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The wrong Haqqani

November 18, 2011

IT'S immaterial whether Pakistan's ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani is still in office when you read these lines.

A more fundamental issue facing us is the one we haven't been able to resolve for pretty much our entire life as a nation: civil-military relations or more accurately whether in matters of the state the men in khaki have precedence or elected civilian public officials.

All indications are that the country's military leadership has told the president that nothing short of the ambassador's head will suffice for his alleged role in 'memogate'. In fact, Article 6, which deals with high treason, is also being mentioned in the media.

The military hasn't talked about Article 6 but this was done by a journalist during a TV programme. Since he appeared to have a window to the military's thinking on the matter, the statement seemed significant.

Despite military coups and instances of blatant military interference in matters solely in the civilian domain, Article 6 has never been invoked. And this is not counting the use of the infamous Article 58(2)(b), sanctioning legal cover for such interventions.

So much is in the public knowledge about what columnists are calling memogate that there is no point detailing it here. It's what triggered the controversy after US businessman Mansoor Ijaz's claim.

He claimed a memo was written at the behest of Husain Haqqani and implicitly approved by President Asif Zardari, in which the Pakistani government sought Washington's help as it feared a military coup, following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US forces raid in Abbottabad.There was allegedly also talk of replacing the current military leadership, of pledges to abandon support to all militant groups and also offers of a 'transparent' and secure handling of nuclear assets among others.

The memo allegedly written on May 10, a few days after the OBL raid, was addressed to the then US chairman of the joint chiefs Adm Mike Mullen who, till his retirement later in the year, was the main interlocutor in negotiations with the Pakistani military and its chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani.

Husain Haqqani has categorically denied a role in matter as did the government earlier. The military may not have gone on the record, but the historically ominous 'rift and coup' rumours and suggestions have started surfacing.

We have the versions of the various parties named in the controversy but don't have the means to verify any. So, what's the truth? We can only speculate. In the worst of cases, Ambassador Haqqani tried to be too clever by half, failed and will have to fall on his sword as he couldn't manage the fallout.

Fallout because Mansoor Ijaz's 'intergalactic ego' (a phrase I borrow from a Tweet) couldn't handle the denials and being the butt of jokes after he'd 'broken' the story (in a few lines) in his long piece in October this year which itself was largely (and paradoxically) focused on a harsh critique of the Pakistani military and its agencies.

In the best-case scenario for the ambassador, memogate was a figment of its author's imagination (which seems pretty fertile anyway) or Ijaz was party to a conspiracy — Haqqani is able to demonstrate this and the president stands by his man in Washington.

But whatever the ambassador's fate, will it be enough to curtail the military's unwarranted influence in matters of the state and its desire to call all the shots despite its various failings? I doubt it.

WikiLeaks blew the lid off how the military was party to all our policies towards the US, even as it made sure the government was getting a bad name whether it was for acquiescing in the CIA-run drone attacks or quiet cooperation in other security areas such as issuance of visas.

In the past, about which he is open, Haqqani was aligned with the country's military leadership and it benefited from his brilliance, wit and deft media handling. In the run-up to the 1988 elections and afterwards, he was said to be one of the key people helping the Sharifs bolster their political credentials.

Sharifs' anti-establishment rebellion was still some 10 years away as they danced to the military's tune in destabilising Benazir Bhutto's first government and Haqqani, apart from the then director-general of military intelligence Gen Asad Durrani, was 'briefing' the media on the 'evils' of the PPP.

One has personally witnessed his evolution from the Karachi University students union president elected on an Islami Jamiat-i-Tuleba ticket, to a journalist, media manager-political campaigner who may have thought the military's dominance was in the country's interest, to being a well-read scholar-credible author, to his realisation that only democracy was viable.

The establishment didn't say a negative word about him in his early career as he was on the 'right' side. Then he moved over to the democratic forces. Enticement appeared as ineffective as coercion to change his loyalties. His sharp mind was made up.

This was when his patriotism started to become suspect. As he started to use his good offices to convince the leaders of his host country of the need to alter their historic reliance on Pakistan's military and engage with the civilian government, all GHQ's suspicions about him were confirmed.

Was Haqqani too ambitious in his goal and failed? Is the US now again signalling to Rawalpindi who its preferred ally in Pakistan is, as it needs the latter's help for an Afghanistan exit?

Or does Adm Mullen's confirmation a memo was sent to his office merely mean that the US sees Mansoor Ijaz as a 'key asset', not an unstable man with delusions of grandeur, and couldn't see him discredited? We don't know.

What we do know is if the government keeps thinking good governance is an alien concept, the opposition continues to remain entangled in an acrimonious and impatient game to capture power through extra-parliamentary means, they'll both lose. And the military will remain at ease to hunt the wrong Haqqani(s).

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.