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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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours - but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.

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