Posted on | January 19, 2012 | 17 Comments
A writer and journalist friend residing in Lahore called from Dubai to inform that he had escaped the country temporarily to avoid kidnapping by the ISI goons and final evaporation. He was haunted for writing against the army after Osama bin Laden’s assassination by the US Marines at Abbotabad. He had raised questions about the incredibility of official claims that the ISI and army had no knowledge of Osama hideout near an army training camp in Abbotabad. He had also exposed that Osama; an ailing person had escaped from Afghanistan soon after US attack and destruction of his Tora Bora hideout. His followers tried to settle him near Peshawar, Quetta and in North Waziristan for better treatment of his kidney failure and heart complications. Finally, through a trusted person the land near Abbotabad was purchased and the house was constructed within two years. As the Pakhtun sardars of the area are known to build big houses and high-rise walls for privacy, no one doubted the new occupant. My friend trashed the government stories and concluded that the ISI and IB detachments were located near OBL compound; army officers lived within 150 yds of the suspect house and Musharraf government had full knowledge of OBL hiding in Pakistan. The journalist asserted that both the ISI and Pakistan IB had knowledge of OBL’s stay in Pakistan and they were actually giving him protection. He did not rule out the possibility of Pakistan government collaborating on the sly with US as an old, ailing and almost immobile Osama had become a burden on the authorities. This was probably done against the wishes of the ISI and the Army chief.
Soon after the assassination of OBL on May 2, 2011 a contingent of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and al Qaeda forces attacked the naval airbase in Karachi on May 21, destroying prestigious assets. Army intervention finally brought the situation under control. In addition to these there had been several attacks on army and ISI establishments. My journalist friend had declared Pakistan army as the most discredited and humiliated force in the world.
Indeed, the assassination of OBL has initiated avalanches of political tremor in Pakistan. The present epicenters revolve around three erupted volcanoes: Memogate Scandal, Supreme Court’s direction to act against corrupt politicians who were given amnesty by National Reconciliation Ordinance of President Musharraf, which exempted the president from any legal action for any action taken by him. Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry in a constitutional judgment has nullified that ordinance and directed the federal government to initiate action against corrupt politicians like president Zardari. Zardari-Gilani duo’s efforts to assert supremacy of the elected government and targeting ISI chief General Shuja Pasha and Chief of Staff Pervez Kayani added to political uncertainty and open expression of fears of military takeover of the reins of the government. The Army/ISI are capable of staging a coup; a natural event in Pakistan. But it appears that four pillars of Pakistan are not yet ready for another protracted stint of army rule. The political class are keen to cling to jamhooriyat (democracy), the judiciary is not keen to send democracy to hibernation by playing into the hands of the Generals, the Army is not yet willing for a putsch as the country is in financial doldrums, its relationship with the USA is at all time nadir and internal terrorist forces have firmed up grip on the Pakistani polity. Peoples of all sections of Pakistan are poised against Army rule; though they want tainted regime of Zardari to go. The fate of Pakistan hangs in balance.
To understand the scenario it is necessary to understand the Memogate affairs. The Memogate controversy revolves around a memorandum (addressed to Admiral Mike Mullen) seeking help of the Obama administration in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid to avert a military takeover of the civilian government in Pakistan and conversely to assist in a civilian takeover of the military apparatus. Central actors in the plot included American-Pakistani businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who alleged that former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani asked him to deliver a confidential memo asking for US assistance. The memo is alleged to have been drafted by Haqqani at the behest of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari.
The US-Pakistan relationship was at an all-time low before the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad on May 2, 2011. Civilians and the media blamed the Pakistani armed forces for being unable to locate bin Laden’s whereabouts and further criticized them for letting the United States conduct a unilateral operation on Pakistani soil, thereby prompting a furor over violation of Pakistani sovereignty by the United States. The incident put the civilian government and military officials at loggerheads. A meeting of the president, prime minister and the chief of army staff was called to discuss the issue in detail. The memorandum was allegedly written less than two days after the meeting was called, and a few days after the raid on the bin Laden compound.
