Haqqani bows out

Published November 23, 2011

This picture taken on August 19, 2010  shows Pakistan's Former Ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani, right, walks with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in Multan, Pakistan.—AP Photo

ISLAMABAD: The curtain fell last night on Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s career as a diplomat in Washington but his resignation ended only one act in the controversy titled memogate.

What the future will hold for Haqqani as well as civil-military relations in general and President Asif Ali Zardari in particular will unfold in the coming days and form the next act of this drama.

Nonetheless, Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s resignation which, according to the statement emanating from the prime minister’s house, was asked for by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and the government’s announcement to initiate a ‘detailed probe’ into allegations that the former envoy to Washington sought American help for preventing a possible military takeover in May brought some respite to weeks-long tension.

“The prime minister has directed to conduct a detailed investigation at an appropriate level and in the meanwhile he asked Pakistan Ambassador to the USA Mr Husain Haqqani to submit his resignation so that the investigation can be carried out properly,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday said. This statement was released after a closed door session at the PM House which, according to a source, was attended by ‘all stakeholders’, a euphemism that is used when the main military officers attend a meeting along with the civilian leaders.

The security conscious President Asif Ali Zardari, who rarely ventures out of his official residence, specially came to the PM House for the meeting which decided the fate of his embattled ambassador. The latter had been summoned to the country to answer allegations that he had authored the controversial memo, suggesting among other things a new national security team for Pakistan; a probe into Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and investigations of those involved in the Mumbai attacks and then assigned Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to deliver it to the then US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Akram Shaheedi confirmed that the PM House was the venue of the meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Extraordinary measures were taken to keep the proceedings secret and the floor of the PM’s palatial residence where the meeting took place was declared out of bounds for the staff for most of the afternoon.

After the meeting, a written handout was handed over to the PM’s press secretary for release to the media.

Haqqani, after stepping down on Prime Minister Gilani’s ‘instructions’, in an email message said: “I have resigned to bring closure to this meaningless controversy threatening our fledgling democracy. A transparent inquiry will strengthen the hands of elected leaders whom I have always strived to empower as per our constitution. It will bring to rest wild conspiracy theories.

“To me Pakistan and Pakistan’s democracy are far more important than any artificially created crisis over an insignificant memo written by a self-centred businessman,” he added.

Haqqani had denied his involvement with the memo, which was handed over to Admiral Mullen by former UN National Security Adviser Gen James Jones in May in the aftermath of the US raid on Abbottabad. The criticism that had been directed towards the military for failing to detect Osama’s presence in a city in Pakistan and failing to prevent a US raid was then seen to have weakened the institution’s public image.

Though in recent days a number of American officials have confirmed the existence of the memo, they have been at pains to point out that no one in the US administration and military took the document or its suggestions seriously.

Once the resignation was announced, very little was heard from the ambassador who had been keeping a low profile since he had landed in Pakistan on Sunday. He did, however, put on a brave face in cyberspace where he tweeted: “I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance. Will focus energies on that.”

His wife, Farahnaz Isphahani, a legislator and adviser to President Zardari, while speaking in the National Assembly, praised the president and prime minister for steering the country through very difficult times. She also congratulated the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assembly for passing a resolution against any undemocratic change in the country.

However, most observers are convinced that the public silence indicated that the resignation was preceded by hectic behind-the-scene negotiations between the presidency and the military top brass. For over three days the two sides seemed to have worked overtime to find a way out of a crisis that threatened to destabilise the civilian government.

The final outcome was clearly a compromise that so far has fixed no guilt on any individual, leading to conjectures that the promised investigations may be lengthy and protracted with no quick end in sight.

It is noteworthy that so far there is no indication of who will conduct the inquiry; what the inquiry will be and how it will be carried out. The terms of references are unclear, to say the least.

The only thing the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said about the inquiry was: “All concerned would be afforded sufficient and fair opportunity to present their views and the investigation shall be carried out fairly, objectively and without bias ….”

The government officials or PPP politicians had no details on this issue either, though they offered assurances of the government’s sincerity and warned of forces conspiring against it.

Talking to Dawn, PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira said the government had always intended to conduct an impartial inquiry. “It was the matter of country’s integrity and prestige, hence, it warranted a high-level impartial inquiry followed by strict action against those held responsible. Now let’s wait for the outcome of inquiry instead of jumping to possible scenarios.”

He added that it was a conspiracy hatched to malign Pakistan. “So far entire narrative of the memogate doing rounds in the country is largely based on ifs and buts. Moreover, before passing judgments people should remember Ijaz’s controversial track record and his words that the president and the prime minister were not in the know of memo,” he added.

However, apart from the government’s defenders and the opposition politicians who were baying for blood, there was no word from the military generals whose shadowy presence has loomed large over this entire controversy. The ISPR also stayed away from the issue.

The third player, the United States, however, suddenly appeared on the scene on Tuesday. US Ambassador Cameron Munter was a ubiquitous presence in the Pakistani media on this busy day.

In one specially arranged interaction with reporters during his visit to a private medical transcription facility in Rawalpindi, he said: “We are strongly in support of democratic process, the Constitution, the rule of law in your country … we support that and will see how it works out.” He said this when asked if he felt memogate threatened democracy, though his ‘assurance’ was qualified with the observation that the issue was an internal matter.

His statement came as Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani prepared to leave his office in General Headquarters for Islamabad, where he held a meeting with the visiting British National Security Adviser as well as the ‘secret’ memogate meeting.

That Washington was not going to be more than a bystander in this drama was evident from Munter’s words that the “relation between Pakistan and America is far greater than political relationships.”

Hours later, Haqqani’s resignation was announced.

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