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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.