Memogate

Published November 18, 2011

THE air of conspiracy, never far from the corridors of power here, has grown thicker in recent days. Incredibly, as memogate threatens to take down the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, only an outline of the facts has been established. Here's what is known for certain: a memo was delivered to the former US joint chiefs of staff chairman from Mansoor Ijaz, an American citizen of Pakistan descent with a shady past and a knack for finding himself at the centre of controversies. The contents of that memo have purportedly been published by a section of the media here in Pakistan, but that has only deepened the mystery. In the memo, the authors propose “a revamp of the civilian government that … in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials”. But Pakistan has had no national security adviser since Maj Gen (retd) Mahmud Durrani was sacked by Prime Minister Gilani after prematurely announcing that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani citizen when the prime minister was expected to do so himself. Nitpicking or a glaring error in the narrative of memogate, which seems to raise more questions than it answers at every turn?

Perhaps the broader lesson to be learned from this entire sorry tale is that the civil-military imbalance in the country remains profoundly skewed. If the memo has some truth to it, it hints at the desperation of politicians at critical junctures and the profound errors of judgment they can make. It also hints at the utter inability of the civilians here to slowly win back space ceded to the military without outside assistance. That would bode ill for the transition to democracy: if the civilians are not learning how to fight their own battles, they're unlikely to ever win. Even if the memo was not authorised by the top civilian leadership, the pressure that the government has come under clearly indicates that hard questions are being asked and possibly demands being made from quarters that in theory ought to be subservient to the civilians. Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of a tacit arrangement in which the civilians have opted to rule in the internal political domain and surrender national security and foreign policy issues to the men in uniform.

Whatever the fate of Ambassador Haqqani, himself a magnet for controversies, or other officials, memogate has served to remind Pakistanis that they are caught between a rock and a hard place: bumbling civilians on one side and hard-line military men, who believe they alone know what is good for Pakistan, on the other.

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