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.
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"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.