WASHINGTON - Most ambassadors gain real influence only after years of working Washington's corridors of power - and often only with the help of expensive lobbying firms. But Husain Haqqani, the ambassador-designate from Pakistan, already knows almost everyone who counts.
"He's one of the guys," said Representative Howard Berman, the California democratic chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who has known Haqqani for more than five years. "I'll always take a call from him." He was one of a half-dozen senior members of Congress who saw Haqqani on short notice during a recent trip to Washington.
As spokesman and political confidant of then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Haqqani became a familiar face at Washington think tanks, on American news programs, and on Capitol Hill, where he lobbied, after being exiled in 1999, against the government of President Pervez Musharraf. Now that Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party is back in power, Haqqani has become the public face of Pakistan in Washington.
On Capitol Hill, Haqqani's schmoozing skills are often compared to Washington's master politicos. "I sometimes call him Karl Rove - without the wickedness," a senior congressional staffer said.
"He's a garrulous fellow who's passionate about Pakistan, and there's never a shortage of conversation when he's around. He loves the engagement and loves to be in the middle of politics and bringing the parties together," said Representative John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat who has also known Haqqani for several years.
Haqqani will arrive in Washington later this month as the two countries on the front line of combating terrorism begin to redefine their relationship. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration has dealt directly with Musharraf. Now it must work with a fractious coalition government whose agenda is not always in sync with Washington's.
Pakistan is in turn under pressure from Washington to produce results and a fuller accounting of billions in US aid since 2001, particularly given the rare successes in tracking Al Qaeda operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. More than $75 million was withheld this year because of poor accounting, US officials said.
Haqqani's main pitch will be refocusing the approach to battling terrorism. "US-Pakistan relations have been about security. Now it needs to become a strategic partnership," he said.