By B. Raman
If Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is intelligent, he would realise the damage that has been caused to the credibility of the state of Pakistan by Mr.Hussain Haqqani, the Pakistani Ambassador to the US, by his naivete in trying to use the services of Mansoor Ijaz, a controversial US businessman of Pakistani origin, for conveying to Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, a request to rein in Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, in return for some quid pro quos promised by Haqqani on behalf of “his boss”.
In this highly murky case, we have only claims and denials — with most of the claims coming from Ijaz and most of the denials coming from the Pakistani side. Apart from a belated admission that the Admiral did receive a memo relating to Pakistan, US Government sources have refrained from any comments in the matter.
There is as yet no smoking gun on the basis of which anyone can be hung — not even Ambassador Haqqani — but there are enough indicators regarding the utter naivete of the Ambassador which could ultimately burn the credibility of Zardari himself and drive a further wedge between him and the Army.
The entire L’Affaire Ijaz originated in the days after the US commando raid in Abbottabad on May 2,2011, that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. There was apparent nervousness among those close to Zardari that an Army humiliated and enraged by the success of the US raid, might turn its wrath against Zardari, who was generally perceived to be soft and sympathetic to the US interests in matters relating to the campaign against Al Qaeda.
Rightly or wrongly, there was an apprehension that Kayani might try to have Zardari removed. It was against this background that the Ambassador, who was then ( May 9,2011) on a visit to London, contacted Ijaz, who was then on a visit to Monaco, and sought a meeting with him in London. The rest of the sordid affair followed from there.
Ijaz prepared the memo or non-paper in his hand-writing on the basis of what Haqqani dictated to him and had it delivered to Mullen through an American intermediary. In his statements and interviews, Ijaz has clearly admitted that he never knew or had never met Mullen, that he had used an American intermediary to have the memo reached to him, that the memo is in his (Ijaz’s) handwriting and that the contents were dictated by Haqqani.
Ijaz has not said anywhere that he knew that the contents had the approval of Zardari. He only says that Haqqani gave him to understand that the contents had the approval of “his boss”.
One could understand the fears in the Pakistani civilian leadership — particularly at the level of Zardari — regarding a possible threat from Kayani in the wake of the Abbottabad raid. One could also understand their anxiety to seek the intervention of Admiral Mullen to have any threat from Kayani neutralised before it materialised.
There were various diplomatic and tactful ways of doing this — by directly taking up the matter secretly and informally with their contacts in the US Administration. It was amazing that instead of doing so, the matter was taken up through the intermediary of a Pakistani origin businessman with dubious credentials without paying any attention to the need for deniability. When you put down anything in writing — whether it is signed or not — you damage the deniability.
The only saving grace in the entire episode is that there is no evidence to implicate Zardari himself, but there is enough evidence to implicate the Ambassador. After carefully reading all the available evidence in the matter, my own conclusion is that it was a rogue initiative by an over-anxious or over-enthusiastic Haqqani, which has gone horribly wrong.
The Pakistani Army would be justified in feeling enraged against the Ambassador and in expecting that action would be taken against him. By failing to act against him and by trying to cover up the matter, Zardari would be further damaging his credibility in the eyes of not only his Army, but also large sections of the Pakistani public. It would create serious suspicions about the soundness of Zardari’s judgement in sensitive matters such as this.
1Could there be a coup staged against Zardari by Kayani on this issue? Pakistan of today is not the Pakistan of 1999 when a small group of Amy officers loyal to Pervez Musharraf then out of the country staged a coup against Nawaz Sharif. They were confident that the judiciary would validate their coup. Today’s judiciary in Pakistan is more independent than that of 1999. Kayani can’t be confident that it would support him.
Moreover, Kayani would know that a coup or even an attempted one would create instability and damage his reputation as a General who wants to avoid politicisation of the Army. He will exercise pressure on Zardari to get rid of the Ambassador, but would not go beyond that.
Even the Americans would be embarrassed by the present controversy which shows the civilian political leadership and bureaucracy and its judgement in poor light.