicon Valley President Moazzam Chaudry made the necessary introductions as he invited the Pakistan Consul General in Los Angeles Mrs. Riffat Masood to introduce Ambassador Haqqani. Mrs. Masood used the occasion to explain that it is not just PIA that is always late with its flights but other airlines, including those in this country, also have similar issues. That comment certainly broke the ice as she next proceeded to introduce Husain Haqqani as her “boss” and turned the mike and stage over to him.
Ambassador Haqqani touched upon various topics during his address. He said that since he was amongst Pakistanis he would prefer to speak in Urdu. From then onwards the proceedings were essentially in the Urdu language where its literal translation is sometimes not possible so for the purpose of this report it may not always be accurate.
Haqqani said that you can take a Pakistani out of Pakistan but not Pakistan out of a Pakistani and that is why we are gathered at this restaurant (serving Pakistani food). He said that amongst the messages that he received on being late was that the pulao was getting cold. Interspersed with lines of Urdu poetry throughout his entertaining delivery, Husain Haqqani said that this was a good opportunity for him to interact with the community and that he had known some in the audience for quite a number of years and that he was (afraid to admit ) in the “old timer” category now.
He said that according to recent estimates there are around 600,000 Pakistanis living in America today and they fall into three categories. 1) Pakistanis who happen to be in America, who plan to go back and are not integrated into this society, 2) Americans of Pakistani origin who have made America their permanent home and have settled on a permanent future in this country, and 3) Those who still go back and forth between the two countries and are still trying to decide what to do. He added that the Embassy officialdom represents all of them. He said that if given the opportunity he would like to visit and interact with all groups in geographical areas where Pakistanis are concentrated in this country in his official capacity.
On Pakistan he said that a big change has occurred there and that there is now a consensus of sorts that the government should be a democracy. He added that there has been some question during the last 60 plus years as to what system of government Pakistan should have. But now there is agreement that after four military governments that have been tried, one cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting to have different results (ala Einstein’s definition of insanity). The preferred alternative is a democratic system where improvements can be made within. He gave the example of the United States where not all people are happy with elected officials and dissent is expressed. He said that if the democratic system can be run successfully in many parts of the world then why not in Pakistan? He also added that changes that come in Pakistan will be made by the people who live there and not by us here.
On the situation in Pakistan he said that the view from here is different from the local view there. He said that grim events like bomb blasts are very real but that does not mean that one gives up and starts to say that the country is about to end. He said that the priority should be given to improve the situation and that media-created panic is not a desirable alternative. He said that a discussion on issues is healthy for a country, like it occurs in the US. He stressed that the same discussion should occur in Pakistan and that the days are gone when putting labels on people and ending the discussion by saying that he is either a kafir or someone’s agent if you do not agree with his or her views. He said if this kind of shortsightedness continues, Pakistan will have difficulty entering the 21st century. He said that the message he wanted to convey to the Pakistanis who live here in America is to convey to their friends and family in Pakistan that an open society where discussion is encouraged is better and that allegations and calling the other a traitor is not helpful. He said that President Bush and President Obama may have a different way of looking at issues but you will not hear one call the other a traitor. Thinking different should be accepted in Pakistan, he added.
Haqqani said that many of Pakistan’s issues are cultural and social and not political and that people need to be able to differentiate between them. He said that not all of Pakistan’s problems are caused by the government and that not all their solutions can be found by the government either. Sometimes less government intervention is better, he added. In Pakistan some people have made it a pastime that everyone is corrupt except them. All ills are with other people while they themselves are the only true examples of piety. Businessmen say that all politicians are corrupt, people living in cities call the rural feudal corrupt who call the Generals corrupt etc. Surprisingly, Haqqani Sahib was most critical of the media people whom he said were always looking for an opportunity to label others. He said that corruption is a problem but it deserves proportional attention.
Ambassador Haqqani also pointed out that the role of educated Pakistanis should go beyond their ability and desire to criticize and that they should try to become a part of the process. He said that there also needs to be a realization of what Pakistan can and cannot do. Pragmatism is the need of the hour, especially while dealing with a super power. But who can tell that to the TV channels there, those who sell sensationalism and not reality?
In the lively Q/A session that followed the first question as to how one can help highlighted SA Relief (http://www.sarelief.com/) and a Silicon Valley partnership fundraiser ( APPNA, OPEN, PACC etc.) for Pakistan’s flood victims to be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on October 29th.
Several other areas of discussion arose through audience questions. To highlight just a few: 1) Silicon Valley companies would like to expand their business ties with Pakistan and what the Embassy and Consulate can do to assist them, 2) Progress made in catching and prosecuting Benazir Bhutto’s killers, 3) You cannot keep criticizing America and also expect it to keep helping you, and 4) Improvement needed in India-Pakistan relations.
But let us conclude here with the discussion on minority rights in Pakistan, an area where vast improvement is necessary. Ambassador Haqqani pointed out that at Pakistan’s inception, the Founder of the country was a Shia Muslim, the Prime Minister was a Sunni Muslim, the Law Minister was a Hindu and the Foreign Minister was an Ahmadi and the white in Pakistan’s flag was for its minorities. One will leave the readers here to ask what happened since then but the Ambassador did point out that the 2000 or so active mosques in America (where Muslims are a small minority) is something to learn from about tolerance. Pakistan just cannot improve its image around the world until it tackles the religious intolerance within.