ISLAMABAD: The controversy brewing over ‘secret memo gate’ refuses to die down. Now that former US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen has acknowledged its existence Ambassador Husain Haqqani appears to be fighting for his survival while the political scandal also threatens to envelop the presidency.
Ambassador Haqqani in a TV interview said he would travel to Islamabad to explain his position in a couple of days, but political pundits don’t think that the gravest ‘survival crisis’ during his over three years stint as the country’s envoy in Washington was over.
And an official, who has closely watched the saga unfold, claimed that the government looked inclined to accepting his resignation offer to pacify the powerful establishment.
The government had summoned the ambassador to clarify his role in the potentially explosive political scandal that has put the civil-military ties in a spin.
Mr Haqqani has himself admitted his predicament, but put a positive note to it saying the nature of crisis was not new.
“We have been at this crossroads before,” he twice said in twitter postings while replying to comments that the generals wanted his removal.
Mr Haqqani, who is obviously not the most liked person in the military establishment for having criticised it in his writings before becoming ambassador, was apparently referring to the furore over Kerry-Lugar Bill in 2009. It was an open secret then that the military had demanded his removal, but the ambassador was able to tide over the crisis. Following the Kerry-Lugar episode, Mr Haqqani, known for fighting back, reinvented himself and at one point earned the confidence of the powers that be -- something that helped him get at least one extension in his job contract.
Nevertheless, difficult situations continued to arise subsequently, but on each occasion he survived.
Mr Haqqani in an interview said: “I’ve been consistently vilified as being against the Pakistani military even though I have only opposed military intervention in political affairs.”
The latest controversy erupted almost a month ago when Pakistani-American businessman Masoor Ijaz in an op-ed piece for Financial Times claimed to have helped deliver a message from President Zardari to the then US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen seeking help against a possible military takeover. In return, Ijaz had claimed that Zardari offered to replace army and intelligence leadership.
The secret communication was flatly denied by the government. Admiral Mullen too initially denied having dealt with Ijaz, but now acknowledged having seen the memo. However, the admiral maintains that he disregarded it for not being credible.
“Adm. Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Mr. Ijaz. After the original article appeared … he felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory. He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it,” his former spokesman Capt John Kirby told The Cable.
“That said, neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm.
Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen Kayani and the Pakistani government. He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later. Therefore, he addressed it with no one,” Capt Kirby added.
Admiral Mullen’s acknowledgement is likely to add to the raging storm.
This is not the first time Ijaz, who heads New York-based Crescent Investment Management, has created a crisis situation for the government in Islamabad.
He tried to vilify Pakistan government in 1995 when his demand for 15 million dollars for delivering votes in the United States House of Representatives for the passage of the Brown Amendment was rejected.
Ijaz is also known for his association with former CIA Director James Woolsey.
But sacking Haqqani may not be all that easy and as one of his aides suggested, in a telephonic conversation with Dawn, the issue was much more complicated than it met the eye. “Is it only the ambassador or the top man (Zardari) is also under the cloud,” the aide retorted when asked how the envoy planned to deal with the situation.
Besides, the military is said to have not been satisfied with government’s explanations and is pushing for “a deeper and meaningful probe/fixing of responsibility”.
As the plot thickens fingers are now being pointed to a senior presidential aide for his alleged role in drafting the memo.
The military, a source claimed, was in possession of intelligence indicating that days after the delivery of memo on May 10 the US started closely monitoring the developments and particularly kept a close eye on the subsequent corps commanders’ conferences and what transpired during those sessions.
This revelation seemingly contradicts Mullen’s latest claim that he had disregarded the memo.
Meanwhile, another source said, the country’s permanent representative to the UN Hussain Haroon is likely to be made ambassador to Washington in the event of acceptance of Mr Haqqani’s resignation, while Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir could then take up the position in New York.