(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 10 January 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/the-secret-memo-that-embarrassed-pakistan/351706.html )
NOTE: This is a round-up of events, not analysis.
NOTE: This is a round-up of events, not analysis.
For several years, ‘Memogate’ was associated with a controversy over documents that spoke of former US President George W Bush’s allegedly tardy service in the Air National Guard in 1972-73.
But in late 2011, the term came to refer to a confidential memorandum addressed to Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which the Pakistani government reportedly asked the Obama administration to help avert a takeover by the Pakistani military, following the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
It all began with Pakistani-origin American businessman Mansoor Ijaz stating in an editorial in British newspaper The Financial Times in October 2011 that “a Pakistani official stationed in the United States” had asked him to deliver the memo, on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. He wrote: “The embarrassment of bin Laden being found on Pakistani soil had humiliated Mr Zardari’s weak civilian government to such an extent that the president feared a military takeover was imminent.”
It was immediately speculated that this official was then Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. In a flurry of damage control action, Haqqani was summoned to Pakistan, and replaced as Ambassador by Sherry Rehman. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is now conducting an inquiry into the scandal, as is a Parliamentary panel.
Why was the Pakistani Government Worried?
The raid on the Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011, which killed Osama bin Laden, caused a low point in US-Pakistan trust. The operation, conducted by US Nacy SEALs without the involvement – and knowledge – of the Pakistani government was heavily criticised as being a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government was at the receiving end for allowing an ally to conduct such a raid, and also for not being able to find Osama bin Laden in all the time he had been hiding in the country. President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani held a meeting to discuss the situation. According to Ijaz, the memo was written by Haqqani at the behest of Zardari within days of the meeting.
How Was the Memo Drafted?
Mansoor Ijaz claimed Haqqani sent him a text via BlackBerry on May 9 last year, asking him to call him at a hotel in London. Ijaz was then asked to deliver a verbal request for help to Admiral Mullen, he said, the contents of which were dictated by Haqqani. However, the US officials he spoke to insisted on putting the proposal down on paper, whereupon Haqqani dictated the memo. Ijaz said he had emailed a draft copy to the Ambassador for proofreading. After Haqqani approved the contents, it was supposedly delivered to Admiral Mullen through former US National Security Advisor James L Jones, after Jones was assured that the memo had Zardari’s approval.
What Did the Memo Say?
The memo speaks of the Pakistani government’s concern that the Pakistani Army and its rogue intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), may stage a military coup and overthrow the democratically elected government, and asks the US for help to counter such an occurrence.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, which published the contents of the memo on its website, the memo asked the US to send a “strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani and General Pasha”, telling them to abandon plans to bring down the civilian government.
It put the onus of negotiating with Kayani on the US, and in return, promised incentives such as:
- A tribunal would be set up to conduct an inquiry into allegations that Pakistani military leaders had protected and helped Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders; independent investigators chosen by the US would be on the panel.
- A new national security apparatus would be set up, which would draft procedures to either hand over terrorist leaders remaining in Pakistan “including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani” or give the US “carte blanche” to conduct operations to capture and kill them in Pakistan, despite the “political risks”. This team would also remove ‘Section S’ of the ISI, which is believed to have ties with terrorist networks.
- The Pakistani government would work with the US on an “acceptable framework of discipline for the nuclear programme”, and Pakistan’s “nuclear assets” would be brought “under a more verifiable, transparent regime”. This would supposedly counter the military-intelligence establishment’s fears that the US could violate Pakistan’s air space to destroy their nuclear assets.
- The Pakistani government would cooperate in bringing “all perpetrators of Pakistani origin to account for the 2008 Mumbai attacks”, and even hand over those against whom there was “sufficient” evidence of guilt to India.
How Did the Establishment React?
Admiral Mullen first said he knew nothing about the memo, and the Pentagon said Mullen had never communicated with Ijaz. Later, Mullen said he knew of the memo but didn’t think it important. There was speculation in both Pakistani and international media that the denial was made at Haqqani’s request. The issue was complicated by the fact that there was no seal or signature on the memo, and all the evidence that the world had to go on was leaked BlackBerry communication between Haqqani and Ijaz.
Haqqani denied the existence of the memo, but offered to resign over the controversy. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was the first to claim the author of the memo was Haqqani, a fact backed by Ijaz later. Haqqani continued to deny his involvement, but then the leaked text messages were a threat to his credibility, and he left for Pakistan to discuss the issue with the government.
