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Pakistani ambassador's 'memo-gate': Did the military win?

Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani resigned because of the 'memo-gate' scandal, which has rocked the world of Pakistani politics and exposed widening rifts between civilian and military leaders.

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In this picture taken on August 19, 2010 shows Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani (r.) talks with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in Multan, Pakistan. Pakistan's envoy to the United States says he has resigned over claims he wrote a memo to Washington asking for its help in reining in the country's powerful military.

B.K.Bangash/AP

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Pakistan’s beleaguered ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, lost his job while battling accusations that he authored a controversial memorandum seeking US help in preventing a military coup.  Observers here are calling it a major victory for the country’s powerful military establishment.

Dubbed “memo-gate” by the Pakistani media, the scandal has rocked the world of Pakistani politics, exposing widening rifts between civilian and military leaders and highlighting the tense nature of the country’s relationship to the US, which is viewed by many with deep resentment. 

With President Asif Ali Zardari’s popularity at rock-bottom levels and mass opposition rallies taking place in recent weeks, it has also furthered speculation about the possibility of early elections orchestrated by the military, or even a military coup.

“Haqqani is the first casualty, but there may be more. Now the military establishment and its backers in the media will turn their attention to President Zardari, whom they say was ultimately behind the memo,” says Badar Alam, editor of the monthly Herald magazine, Mr. Alam adds that Mr. Haqqani’s departure “proves beyond a doubt” that the military is in charge of Pakistan’s foreign affairs.

The scandal was instigated by an op-ed by Pakistani-American investor Mansur Ijaz in the Financial Times, in which he wrote that he – along with a high-ranking diplomat whom he later named as Haqqani – had written a memo asking the US for “direct intervention” to prevent a military coup in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

In exchange, the memo contained a number of pledges designed to please the US, including allowing the US to appoint an investigator into the bin Laden affair, reining in the country’s notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and closer cooperation in fighting terrorism. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has acknowledged receiving the memo, but said he did not believe it to be credible or that it came from Zardari.

On Tuesday evening, Haqqani took to Twitter to tell his supporters: “I have requested [Prime Minister] Gilani to accept my resignation as Pakistan Ambassador to US.” And later: “I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance. Will focus energies on that.” He told the Associated Press that he was “happy to face an inquiry into the affair.”

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Analysts believe that if the US military were to stage such  an intervention, it would likely occur before Pakistan’s Senate elections scheduled for March 2013, which would otherwise strengthen the hand of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) because Pakistan’s Senate is elected by sitting lawmakers.

That the military continue to dictate policy three years after elections is a function of Zardari’s decision to cede too much ground to the military early on in his term, argues Cyril Almeida, a political columnist with Dawn newspaper. 

“The roots of the present crisis weren’t laid by May 2, [Osama bin Laden's death]  but possibly by the decision made by Zardari several years ago to surrender defense and foreign policy to the military and focusing on a one point agenda of finishing his term."

“The whole point is you might buy a couple of years. But… don’t expect the [military] to remain hands-off if you do."

Ambassador Haqqani is no relation to the Haqqani network.

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