According to messages leaked online from Mansoor Ijaz, Ambassador Husain Haqqani sent him a BlackBerry message on May 9, 2011, asking him to return a call to London, where the ambassador was on visit. The message further asked him to deliver a prompt proposal, initially verbally, for assistance to Admiral Mike Mullen. Ijaz, whose BlackBerry exchanges with Haqqani indicate he was in Monaco at the time, claims Haqqani had dictated the contents of what was to be relayed verbally in that first telephone call. Ijaz has further stated that his US interlocutors insisted on a written memorandum because of consistent problems in the recent past with Pakistani officials making verbal offers and later not honoring the same. Ijaz then drafted, on the basis of the Haqqani instructions, the memorandum in question and confirmed the contents by telephone and over numerous BlackBerry Messenger conversations with the Pakistani ambassador.
The following morning, Ijaz emailed a copy of the memo draft to the ambassador for proofreading and asked for assurances that the memo had the approval of the president of Pakistan. Shortly after a meeting with British delegates at 10 Downing Street, Haqqani read the proof for the final proposal and asked for it to be delivered immediately to Michael Mullen through a US interlocutor, James L. Jones, former NATO commander and US national security adviser to President Barack Obama. Prior to delivering the memorandum, Ijaz made clear that his military-go-between Jones, who would deliver the memorandum to Mullen, required assurances that the document had clearance from the highest office in Pakistan, upon which Haqqani allegedly responded by telephone “he had the boss’ approval”.
Content of the confidential memo were published in its entirety on Foreign Policy magazine’s website on November 17. The memo was addressed to Michael Mullen, and requested the Obama administration to convey a “strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani and General Pasha” to “end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus”. The memo then makes certain explicit offers to the United States government in exchange for their support. These include the following quoted from the memo:
“In the event Washington’s direct intervention behind the scenes can be secured through your personal communication with Kayani (he will likely listen only to you at this moment) to stand down the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment, the new national security team is prepared, with full backing of the civilian apparatus, to do the following:
A. President of Pakistan will order an independent inquiry into the allegations that Pakistan harbored and offered assistance to UBL and other senior Qaeda operatives. The White House can suggest names of independent investigators to populate the panel, along the lines of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, for example.
B. The inquiry will be accountable and independent, and result in findings of tangible value to the US government and the American people that identify with exacting detail those elements responsible for harboring and aiding UBL inside and close to the inner ring of influence in Pakistan s Government (civilian, intelligence directorates and military). It is certain that the OBL Commission will result in immediate termination of active service officers in the appropriate government offices and agencies found responsible for complicity in assisting OBL.
C. The new national security team will implement a policy of either handing over those left in the leadership of Al Qaeda or other affiliated terrorist groups who are still on Pakistani soil, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, or giving US military forces a green signal to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil. This “carte blanche” guarantee is not without political risks, but should demonstrate the new group s commitment to rooting out bad elements on our soil. This commitment has the backing of the top echelon on the civilian side of our house, and we will insure necessary collateral support.
D. One of the great fears of the military-intelligence establishment is that with your stealth capabilities to enter and exit Pakistani airspace at will, Pakistan’s nuclear assets are now legitimate targets. The new national security team is prepared, with full backing of the Pakistani government – initially civilian but eventually all three power centers – to develop an acceptable framework of discipline for the nuclear program. This effort was begun under the previous military regime, with acceptable results. We are prepared to reactivate those ideas and build on them in a way that brings Pakistan s nuclear assets under a more verifiable, transparent regime.
E. The new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network, etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan.
F. We are prepared to cooperate fully under the new national security team s guidance with the Indian government on bringing all perpetrators of Pakistani origin to account for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, whether outside government or inside any part of the government, including its intelligence agencies. This includes handing over those against whom sufficient evidence exists of guilt to the Indian security services.
