On Saturday, CNN-IBN reported that they had obtained a copy of a letter sent from Pakistan’s U.S. Ambassador Husain Haqqani to Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary and Chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha. In the letter, dated July 28, 2009, Haqqani warned that “harassing Americans or denying them visas hurts the country’s image and can have severe consequences” for U.S. aid to Pakistan and military sales. CNN-IBN cited the letter, quoting Haqqani as saying, “Over-reliance on physical intimidation and harassment causes bitterness and resentment. Additionally, the subject becomes more careful thus making surveillance that much more difficult.”
The letter reportedly mentions the recent instances in which Americans were denied visas, allegedly harassed, or put under intelligence surveillance while in Pakistan, suggesting that a Black List exists for certain journalists and non-government organization officials who are “perceived to be critical” of Pakistan’s “national security objectives and policies.” According to the letter cited by CNN-IBN, Pakistan harassed both NBC and CNN correspondents Richard Engel and Reza Sayeh, canceled the visa for Newsweek photographer Kate Brooks, and denied the visa renewal for the chief of the Asia Foundation and the director of the International Republican Institute.
The News on Sunday reported further on the development, noting that a Pakistan embassy spokesman refused to comment on the letter, instead calling the communication between Washington and Pakistan “a national secret.” The news agency added,
Diplomatic circles, however, confirmed that Pakistan’s embassy in Washington was under tremendous pressure, for quite some time, from U.S. media organizations over the issue of alleged harassment of U.S. journalists at the hands of Pakistani security officials. At the same time the Embassy was finding it difficult to get clearance from Islamabad to issue Pakistani visa to certain members of U.S. media which was, in fact, raising questions about the commitment of freedom of expression on part of Pakistan’s military and civil leadership.
The development as a whole is interesting, and raises some important questions:
- Why was the letter considered a “national secret”? The document is indicative of the major rift that exists between Pakistan’s embassy in Washington and the players on the ground, as well as the divisions between Pakistan’s civilian and military/intelligence sides. Moreover, noted CNN-IBN, “Experts say Haqqani’s letter is a reflection of the rift… between President Asif Ali Zardari,” who is reportedly close to Haqqani, and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani, “who is close to the ISI.” Ultimately, the Pakistani establishment can hardly be perceived as unified if its arms are pursuing conflicting agendas.
- Why was the letter revealed this weekend? According to CNN-IBN, the document was dated July 28, 2009, nearly two months ago. Why was it leaked this past Saturday? While I have no definitive answer to that question, it does seem interesting that the letter was revealed amid rumors that the United States, and more specifically, Blackwater, have been expanding their presence in Pakistan. If anti-American sentiment is increasing because of such alleged rumors, how do Pakistanis perceive the harassment of journalists and U.S. NGO officials within this context? How is Haqqani perceived as an extension of raising this issue?
- How did CNN-IBN obtain a copy of the letter? A letter was written in the Pakistan establishment channels nearly two months ago, a letter that has since been called a “national secret.” On Saturday, CNN-IBN, an Indian news agency, magically obtained a copy of said letter, not a Pakistani news agency that perhaps may be more privy to such channels. Pakistani media outlets that have since reported on the topic only cited CNN-IBN’s coverage of the letter, leading me to conclude that the news agency is the only one that has access to it. So, perhaps a better question to ask would be, who leaked the letter to this news agency and why?
The letter itself is significant because it highlights the intimidation and mistreatment of foreign journalists and non government workers in Pakistan by the ISI/military. For a so-called democracy to stifle the freedom of speech and expression is problematic and should be a point of contention.
However, the story becomes more complex after placing it in the context on which it was revealed. The leaked letter could be an attempt to undermine Haqqani and marginalize his role in Washington. If discussion threads and blogs are any indication of public opinion, then a number of Pakistanis believe Haqqani’s letter further cements the diplomat as a “traitor” and someone attempting “to undermine national security.” Pakistan Ka Khudafiz wrote, “It is the duty of Inter-Services Intelligence to defend Pakistan’s borders and block any covert attempts to trample Pakistan’s sovereignty. Mr. Haqqani’s assertion that ejecting Americans found involved in suspicious activity and denying them entry is hurting Pakistan’s image, is idiotic at best and treason at worst.”
I can’t help but think that Haqqani’s letter may have garnered a different response had it been leaked in July rather than three days ago. What are your thoughts?