- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PAKISTAN RUMOR MILL

From Pakistan’s mainstream media to its boisterous bloggers, rumors are rife of the imminent replacement of Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani for any number of reasons but mostly because of a controversial U.S. aid bill.

On Tuesday, the Nation, a respected newspaper in the capital, Islamabad, picked up a report from what it described as a “private TV channel” that quoted “well-informed sources” saying Mr. Haqqani will be replaced within 48 hours. He will be named a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, the report added.

The pakspectator blog said Monday that he will be replaced by Maleeha Lodhi, a former newspaper editor who already has served two terms as ambassador to the United States.

“The establishment has clearly told Zardari to get rid of Haqqani as soon as possible, and they have even given the green signal to [Ms.] Lodhi to become the next ambassador,” the blog added.



Mr. Haqqani, ambassador in Washington since May 2008, has responded to the reports by telling reporters that he has received no warnings from his government and is proceeding normally in the conduct of his diplomatic duties.

Some newspapers and bloggers are defending Mr. Haqqani and criticizing their colleagues for spreading what they consider to be dangerous gossip.

“Recent rumors that [Mr. Haqqani] is being replaced are harming Pakistan’s interests,” the New Pakistan blog said Tuesday.

“At a time when Pakistan is literally under attack by enemies both foreign and domestic, responsible journalists and political figures from all parties should unite to support the best interests of the nation and defend those, like Mr. Haqqani, who have devoted their lives to supporting a strong, free, independent Pakistan.”

The U.S. correspondent for the News International, another respected newspaper, reported Saturday that Mr. Haqqani “continues to be viewed in Washington as the most influential ambassador Pakistan has had in many years.”

The most immediate cause of the rumors of his dismissal stem from the controversy in Pakistan over a $7.5 billion aid bill sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Some top Pakistani generals and opposition politicians claim the bill would interfere with Pakistan’s internal affairs by placing unreasonable conditions on the aid.

Mr. Kerry last week issued a statement dealing with the “myths and facts” of the bill. He said the bill places requirements on the U.S. administration, not the Pakistan government, to ensure that the money earmarked in the bill is spent on the designated programs.

“Nothing in the bill threatens Pakistani sovereignty,” Mr. Kerry said.

CANADA’S SHIFT

Canada is shifting its priorities in Afghanistan as it prepares to withdraw its combat troops by 2011 and concentrate more on development aid, according to Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson.

Mr. Wilson this week told the GlobalAtlanta business news service that Canada is building a dam for irrigation, constructing schools and working to eradicate polio.

“We have been in Afghanistan right from the beginning,” he said on a visit to Atlanta. “We will be there [militarily] until 2011. We will continue to be there for economic development purposes.”

Mr. Wilson called the U.S. liberation of Iraq “a distraction,” adding that now the United States is “coming back and putting a very strong focus on Afghanistan.”

Canada decided last year to withdraw its 2,800 troops from Afghanistan beginning in 2011.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washington times.com.

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