On October 10, 2011, Ijaz wrote a column in the Financial Times revealing and confirming that he had helped deliver to Admiral Mullen a memorandum drafted by a Pakistani official stationed in the United States at the behest of President Zardari. The op-ed did not explicitly name Haqqani as being the author of the memo. This disclosure fueled frenzy in the Pakistani media. The affair became the buzz of front pages in local newspapers in Pakistan when Mullen admitted that he had received the confidential memorandum soon after the raid on the bin Laden compound. Local media speculated as to the identity of the memo’s author. When asked whether he received the memo in May, Admiral Mullen said he had no knowledge of the memo but later changed his statement, saying he knew of the memo but “thought nothing of it”. Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby revealed in a press briefing that Mullen did not know and had never communicated with Mr. Ijaz.
The memo reached Mullen without any government seal or signature but the contents indicate that the memo was allegedly prepared by the civilian government in Pakistan. Kirby suggested that nothing about the letter had the approval of the Pakistani government and Mullen never acknowledged its relevance despite leaked BlackBerry messages between Haqqani and Ijaz indicated otherwise. On November 22, 2011, an official meeting took place at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad between President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Director General of ISI Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and Ambassador Haqqani over the affairs of the alleged memorandum. Soon after, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was duly accepted by the Prime Minister.
Several senior Pakistani government officials denied that the memo was written at the behest of the civilian leadership, either the Pakistani president or the prime minister. Multiple meetings were called regarding the contents of the memorandum between the President, the Prime Minister, and the Chief of Army Staff. The results and proceedings of the meetings have not been made public. President Asif Ali Zardari termed the allegations as a conspiracy against the government, further stating that he did not need intermediaries to convey messages since he had “direct access” to the President of the United States.
Several Pakistani opposition politicians saw opportunity in turning the scandal into a major political issue, accusing the Pakistani government of compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty and conspiring against the Armed Forces of Pakistan. At a major political rally, Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded an urgent inquiry into the matter. He also threatened to petition the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and resign from the National Assembly if the Zardari government did not satisfactorily investigate the matter. TIP leader Imran Khan has also made strident demands for adequate investigation into the scandal.
While several people presently and formerly associated with the US Government have acknowledged the existence of the memo, the Obama administration has relatively distanced itself from the controversy in the public eye. When asked about the matter, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon declined to comment. Similarly, at a daily press briefing on November 18, 2011, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner stated “this is – I understand this is a big story in Pakistan. It’s partly a domestic story. We – and we’ll all treat it as such. I mean, our – we remain in contact with Ambassador Haqqani”. Admiral Mike Mullen’s former spokesman, captain John Kirby, acknowledged the existence of the memo, but clarified that “neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Admiral Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with General Kayani and the Pakistani government. He took no note of it”. Later, Kirby also stated that Admiral Mullen was confident the memo did not originate from President Zardari. In an email to Pakistani media, former National Security Advisor James L. Jones acknowledged that he personally delivered the memo to admiral Mullen, but clarified that he was not a serving government official at the time he forwarded the message.
Many of Pakistan’s civilian leadership fear that the military is on the cusp of seizing control of the country once again, in the wake of the memogate scandal that has accused President Zardari of conspiring to plot a coup against the military. General Kayani and General Pasha have submitted their affidavit before the SC appointed enquiry body through the defense secretary, who forwarded these without approval of the government. He was removed by the Prime Minister and replaced by a loyalist. Many in Pakistan believe that the investigation is a sign of the democratic process actually working. Allegations of requesting a foreign government to remove the highest-ranking military officials of the country are matters of national security, and as such, it is imperative that these matters be thoroughly investigated. Pakistan has long become victim to the executive branch enjoying unquestionable authority, and for too long this authority has been granted by the courts. Whether or not Justice Chaudhry’s emphasis on a more involved and proactive judiciary – one that truly balances the clout of the ruling party and military – is sustainable, remains to be seen. Regardless, for this particular incident, perhaps the first time that the judiciary has been challenged on issues of national security, he has reinvigorated the belief that democracy in Pakistan can indeed work.
