By Sushant Sareen
Byzantine intrigues are nothing new in the sordid world of Pakistan’s power politics. The now toxic ‘confidential’ memo that has come out in public fits well into a certain pattern of how governments are destabilised, how the reputation, the credibility and legitimacy of key political figures are destroyed; how the all-powerful military establishment and its underlings within the country and without play up a certain issue (quite often fictitious), and at the same time create a smoke-screen to hide the real game; and how the political stage is set-up before moving in for the final kill. Aiding and indeed abetting this entire sinister game is the tendency of most media personnel to practise ‘swallow and vomit’ journalism and not try to delve deeper into an issue to ferret out the truth. Of course, the cue comes from other, more clever, if also more compromised, journalists who actually participate in the game as protagonists, either for their own personal interests, or for pushing the interest of their owners (with an axe to grind against the sitting government). Naturally, in the resulting sound and fury, the real and rather uncomfortable and inconvenient questions are neither asked nor answered.
Assume for a moment that the memo is authentic i.e. it was actually sent to Mansoor Ijaz by some top Pakistani official and is not a fabricated document, conjured up to set-up the current political dispensation in Islamabad. A very careful reading of the language used in the document gives an unmistakable impression of the existence of a cabal within the Pakistani establishment that is seeking to carry out a purge of the extremists and double-gamers, including the serving army chief and DG ISI from the ranks of the establishment with the assistance and support of the US. If the memo was indeed written on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari, why would it say things like “we submit this memorandum for your consideration collectively as members of the new national security team who will be inducted by the President of Pakistan…”? What is more intriguing is that they seemed quite certain about getting President Zardari’s backing for what they intended to do as is evident from the assurance that “the new national security team is prepared, with the full backing of the civilian apparatus…” [emphasis mine].
Clearly, there are serious questions regarding the genuineness of this memo. For one, the language used in the memo doesn’t appear to be that of Hussain Haqqani. Anyone familiar with Haqqani’s writings can immediately make out that the finesse is missing. Mansoor Ijaz, a rather dubious character, claims that the memo was dictated to him by Haqqani. He also says that he insisted on a written memo because the Americans were no longer willing to buy any verbal commitment by the Pakistani officials. But what he doesn’t clarify is what sanctity is attached to an unsigned memo which makes it more acceptable than a verbal commitment. Then there is the bit about replacing the national security advisor. Who, pray, was the NSA in Pakistan at the time this memo was written? Isn’t it also quite strange that in his article in the Financial Times, Ijaz goes hammer and tongs at the ISI, but then a few days later he goes on to hand over all the so-called ‘evidence’ to the boss of the very organisation that he labels as the ‘scourge of radicalism’?
Anyone who has walked the corridors of power in Pakistan would be very wary of a guy like Mansoor Ijaz. Surely, someone as clued in as Haqqani must have been aware of Ijaz’s unsavoury reputation. Why would Haqqani, who knows how to work the levers of power in Washington and had access to virtually everyone who’s anyone in Washington, use Ijaz to deliver a message to the then US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen? Haqqani could have easily spoken to Mullen directly rather than depend on Ijaz who as it transpires Mullen never took seriously. Unlike most Pakistanis who believe that all politics everywhere revolves around the brass-hats, Haqqani knew better. If he had to deliver as serious a message as contained in the memo, he would probably have chosen to speak to either the US Secretary of State or perhaps even the US President himself. And even if for whatever reason Haqqani had to go through Ijaz, he is far too smart and cunning to have left any sort of a paper trail or as the case is being made out, an electronic trail.
But let us for the sake of argument imagine that it was indeed Haqqani who was behind the memo, that he was foolish enough to trust Ijaz or was being too clever by half in using Ijaz to send a message to the Americans in order to maintain some sort of ‘plausible deniability’ as his detractors are suggesting. Quite aside the fact that after having left a trail he could hardly take recourse to plausible deniability, it still doesn’t answer the question as to whether Haqqani was acting on his own, on behalf of some cabal, or on behalf of President Zardari. The memo becomes even more suspect by trying to suggest that in the aftermath of the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden, Zardari was so scared of a coup that he sought US intercession to keep Kayani and his hounds at bay.
Having spent 11 years in prison, undergoing all sorts of indignities, torture and even an attempt on his life in captivity without bending or bowing, one thing no one can deny is that Zardari has nerves of steel. Any lesser man would have already collapsed under the sort of sustained hostile propaganda that has been carried out against him in the last three-and-a-half years. Add to this his mastery over Pakistan’s political chess-board and his ability to think three steps ahead. Would such a man not have figured out that the reputation of the Pakistan army was mud after the Osama raid and the last thing they could pull off was a coup against the civilian government? If anything, more than Zardari, it was Kayani who was running scared those days, having to go around placating his troops and justifying his existence as army chief. Even otherwise, the political scene in Pakistan was hardly conducive to any sort of extra-constitutional adventurism by the military.
There are a range of other arguments that belie the contents of the memo. Questions also arise about the timing of disclosure, reasons for disclosure, and the manner in which the entire issue was blown up in the media and the selective leaks (all by a media organisation carrying out a campaign against Zardari). But these are perhaps somewhat superfluous at this stage when all attention is on how things will play out on the political stage, whether or not the Zardari dispensation will survive, and if it does, in what form. For now, it seems that Haqqani, who despite his accomplishments and his immense contribution in keeping the US-Pakistan relations on track, is intensely disliked and completely distrusted by the military establishment, will most likely become the fall guy and will be replaced. There is also talk of the military installing a National Security Advisor in the Presidency who will become the ‘establishment’s’ point man for all decisions of the civilian government relating to foreign and security policy, especially on dealing with the Americans, Indians, Afghans and the Taliban.
Zardari, of course, would be loath to sacrificing Haqqani. He is after all Zardari’s interface with the Americans, and Zardari would find it impossible to trust any appointee of the establishment to speak on his behalf with the Americans. Zardari also knows that if the axe falls on Haqqani, it will only cement the perception that he was behind the memo. It will then only be a matter of time before the guillotine falls on him. Unless the memo is discredited, it will become an instrument to hang Zardari, as and when the opportunity arises. But this won’t happen until the military has its political alternative ready. In the meantime, it would rest content with having weakened the civilian government even further and reducing it into a complete puppet.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomment/TheMiasmicMemo_SushantSareen_231111