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The Zardari affair

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Asif Ezdi -The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service

Monday, November 28, 2011

In his first public comment after removal from the post of ambassador last Tuesday, Husain Haqqani asserted that he had resigned to “bring closure” to a “meaningless controversy” over an “insignificant memo written by a self-centred businessman” that was “threatening the country’s fledgling democracy”. He also claimed self-importantly that he had always striven to empower the country’s elected leaders “as per our constitution” and promised to continue his services to the promotion of democracy and the building of a country free of bigotry and intolerance.

There is evidently a lot of false bravado in Haqqani’s words. He is too smart not to understand that the options before him are narrowing. There are reports, which the government has not denied so far, that he has been stopped from leaving the country to return to the safety of the US where he has many friends. The government knows that if Haqqani is allowed to decamp, that would be taken as further evidence of its complicity. If the Supreme Court accepts the PML-N’s petition to place him on the Exit Control List, the doors would be firmly slammed shut. Haqqani may well be ruing his decision, taken against his better judgment, to return to the country on orders issued by the government at the army’s behest.

Haqqani also cannot be unaware that most Pakistanis who have been following the evidence made public so far suspect that he is suppressing facts that could incriminate him. They want the full truth to come out. They are also appalled that the holder of the highest office of state might have been involved in a conspiracy against the country’s armed forces and its nuclear programme, something that most Pakistanis, though not a section of our “liberal elite”, regards as treasonable. This suspicion would not have arisen if the government had promptly ordered an inquiry into the matter. Instead, it attempted a cover-up.

Following the meeting at the prime minister’s house last week, at which Haqqani was reportedly interrogated in the presence of Zardari and Gilani, the government has now bowed to pressure from the public and the army leadership and promised a “detailed investigation at an appropriate level”. But the specifics have not been settled as yet because of the divergent objectives and interests of the different parties.

Zardari would like to ensure at all costs that his own involvement in the affair, if any, should remain under wraps. The reason is clear: If the inquiry concludes that Haqqani was acting with Zardari’s blessings, his days in the Presidency would be numbered. The army leadership is pressing for an inquiry that would not only establish that Haqqani was acting in collusion with Washington to undermine the armed forces and to neutralise the country’s nuclear deterrent but also reveal if he instigated the memo under Zardari’s instructions.

A division is clearly emerging between those who would like a comprehensive inquiry that brings out all the facts and uncovers any hidden hand behind the infamous memo, and those who would like to protect Zardari from the fallout. Despite Gilani’s claim that the political and military leadership are “on the same page”, it can no longer be hidden that they do not see eye to eye on the issue.

The most urgent challenge in the Memogate scandal at present is to hold an inquiry which inspires the confidence of the public. Anything less would not enjoy credibility. Aitzaz Ahsan’s suggestion that the task be entrusted to the FIA is clearly a non-starter because the agency falls under the Interior Minister and would do his bidding. Moreover, it cannot be expected to probe Zardari’s role in the affair. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security, in which the PML-N has raised the matter, can provide a debating forum but it is not competent to order an inquiry or determine its scope and modalities.

In these circumstances, the petition filed by Nawaz Sharif in our already over-burdened Supreme Court seeking its intervention might offer the best way out of the impasse. The Court cannot itself hold the inquiry but it can lay down the guidelines for ensuring that the inquiry is impartial, transparent and credible.

The testimony of Mansoor Ijaz would be of key value in any such inquiry. He has expressed willingness to cooperate in any official investigation in Pakistan. He is, to use his own words, “of the same genetic material” as the Pakistanis but has openly declared that as an American citizen, his loyalty is to the US, not to Pakistan. It is not for the first time that his help was sought by our political leaders or diplomats in making high-level contacts in the US. Both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif approached him for this purpose when out of power. In 1995 he met Benazir, then prime minister, in Islamabad but was thrown out when he presented her with evidence of wealth accumulated in Britain and France by Zardari, allegedly through underhand means.

Ijaz claims that his object is to promote transparency and accountability in government and to help Pakistan engage with the US. Whatever we might think of his plans – and there are plenty of grounds to be sceptical – his statements ring true in this case because he has backed them up with hard evidence.

That cannot be said about Haqqani. He has denied having conceived, drafted, written or delivered the memo or having been asked by Zardari or anyone in the Pakistan government to draft or deliver it. But he has not denied having asked Ijaz to draft it and deliver it to Mullen or having discussed its contents with Ijaz. He has also not responded to Ijaz’s assertion that Haqqani personally shared the memo with Panetta, then director of the CIA.

To challenge Ijaz’s credibility, Haqqani has asked why he would need an intermediary like Ijaz to convey a message to Mullen when he (that is Haqqani) could do so himself. The answer is simple. As Ijaz has said, he is a “plausibly deniable person”.

The Americans have also not been entirely truthful about their part in this affair. Mullen at first denied any knowledge of the memo. It was only after he was “reminded” by James Jones, Obama’s former National Security Adviser who conveyed the memo to Mullen on Ijaz’s behalf, that he confirmed having received the secret communication. Mullen has also said that he did not pay any attention to it and took no follow-up action. That too may not be entirely correct. According to Ijaz, Mullen did make a telephone call to Kayani after receiving the memo to suggest in “a private chat” that he should calm things down. It is also very likely that Mullen was encouraged by the memo to make his famous statement in the Senate Armed Services Committee last September that the “Haqqani network” was a “veritable arm” of the ISI and to offer Washington’s help in increasing the role of democratic, civilian institutions and civil society in Pakistan.

At present, the government’s efforts are concentrated mainly on shielding Zardari from the charge that he authorised the issuance of the memo. It is in fact inconceivable that Haqqani could have acted the way he did without a green light from Zardari in some form. But it might not be possible to provide hard evidence unless Haqqani himself is persuaded to speak up. Zardari’s political survival is clearly in the hands of Haqqani. Being the smooth operator that he is, he will keep Zardari guessing.

The Friday Times has christened the ‘Memogate’ scandal as the ‘Mansoor Ijaz affair’, suggesting that his credibility is the main issue. That of course is not true. It was never about Mansoor Ijaz. It is no longer even about Haqqani. At stake now is the political future of Zardari. It has become the Zardari affair.

Email: asifezdi@


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