Pakistan’s memogate and the undermining of civilian rule

How the country's all-powerful military succeeded in bringing down the Pakistani ambassador to Washi

Former Pakistani ambassador (left) Husain Haqqani, with US senator John Kerry and President Asif Zardari in August 2010
Source: Getty Images

On October 11 the FT published an article by Mansoor Ijaz, whom they describe as an American of Pakistani origin who helped negotiate between the Sudan government and the Clinton administration in 1997. What Ijaz said in his piece was that fearing a military coup in Pakistan after the US has seized the Osama Bin Laden compound, President Zardari had asked Washington to intervene and that, in consort with Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani civilian ambassador to the US, he, Ijaz, had been assigned with delivering the memo to Admiral Mike Mullen.

Quite apart from the fact that it doesn't stack up at all - both Husain Haqqani and Ali Asif Zardari had direct and confidential contact right through to the top of the US administration and any call or document from the civilian government in Pakistan or its ambassador in the aftermath of the OBL killing would have been taken instantly - its most obvious flaw is why a relative unknown, Ijaz, described by the Pakistani press as having an "inter-galactic ego", should be trusted with such a sensitive mission. The memo was also apparently unsigned.

The ISI and the army in Islamabad, in defiance of the civilian government, have been trying to get Haqqani removed for some time. Unlike many of the nation's diplomatic staff, who are appointed by the military, Haqqani (described here as Washington's hardest working ambassador) is a former civil rights journalist is used to getting into hot water with the military, and member of the late Benazir Bhutto's PPP party. He was known to favour action against the Taliban and the continuity of civilian rule, both of which get up the army's nose. The military would quite like to ditch the Americans once and for all and get Chinese military power behind them instead.

It is now widely thought that the article placed in the FT was a slow burning attempt to frame Haqqani and the Zardari government. But if its original place of conception was the military and ISI, they may have made a mistake. Ijaz's article "quotes" the so-called memo to Mullen: "The new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani [this is a reference to the jihadist network on the Af-Pak border, not the Karachi-born ambassador] network etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan".

The civilian governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif both tried, in accordance with Pakistan's constitution, to take mastery of the ISI in the 1990s without success. The chances of eliminating Section S of the ISI through a "national security team" are close to nil and Zardari would have been unlikely to suggest such a naive course of action to Mullen. Civilian governments do not have the means to do so.

Haqqani has now resigned - his replacement is Sherry Rehman - and with the government on the back foot, the one known known is that the military has succeeded in turning the tables through Ijaz's article in the FT. Instead of the army conspiring against the elected government, it is the government that is charged with conspiring against its own military to remove them.

A vain hope. Four years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the indignity of having the US back civilian rule in Pakistan, the military is gearing up to take control of any civilian government that might come its way. Democracy in Pakistan looks to be weakening, not strengthening.

 

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.