Pakistani Ambassador Unknowingly Hosted Neocon Fundraiser

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Pakistani Ambassador Unknowingly Hosted Neocon Fundraiser

by
Ali Gharib

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani.

WASHINGTON - Amid putting on a two-and-a-half day conference focused on
escalating measures against Iran, a neoconservative think-tank held a
fundraiser at the residence of Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S.,
according to an IPS investigation.

The embassy said the think tank,
the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), failed to notify the
Pakistani embassy that the dinner at the home of Ambassador Husain
Haqqani was a fundraiser, or that it was connected to the conference
about "Countering the Iranian Threat".

The embassy was unaware
even that the conference was occurring, let alone that it featured FDD
scholars and fellows who advocate for "ratcheting up" sanctions and
pressure, U.S. support for regime change, and even Israeli or U.S.
military strikes against Pakistan's ally Iran.

"Pakistan and Iran
are brotherly countries and neighboring countries, brotherly Muslim
countries," Imran Gardezi, a spokesperson for the Pakistani embassy,
told IPS. "Anything against Iran is unthinkable for us."

"There was no such intention [to host a fundraiser]," he said. "Very frankly, we didn't know about this conference."

FDD disputed that the event was a fundraiser at all.

"[T]his
was not a fundraiser," FDD president Clifford May told IPS, also
disputing the event's connection to the conference - called the
"Washington Forum" - though the dinner appeared on the online schedule
before, during, and after the proceedings. The schedule also noted that
there was a "minimum $5,000 gift required" to attend, providing a
hyperlink to donate.

"We needed to communicate which FDD
supporters were invited to the reception," May wrote to IPS in an
e-mail. "It was convenient to include that along with information about
the Washington Forum because...FDD supporters were in town for the
Forum."

May added that the link to donate was a reminder to
supporters who wanted to raise their donation levels to attend the
special event, adding that the process was "routine among think tanks".

However, May did concede that his staff might have failed to notify the embassy about the ongoing conference and its theme.

"It
is possible that we did not notify them about the Washington Forum," he
said. "No one from the embassy or from Pakistan spoke or participated
in the Forum," he added.

May and Haqqani both delivered brief
greetings to the gathering of between 40 and 65 major donors, friends
(invited at May's discretion, he said) and some FDD staff.

Gardezi,
the Pakistani embassy spokesperson, emphasized that Haqqani didn't
speak about Iran: "He made no remarks about Iran and there was no
mention of Iran."

Pakistan enjoys good relations with Iran.

"The
two countries have pretty good relations," said Alireza Nader of the
RAND Corporation. "I would characterize their relations as cordial, not
warm at all times, but for the most part cooperative on issues like
building a pipeline through Pakistan."

"[T]hey've always
maintained good relations on the surface," said Iran expert and
Columbia University professor Gary Sick. "They do need each other."

"They
try to maintain good, business-like relations. Each side will allow a
certain amount of trouble from the other because they know they need
each other," he added.

The two countries essentially fought a
proxy war in Afghanistan throughout the 1990s, but tensions over the
war- torn country have since subsided.

"In Afghanistan, there's
been much less active rivalry," said Shuja Nawaz, the director of the
South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "But the Balochistan border
still remains a contentious area, for a couple of reasons."

Nawaz,
who contributed a chapter to a recent FDD book on Afghanistan and
Pakistan, said tensions revolved around Iran's collaboration with
Pakistan's archrival India on a road from Afghanistan that runs through
Iran to the coast - cutting out Pakistan as a trade route - and the
Sunni militant group Jundullah, which Iran alleges is supported by the
U.S. and seeks refuge in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, FDD likely ended
up holding its event at Haqqani's residence not because of geopolitics,
but because of a friendship between May and the Pakistani ambassador.

"I
think the ambassador had a personal relationship with this group for
quite some time, but I don't know if this would reflect official
policy," Nawaz said. "It could well be that this is an unofficial
action on his part."

May told IPS that Haqqani was an "old
personal friend" from when they were both journalists, and wrote later
to IPS in an e-mail that Haqqaini was "a distinguished advocate of
democracy and freedom whom I have long had the privilege to know and
whom I greatly admire."

Imran Gardezi, the Pakistani embassy
spokesperson, corroborated the relationship. "It was just a coincidence
that this happened like this because the ambassador has his personal
friends," he told IPS.

May noted that the conference itself "passed no resolutions and took no positions".

"At
the conference, many policy options were discussed," he wrote in an
e-mail to IPS. "There were members of Congress from both parties. There
were representatives of the [Barack] Obama administration as well as
scholars and experts representing a range of views."

FDD,
however, is a neoconservative-dominated think-tank, which does not
itself provide the same range of views that were provided at the
conference. Several of its scholars and fellows advocate regularly for
aggressive and escalating actions against Iran.

Haqqani, for his
part, has been associated with other neoconservatives groups.
Immediately before his 2008 appointment as ambassador to the U.S.,
Haqqani was a fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute.

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