Pakistan's ambassador to the United States has offered to resign after becoming embroiled in allegations relating to a purported attempt by the country's President to seek Washington's help in fighting off a possible military coup.
Husain Haqqani said he proffered his position after reports suggested he had acted as an envoy for President Asif Ali Zardari, who allegedly wanted to send a message to the Pentagon that he was prepared to replace Pakistan’s military leadership if the US came to his government’s support. Mr Haqqani denied he had carried such a request. He has now been called back to Islamabad while an investigation is carried out.
The swirling controversy that has become known as “Memogate”, started after a Pakistani businessmen last month published an article in a newspaper in which he claimed he had been approached earlier this year by a “senior Pakistani diplomat” and asked to pass on a message to the then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, claimed that in the days following the US raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama Bin Laden, Mr Zardari was concerned the Pakistani military, headed by General Ashfaq Kayani, may be tempted to seize control and he wanted Washington’s help in preventing such a move. In exchange, claimed Mr Ijaz, Mr Zardari was prepared to change the military leadership, end ties with militants and improve relations with Afghanistan. The businessman said the carefully drafted memo was subsequently passed on to Mr Mullen.
The twisting saga took a new turn this week when a blog run by Foreign Policy magazine quoted a spokesman for Mr Mullen as saying contrary to what the admiral had previously said, he did now acknowledge such a memo existed. The spokesman, Capt John Kirby, said: “Adm Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Mr. Ijaz…He felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory. He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it.”
Mr Kirby added: “That said, neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen Kayani and the Pakistani government. He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later. Therefore, he addressed it with no one.”
The apparent confirmation of the memo – initially dismissed by the Pakistan government - threw fresh pressure on Mr Haqqani, who was appointed ambassador by Mr Zardari in 2008. Following a flurry of conflicting initial reports, Mr Haqqani subsequently clarified that while he had indeed offered his resignation, he remained in his post.
He told The Independent he could not believe such a controversy had blown up as the result of a single newspaper article: “I don’t need this job. I am doing it out loyalty to the family of Benazir Bhutto and to Pakistan,” he added.
A spokesman for Mr Zardari last night said Mr Haqqani had been asked to return to Pakistan to explain his side of the allegations and was due in Islamabad within days. “The leadership has decided to call him back to brief the leadership on his side of the story,” said spokesman Farhatullah Babar, saying a decision would then be taken on his future. “The only decision that has been taken is that Ambassador Haqqani will return to Pakistan.”
If the memo to Mr Mullen proves to have originated from the office of Mr Zardari, it will create fresh tension between the military chiefs and Pakistan’s civilian leadership. In recent days, Mr Kayani has held two meetings with the president. It may also be an opportunity for the military to get rid of Mr Haqqani, whom they have never trusted.
Retired general Talat Masood, now an analyst, said: “[The relationship] has always been uneasy. The military thought he never represented the Pakistani viewpoint sufficiently strongly.”
Raza Rumi, a political commentator, added: “The recent developments reconfirm the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan. While the facts of this case are still not clear, it is evident that the civilian government was insecure after the May 2 strike. The complicating factor is that Pak-US relations over the decades are essentially army to army contacts. In this saga Pakistan’s envoy is the fall guy, an easy scapegoat.”