When Foreign Policy published the contents of the memo, and other media houses followed suit, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Director General of ISI Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and Ambassador Haqqani called an official meeting. Following this, Haqqani resigned and was replaced by Sherry Rehman. Zardari called Memogate a “conspiracy” and said he would not have used intermediaries to contact his US counterpart Barack Obama even if he had decided to moot the proposal in the memo.
US spokesmen, in bumbling responses to pointed questions by the media, stuck to stock diplomatic responses and refused to comment on the issue.
There were calls by the Opposition for a court investigation, but the Pakistani government insisted that this was unnecessary and that Parliament would look into the matter. However, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by a group of opposition politicians, which included former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. Following this, the case began to be heard on December 19, and a three-judge commission was set up on January 2 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to look into the scandal.
Immediately, Haqqani’s lawyer Asma Jahangir stepped down as his counsel, saying she had no faith in the judicial commission. But Haqqani was set to appear before the commission, and to continue pursuing his case in the Supreme Court.
In an interview with Geo News channel on January 7, Zardari – who has refused to give a statement to the Supreme Court about Memogate – said he considers the Parliamentary panel’s decision “sovereign”, hinting that he didn’t particularly care what the judicial commission said. However, he insisted that there was no fight with the Army or the judiciary, and that the struggles were part of a process of “evolution”.
The commission is expected to submit a report in early February. And going by reports, it isn’t having an easy time of getting the main actors in the scandal to cooperate. On January 9, Haqqani’s lawyer refused to submit BlackBerry data to the commission, saying it was up to the government to provide that. There are also difficulties involved in recording a statement from Ijaz, who is not a Pakistani national.
WHO IS HUSAIN HAQQANI?
Husain Haqqani started his career as a journalist, and had been settled in the US for about 7 years, when he was appointed as Ambassador to the United States in April 2008, after the Pakistan People’s Party came to power.
He was considered a powerful figure in Washington, because of his access to and familiarity with several officials in the Obama administration. He is known to be critical of the military, and makes no bones about it. His bookPakistan: Between Mosque and Military openly discusses the nexus between military officials and terrorist groups.
But, he has had his share of controversy as Ambassador. In 2009, there was furore in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation, which the military establishment in Pakistan considered disrespectful. There were reports that senior military leaders were lobbying with the civilian government to have him fired.
In 2011, there were allegations of his granting visas to CIA spies. The raid that killed Osama was another tricky period for him.
May 2, 2011
US Navy SEALs capture and kill Osama bin Laden in a covert operation.
May 10, 2011
A secret memo is allegedly handed to Admiral Mike Mullen, seeking US help in preventing a military coup in Pakistan.
October 10, 2011
British paper The Financial Times publishes an editorial by Mansoor Ijaz, in which he mentions the memo.
October 22, 2011
Lt General Shuja Pasha flies to London to meet Ijaz.
November 16, 2011
Zardari, Gilani and Kayani meet in Islamabad to discuss the controversy.
November 17, 2011
Ijaz tells Pakistani newspaper Dawn that Haqqani was the senior diplomat he’d mentioned. The memo is published byForeign Policy on its website.
November 19, 2011
Haqqani is asked to return to Islamabad.
November 21, 2011
The Pentagon says Mullen received the memo, but did not find the contents credible.
November 22, 2011
November 23, 2011
Sherry Rehman is appointed the new Ambassador.
November 28, 2011
Supreme Court of Pakistan admits a petition by Nawaz Sharif and other opposition leaders, seeking a probe into the scandal.
November 29, 2011
The SC formulates a nine-member bench and sets December 1 as the date for the hearing. It also seeks replies from all respondents, including Zardari, within 15 days.
December 8, 2011
Haqqani submits his reply to the court.
December 14, 2011
Ijaz submits his reply to the court.
December 15, 2011
Kayani and Pasha submit their replies to the court.
December 16, 2011
James Jones submits his affidavit.
December 17, 2011
Ijaz files a response to James’ affidavit.
December 18, 2011
Court serves notices to Gilani and Zardari.
January 2, 2012
A three-judge commission is set up to probe the case; Haqqani’s counsel Asma Jahangir resigns.
January 7, 2011
Zardari says his government will accept the Parliamentary panel’s verdict on the authenticity of the memo, hinting tacitly that the judicial commission’s report will not be considered.