However, a comical situation has gripped Pakistan. At the height of rising tension between the PM and the army chief, Zardari flies to Dubai to attend a marriage, kicking up speculation that a coup was imminent. If Pakistan were not home to the largest collection of terrorists in the world, possessor of a nuclear weapons arsenal and right next door to India, its present political contortions could almost pass as comical.
Unfortunately, Pakistani politics is no laughing matter because it is the most visible symptom of the deeper malaise that afflicts the country. The present crisis has revealed all the known flaws in the Pakistani political system, but in greater relief than before. There is a military that refuses to allow any civilian leadership to genuinely run the country; a polity where institutions are so weak that personalities and personality clashes are all that matters. In this case, the character of the Supreme Court justice is arguably the most decisive issue. The leadership lacks the internal coherence to find compromises. Hence the propensity of Pakistani interest groups to seek the interference of outside powers, whether the United States, Saudi Arabia and increasingly China. Pak authorities have developed the habit of reclining on Saudi Arabia before any major is taken. To top it all the electorate is dominated by feudal interests in most parts of the country.
There can be little argument that the Pakistan military is largely responsible for this state of affairs. The military has worked assiduously to ensure that the civilian political leadership is weakened and that the institutions of government remain ineffective. It has intervened so often that Pakistan has never been able to have two civilian governments hand power to each other through an election. The men in khaki have a single motive: to ensure that they are the final authority in all matters in Pakistan. The present crisis shows that this policy is now delivering decreasing returns.
The army may be unhappy with the present civilian leadership, but it is also unable and unwilling to take over itself. The civilians, on the other hand, are using tricks taken from the army’s own shelf including trying to divide the corps commanders, use foreign governments and claiming the military is too close to America. The result is the present chaos where the military is trying to stage a constitutional coup through the courts. The President is trying to stage a coup within the military. And the Supreme Court is simply out to settle scores on behalf of its chief justice. In all probability the Army will side with the judiciary. The Prime Minister is making frenetic efforts to hide behind the Parliament, stressing on resolution in support democracy and validity of the stand taken by his government. President Asif Ali Zardari knows well that after revocation of the NRO by the SC, he stands naked before the law of the country. The PM cannot delay anymore initiating action against the President (Swiss bank enquiry) and other politicians. The final tragedy is that there are few things going right in Pakistan: its western provinces are in flames, terrorist of different denominations are active inside the country, its exchequer is empty, it is still reeling from the effects of last year’s floods and its internal social problems are mounting. But its leadership is playing musical chairs to a tune solely of their own making.
As we compose this essay the Supreme Court has held PM Gilani guilty of contempt of court and asked him to appear in person on January 19th. Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio said that the government would consult lawyers with respect to the court’s notice and that whatever would be done would be done in accordance with the law and constitution. On the other hand, the Memogate case is also being heard in the SC. Mansoor Ijaz is yet to arrive in Pakistan to depose in the case. The Blackberry phone of Hussain Haqqani has not been found in his office and residence. It is simply missing. Ijaz is yet to produce his phone. Blackberry authorities are reluctant to share data without valid and legal request from Pakistan.
Another PIL is being heard in Lahore High Court which requested the judiciary to ban for all time to come, military takeover of Pakistan. The outcome will be intently followed by pro-democracy people of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is inclining more towards the Army-SC entente, visibly gravitating away from his earlier stand of protection of Parliamentary Democracy.
The National Assembly gave the PPP led coalition government a major morale boost on January 16, in the face of perceived challenges with a resolution passed with a big majority reposing trust in the political leadership and urging all state institutions to strictly remain within their constitutional limits. A jubilant Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called the vote a `historic moment` in support of democracy and parliament and declared amid cheers from the house that he would appear before Supreme Court on Thursday to comply with summons to answer a contempt show-cause notice.
So far the triple tango in Pakistan that started after US raid on OBL at Abbotabad and exacerbated with the Memogate, has neared the peak. Coming days should determine if Zardari and Gilani will become victims of judicial activism and pro-active Army-judiciary alliance. The dangerously instable nuclear power is threatened from within and can pose threat to neighbors. Let’s count the moments.