All of Pakistan has recently been watching with rapt attention the twists and turns of an unfolding scandal that the country’s febrile media has happily termed ‘Memogate’. The ruling party, in full defensive mode, watches apprehensively even as it bobs and weaves with every disclosure. The opposition parties gleefully plot and maneouvre to gain maximum advantage, while the generals nervously button and unbutton their holsters. The privileged upper class pauses in its living of the good life, and ordinary people forget their problems and miseries for a while, as the breathless TV anchors report each new development. Even the Pakistani Taliban declared a ceasefire, perhaps the better to follow the unfolding story without such distractions as setting off bombs or laying ambushes.
At the centre of Memogate is the dapper figure of Mr Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s erstwhile ambassador to the USA (though often referred to as the US ambassador to Pakistan based in Washington, or as President Zardari’s personal representative there). Mr Haqqani is a very clever man, though he nicely illustrates the significant difference between cleverness and wisdom. Born in a relatively humble family, he used his relentless ambition to claw his way up the ladder, switching effortlessly between political parties, from rightwing to left and in-between, and between government positions and journalism and academia.
When his attempts to woo the military ruler, Gen Musharraf, did not bear fruit, he moved to the US in 2002 to take up teaching at a university as well as working with various think tanks (it is said that, in the process, he also acquired US citizenship); in this period he wrote a book that was a scathing critique of the military. In 2005 he became an advisor to Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, even though he is credited with pinning the sobriquet Mr Ten Percent on the latter when he was in an opposing political camp. When Zardari became president, he appointed Haqqani as ambassador in Washington.
However, Haqqani continued to be a close advisor to Zardari, ensuring continuous contact by basing his wife in the presidency at Islamabad as a media advisor to the president. It troubled him greatly that, even though Zardari’s People’s Party ruled the country, the military retained much power, so he made it his mission to bring the military to heel. His first move was to persuade the government to shift control of the ISI intelligence agency from the military to the interior minister, another crony of Zardari’s. This move fizzled out quickly when the military reacted strongly and the prime minister had to rescind his directive to that effect within a few hours
His second attempt was through the Kerry-Lugar aid bill, in which he had wording put in that would make US aid to the military conditional on civilian certification that the military was behaving. This created a civil-military crisis in Pakistan, and forced the US administration and Congress to backtrack. The military demanded that Haqqani be fired, but Zardari stood by his man in Washington. Haqqani licked his wounds but did not give up his quest. His next opportunity came when, on May 1st this year, a US Navy SEALs team swooped down on a house in Abbottabad and shot up Osama bin Laden. This left the Pakistan military with a lot of egg on their faces, and much answering to do. Haqqani saw their weakened and confused state as an opportunity.
Within the week he flew to London and met with his friend, Gen Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff. He proposed that Sir David should persuade his US counterpart, Admiral Mullen, to get the administration to back a plan for Zardari to replace the Army chief, Gen Kayani, and the ISI chief, Gen Pasha, with generals more acceptable to the US, who would work under civilian control. This new security establishment (in which Haqqani would become the National Security Adviser) would be fully responsive to American needs in Afghanistan and in the war against terrorists. It would also agree to the US’s desire to place Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal under a transparent and verifiable regime. He confirmed that he was speaking on behalf of President Zardari. The CDS, though sympathetic to these aims, did not agree to act as a go-between with the US.
Disappointed, Haqqani had to find another way to approach the US administration (for obvious reasons, he could not risk doing so directly). He chose Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani ancestry, a rich investment banker and media commentator (he used to appear on Fox News’ Special Report), with ties to neocon circles (James Woolsey is a friend), and a taste for dabbling in international intrigue (he claims that Clinton administration officials sent him to persuade the government of Sudan to hand over bin Laden to the US). Mansoor, relishing the opportunity to again play a role in some high-level skulduggery, readily agreed.
Ijaz said he had an intermediary who could convey Haqqani’s message to Admiral Mullen ─ Gen James Jones, recently Obama’s National Security Advisor. When he approached Jones the latter agreed to transmit the message, but insisted it had to be in writing. So, Haqqani and Ijaz drafted the now explosive memo, which contained the same promises that had been put to Gen Richards in London. To ensure some urgency to the affair Haqqani began the memo by saying that there was imminent danger of the military removing the civilian government as an aftermath of the bin Laden affair, and the US had to act immediately. He also hoped that the proposal to allow US monitoring of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would prove to be an irresistible lure.
Gen Jones took the memo to Admiral Mullen on May10, who presumably shared it with top officials in the administration. It was decided that an unofficial memo with only verbal authentication was not an adequate basis for the US to undertake an initiative with potentially such momentous consequences and risks (besides, memories were still raw of how Haqqani had led the US into the Kerry-Lugar fiasco). Haqqani had hoped that the memo would get Mullen to engage further, at which stage he could undertake substantive discussions on behalf of Zardari, and agree with the US administration on how the plan was to be executed. However, Mullen did not respond.
Mansoor Ijaz was also disappointed at the fizzling out of this exciting plot that had come his way. However, his entrepreneurial mind began considering how he could use these events. He shared his neocon friends’ animosity towards Muslim countries that they considered the US’s antagonists (in 2006 he had created a stir by announcing that Iran had a nuclear bomb). He realised that the memo was a potential bombshell that could create internal turmoil in Pakistan, further destabilizing it. On 10 October he published an opinion piece in London’s Financial Times (also described in this report), in which, without naming names (except Admiral Mullen’s), he disclosed the memo story, while also lambasting the Pakistan military, especially the ISI, for numerous sins.
As expected, the column created a furore in Pakistan, with the government vigorously rubbishing Ijaz’s piece. In Washington Admiral Mullen had his spokesman deny that he received any such memo, while Husain Haqqani flatly denied any connection to it, adding that he hardly knew Mansoor Ijaz. But they had not allowed for a shady operator’s thoroughness. He promptly published verbatim transcripts of his Blackberry and email exchanges with Ambassador Haqqani, and threatened to name the intermediary who delivered the memo to Mullen. The admiral suddenly remembered that he had indeed received the memo, but claimed he had paid it no attention. Gen Jones publicly confirmed that he had been the go-between. Haqqani was left mumbling about forgeries, and the general untrustworthiness of his accuser.
A couple of days later ISI chief Pasha flew to London and met Mansoor Ijaz. The latter downloaded all his records onto the general’s computer. When these were checked and declared genuine, Gen Kayani went to see President Zardari. Husain Haqqani was summoned back to Islamabad to give his version, which he presented to a meeting of top government and military leaders. At its conclusion, he was asked to hand in his resignation and face a high-level enquiry commission.
Mr Haqqani’s audacious caper seems to have backfired spectacularly. Far from reining in the generals, President Zardari is weaker than ever. The military is confirmed in its suspicion that he would, if he could, sell them (and Pakistan) to the US. Its doubts about US intentions have increased, especially in respect of its nuclear arsenal. Husain Haqqani, for the time being, sits snug in his wife’s apartment in the presidency, occasionally issuing defiant Tweets (though not on the infamous Blackberry, now impounded, that, as Eliza Doolittle would say, had done him in!). Outside, angry mutters of treason trials are being heard. Memogate rolls on.
Meanwhile, setting a flame to dry tinder, on the night of Nov 25th US aircraft bombed a Pakistani military post on the Afghan border killing some two dozen soldiers, including two officers. All of Pakistan is in an uproar, emergency cabinet meetings are taking place, protests have been lodged, apologies are being issued, the NATO supply route through Pakistan has been closed. As Bette Davis said in a memorable role: Fasten your seatbelts!.