A confrontation between Pakistan’s powerful military and the civilian government, over a controversial offer supposedly made by the government to the U.S. administration to rein in the army forces and its spy agency, led Tuesday to the resignation of the Islamabad’s ambassador to Washington.
The departure of Husain Haqqani, regarded as a highly effective operator in Washington, is a major blow to the government of President Asif Zardari, which was accused of treachery over the controversial proposal, said to be made in a memo delivered to the top U.S. military official.
Democracy remains fragile in Pakistan, which has been ruled directly by the military for half its existence. Pakistan's support is believed to be vital to stabilizing Afghanistan but political turmoil in Islamabad keeps the government's focus on mere survival.
The tangled saga, dubbed “memogate”, will also further damage Pakistan’s relations with the U.S., which have relied on the civilian government to act as a brake on a military that Washington believes supports the Taliban in Afghanistan and other Islamic extremist groups. Pakistan’s ties with the U.S. are already in crisis.
“I have requested PM Gilani (prime minister Yousaf Raza Giliani) to accept my resignation as Pakistan Ambassador to US,” Haqqani announced over Twitter, just before 8pm local time. “I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance. Will focus energies on that.”
Haqqani had always denied being the author of the memo, which was delivered in May, in the days after Osama bin Laden was found and killed in northern Pakistan by a U.S. raiding squad.
The missive was sent by an American businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, to Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Ijaz later said that Haqqani was the author.
Many believe that Haqqani was set up, by elements associated with the military. He was no ordinary ambassador, but a close adviser to Zardari and his easy access to the top U.S. military and civilian leadership was viewed with deep suspicion by Pakistan’s military establishment. Before being appointed as the U.S. envoy in 2008, with the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, he wrote a book on the links between the armed forces and jihadists in Pakistan. He had previously served as a professor at Boston University.
It has never been clear why Haqqani, who could easily convey the message himself, would use an intermediary to deliver such an explosive message, or why he would risk putting it down on paper. Furthermore, the memo contains a mistake that Haqqani would be unlikely to make.
In the memo, which was first revealed by Ijaz in a column for the Financial Times newspaper last month, an offer is made to disband part of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, the wing responsible for dealing with the Taliban, in return for the U.S. pressing Pakistan’s military against staging a coup.
A spokesman for Mullen had initially denied receiving the memo but last week that changed, which put Haqqani in the spotlight, but the spokesman emphasised that Mullen had not regarded it as a genuine communication from Zardari and had therefore disregarded it. As a result of the changing statements from Mullen, some in Pakistan see a conspiracy orchestrated in Washington, to sow more chaos in Pakistan. Public opinion here is ferociously anti-American and willing to believe wild theories that the U.S. is trying to destroy Pakistan.
(Saeed Shah is a special correspondent for McClatchy)