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Memogate: What Happened Behind Closed Doors

By 10 December 2011 No Comment

Khakis versus civvies: How far will the military, led by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (third from top), go in squeezing the civilian government over Memogate? (From top to bottom: President Asif Zardari, Husain Haqqani, General Kayani and Lt. General Shuja Pasha). Photos: AFP

“The meeting was not too tense, but it didn’t pack any smiles either. Indeed, the matter at hand was too grave for anyone’s comfort,” said a highly placed intelligence source, who provided a sneak peek into the closed-door meeting that sealed Husain Haqqani’s fate as Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the Presidency but the prime minister’s palatial spread at the foot of the Margallas that was okayed for hosting the sensitive meeting. President Asif Zardari had to dash to the PM House (which doesn’t happen very often) to be a part of the meeting attended by the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, and his trusted ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha.

“Despite under pressure to clear his name, Haqqani remained confident and pleaded his case by smooth-talking the generals, who expected him to cut a sorry figure instead,” said our intelligence source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Seeing Haqqani press on with his defence, the Kayani-Pasha duo sought the prime minister’s intervention.”

Presumably, the premier was in the know about the investigation that the ISI had covertly undertaken, which also involved a meeting between Lt. General Pasha and Pakistani-American lobbyist Mansoor Ijaz in London. During the meeting, Ijaz is believed to have handed over ‘evidence’ implicating Haqqani in the Memogate scandal.

“The premier agreed to a thorough investigation led by a civilian, acceptable to the parties concerned,” our source maintains. But that isn’t the only probe on the table anymore.  The commission probing the May 2 incursions by the US Navy Seals inside Pakistan’s territory is set to interview Haqqani over his alleged role in Memogate. More recently, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security – led by PPP Senator Raza Rabbani – has been asked to investigate the matter too. A petition has also landed in the Lahore High Court, pleading that Haqqani’s name be put on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Clearly, Haqqani’s resignation has not quenched the thirst of those who believe that the Memogate affair has more to it than what meets the eye. There seems to be a general consensus among the intelligence community (both civilian and military cadres) that the link between Haqqani and Ijaz on the matter of the memo is a straightforward one. But the opinion is divided on whether the origin of the alleged conspiracy winds over to the Presidency.

Unless there is credible evidence that establishes Zardari-Haqqani complicity in the scandal, any efforts to squeeze the civilian set-up are likely to backfire. “That is probably why more bets are being placed on getting Haqqani to spill the beans by tightening the noose around him. Placing his name on the ECL happens to fit this scheme,” our source explained.  Whether the alleged plan pans out remains to be seen. But the war of nerves is certainly on.

Meanwhile, intelligence circles continue to offer different interpretations of the Memogate controversy and the circumstances surrounding the affair. “The public is duped into believing that a memo was not officially signed and [therefore] cannot be trusted. The truth is that it was a non-paper, which technically is never signed and is a valid channel used for communicating with presidents and prime ministers,” asserts a senior official with the ISI. “Such non-papers are routinely circulated for the consumption of high government functionaries and considered as official as anything else,” he maintains.

Another senior officer affiliated with a civilian intelligence outfit agrees with the memo/non-paper binary and offers his viewpoint: “The quarters terming it a non-paper presuppose a link between the Memogate saga and President Zardari. But there is as yet no evidence beyond that assumption.” He further remarked: “Chances are slim for the investigations to establish any direct connection between the Presidency and Haqqani on the question of the memo. And the khaki circles are aware of the broken link.”

Mian Abdur Rauf, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, endorses this view. “It [a memo] is just like Note for Consideration, which is authored to negotiate a broad outline of a plan between the negotiating parties, which can include governments. And, yes, the non-paper is always unsigned because it is meant to cover footprints,” he says.

Asked if this is enough to implicate the president of the country into the affair, Rauf advises caution. “It is not so simple; it will have to be proved in a court of law that the memo was indeed linked to the person accused – if in this case President Zardari – and that [link] is a difficult one to pin down.”

Meanwhile, opposition parties have jumped into the fray to extract political mileage out of the raging controversy. Both the PML-N and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have sided with demands for a probe into the Memogate scandal and have sharpened their demand for an end to the rule of the “man on the hill” in Islamabad. “This is the biggest scandal to have hit the country in the recent times,” says PML-N parliamentarian Pervaiz Malik, adding that the N-League would prefer the courts to investigate the matter. “We have already gone to court with our demand for the probe. Raza Rabbani’s committee is not acceptable to us because, after all, he is a PPP man.”

Malik differed with the assertion that the PML-N and PTI have joined hands in shaking the PPP-led government over the controversy. “We are the ones who spearheaded the demand for an impartial investigation. We want the nation to know the facts behind Memogate, and we want these facts to dictate our future course of action,” he maintained.

Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi, a well-known political analyst, agrees that Memogate has opened up a new front on the political battlefield in Islamabad. “Domestic politics is intricately linked to the memo controversy and how it pans out in the near future. And quite naturally, the PPP’s political foes want the Memogate inferno to reduce the present government to ashes. But for now, it is a wait-and-see situation for them all.”

Other political observers caution that if fanned any further, the raging Memogate conflagration can tilt the political balance in favour of right-wing forces led by the likes of the PTI, PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami. It seems plausible that at a time like this when the country is already facing the heat on the external front – the latest NATO incursion inside Pakistani territory, for instance – that Memogate will only fuel pro-right-wing sentiment further, putting progressive elements in the country on the back foot.

Will such a twist of fate be any different than what happened to Pakistan in the 1980s when a pro-Islamist regime was manufactured to front the CIA-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan? Political observers hope better sense will prevail this time around. “We’ve seen what happens [when we travel] down that alley,” says Dr Askari.

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Newsline under the headline “Feeling the Heat.”

 

Aman Azhar is a renowned Islamabad-based journalist who has worked for national and international publications, as well as broadcast TV networks. He is also a political analyst in addition to working as an advisor to governments on public diplomacy and strategic communications.


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