Why Does Pakistan Call This Man a Traitor?

A judicial commission deemed Husain Haqqani — Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington and a champion of U.S.-Pakistan ties — a traitor. When Osama bin Laden and Taliban militants can call Pakistan home, why are people like Haqqani forced to flee?

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Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S.

In a move that may reflect Pakistan’s desire to sweep away the last shaming vestiges of the discovery — and killing — of Osama bin Laden in a garrison city less than 64 km from its capital, a special commission of three Supreme Court Chief Justices accused Husain Haqqani, the country’s former ambassador to Washington, of disloyalty.

Made public on Tuesday, the 121-page commission report accuses Haqqani of attempting to “create a niche for himself, making himself forever indispensable to the Americans” by allegedly authoring an anonymous document for the then top U.S. military official, Admiral Mike Mullen. The document, which Haqqani disavows completely, claims that the Pakistani army was complicit in hiding bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and that it was plotting a coup against the government in Islamabad.

Delivered to Mullen shortly after bin Laden’s killing last May, the memo also promised Washington support in the war on terrorism; cooperation with India to capture the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks; cessation of links between the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the Taliban; permission for U.S. forces to conduct operations on Pakistani soil; and work with the U.S. to bring Pakistan’s nuclear assets under a “more verifiable, transparent regime.”

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The memo was kept under wraps for five months until Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin who had it delivered to Mullen, boasted about it in London’s Financial Times. A month later, under pressure from the political opposition and media — which dubbed the affair Memogate — Haqqani returned to Pakistan and resigned. On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court took up the matter. Because it was unable to sift through the competing claims about the memo and its origins, it set up a special commission of judges to independently investigate the allegations leveled against Haqqani by Ijaz and the Pakistani opposition parties.

Now that commission has declared Haqqani guilty, claiming that he “lost sight of the fact that he is a Pakistani citizen and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. and therefore his loyalty could only be to Pakistan.” According to Haqqani, such rhetoric is both ironic and in poor form. “The commission has based its findings on the claims of one man, a foreigner, and dubious records presented by him,” he said in a prepared statement.

Or is the report an attempt to blot out all remaining connections to the national embarrassment of Abbottabad — within Pakistan, at least. “The simple answer is yes,” Haqqani tells TIME via e-mail from the U.S., where he is an international-relations professor at Boston University. “Some people have made anti-Americanism a religion in Pakistan and use it as an excuse to avoid examining embarrassing issues such as Osama bin Laden living in our country,” he says. “The judiciary helps jihadists and their backers in this cover-up.”

(MORE: The Vexing U.S.-Pakistani Relationship Heads South, Post-bin Laden)

Four months ago, Pakistani authorities razed the compound where bin Laden was killed. Two months after that, on April 27, the al-Qaeda chief’s three widows, children and grandchildren were deported after serving a token sentence — and paying a cursory fine — for illegally entering and residing in Pakistan. Shuja Pasha, the director general of the ISI when the bin Laden raid occurred, has retired. And just last month, Shakeel Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA confirm bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, was sentenced to 33 years in prison for allegedly helping militants.

Like Haqqani, Afridi was also declared a traitor by another special commission — this one tasked to investigate the intelligence lapse that allowed bin Laden to live in Pakistan unhindered. The Abbottabad commission has yet to conclude its findings, but its press interactions have been revealing. The commission believes a “U.S. spy network” within Pakistan was instrumental in locating bin Laden and feels that the American account of what happened on May 2 last year may not have been entirely truthful. In fact, former Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal, who heads the commission, declared in December that he could not even confirm whether bin Laden was in fact dead.

Not everyone believes Pakistan will be able to wipe clean the memory of what happened in Abbottabad. “I don’t think anyone will ever forget that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan,” says Talat Masood, a retired army general and independent analyst.

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As far as Haqqani is concerned, the Memogate commission’s position is clear: the former envoy showed “disloyalty” to Pakistan. This limits options available to Haqqani to clear his name.

“The court will punish him,” says Masood. “He can avoid it by refusing to return to Pakistan, and I’m sure the U.S. will accommodate him, but his fate is sealed,” he says, referring to anti-American fervor in Pakistan. “There is no way he will return — at least not until the current Chief Justice has retired,” says Shaukat Qadir, a columnist and retired army brigadier. “Calling anyone an American sympathizer or traitor is akin to a death sentence.”

The petitioners who took the case before the Supreme Court feel the commission’s findings have vindicated them. “We are very satisfied with the recommendations forwarded by the judicial commission,” Senator Pervaiz Rashid, of the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), tells TIME. “The law should now be allowed to take its own course and deal with Haqqani accordingly.” Rashid adds that the government was not free of blame despite the commission stating that it had found no proof of President Asif Ali Zardari’s or his government’s involvement in the Memogate scandal. “Haqqani was their appointee, they all supported him. It was like a gang,” he says.

Meanwhile, former envoy Haqqani believes that the commission’s findings are not only an attempt to move past Abbottabad but also that their release was timed to deflect from corruption allegations leveled against Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s son by Pakistan’s largest private real estate developer. “The commission’s report has been released to distract attention from more embarrassing developments,” he says.

Haqqani’s lawyers are concerned. “The commission was only supposed to report on the validity of the accusations,” says Zahid Bukhari. “Per that mandate, they were only supposed to collect evidence and submit a report of their findings — providing any recommendations or making any judgments about Husain Haqqani’s loyalty to Pakistan was and is beyond their ambit.” Rights activist Asma Jahangir, who has appeared on behalf of Haqqani in court and has alleged that elements in the army and ISI are plotting to kill her, is also dismayed. “Under what law can the commission declare anybody a traitor?” she asked journalists outside the Lahore High Court shortly after the commission’s findings were made public. “Disgracing people is not justice.”

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