Nearly a year ago, I shook hands with Husain Haqqani, a man now openly declaring that he is terrified for his life. Mr. Haqqani, Pakistan’s Former Envoy to the United States, visited Andover last January 26th and I had the pleasure of attending dinner with him.
As military interactions between the US and Pakistan grace headlines, it is increasingly unclear whether Pakistan is currently under a democratic or totalitarian regime. In November, Mr. Haqqani came to media attention when he was accused of having sent a secret memo to American Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, requesting that the US step in and take control of the Pakistani military to avoid a coup (Memogate Scandal). Mr. Haqqani denies all allegations of such treason, but is currently living under the protection of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani, and has expressed fears that if he steps out of the house, he will be assassinated.
I have been following his story for the past few months, and the news hit me somewhat personally. I don’t claim to know him, or have much idea of what it feels like to have the wrath of a powerful military body bearing down on me and to have to lock myself away just to keep safe. What leaves me wide eyed is that it seems like just a minute ago he was here. That handshake is frozen in my mind, a perpetually echoing memory. But over the break, I turned on CNN only to watch Mrs. Haqqani grieve and rail and listen to Wolf Blitzer say he has known the former ambassador for many years.
It is so easy for me to get lost in awe. Pakistan is a big deal now. It wasn’t nearly to this same degree back last February. When I met Mr. Haqqani, I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed I would spend much more time thinking about him individually beyond his visit to Andover. I had written a Commentary article disputing some of his views, but in my life, he represented a passing figure, and the article I wrote was a mere token of transient inspiration.
But as I draw back, it is clear that Mr. Haqqani serves a much greater purpose in my life than just that. And he surely serves this same purpose to everyone who has met him. Not only does he now symbolize the volatility of life in general, but also his current circumstances reveal the severity of the Pakistani turmoil on a very personal level.
I can’t say I agreed with many of the things Mr. Haqqani said last year, but from what I, as a sixteen-year-old kid, could tell, he showed no signs of any exceptionally wild political inclinations nor any deviation from an absolute love of his country. Though I didn’t buy into some of his particular philosophies and I was surprised to hear him proclaim himself as relatively “liberal” in comparison to many other Pakistanis, there was no way I could ever believe that a man like that could end up threatened in such a way as he is now. Whatever indiscretions he may or may not have committed does not warrant threats to his life. At the base of my thoughts is the idea that the word “government” carries different degrees of strength depending on where in the world you say it.
In the US, transition of power is quick and contained, like the handing off of a baton. General grieving might carry on among the defeated, but besides the snips and accusations that drag unendingly, the country remains domestically at peace.
But imagine living in a country where in just a quick couple of months, your entire world can take a 180-degree turn and you can be lost in the potential of a military coup, or what Haqqani himself dubbed as the military waging “psychological warfare against the government.” The fragility of Pakistani society is an absolute nightmare that most of us are lucky enough not to be able to fully comprehend. It would have been hard to have guessed when I met Mr. Haqqani that Pakistan would collapse into headline news.
If someone with as many powerful connections and as great a sphere of influence as Mr. Haqqani can be victimized, what about the rest of Pakistan? The people who aren’t so lucky to be allied closely with the Prime Minister will be even more vulnerable to the whims of whatever regimes pass through power. Whether we see their full story or not, it is obvious from Mr. Haqqani’s story that the country as a whole is on very shaky ground. To be a Pakistani citizen at this moment is to fear for the future of your government and the future of your country.
And what about the dozens of other countries all across the globe where some degree of anarchy reins? Egyptian and Iranian women protestors are beaten in the streets. Thousands of child soldiers in the Congo are forced to bear arms and lose their lives every day. Dystopia can seem so distant, faint, too far away to be overwhelming.
But one single year ago, Mr. Haqqani was right here in Andover. And now, though he is thousands of miles away, locked up under heavy guard, the memory of our handshake brings him eerily right back to my computer screen.
Raeva Kumar is an Associate Commentary Editor from Poughquaq, NY.