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Memogate and history

November 26, 2011

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HUSAIN Haqqani will not be enjoying Christmas festivities in Washington DC. The former journalist and spin-doctor was simply outmanoeuvred by his opponents in the field he thought he had mastery of.

He did not lose his job for contributing to the drafting of the alleged memo. He was not punished for courting Americans to influence Pakistan’s political and security set-up. He was booted out for committing perjury. Perjury, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “is the voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath”. Husain Haqqani vowed that he has not been a party in the correspondence with Mansoor Ijaz that ultimately led to the memo delivered to Mike Mullen.

In the media trial, he is charged with the crime of peddling to the Americans, thus compromising the sovereignty of Pakistan.

He is reprimanded for bringing a bad name to the Pakistan armed forces and to one of the country’s intelligence agencies. His detractors are not content with him losing the coveted ambassadorial spot. They want to dig deep and see who else in the political hierarchy — implying none other than President Asif Zardari — might have been part of washing Pakistan’s dirty political laundry in the American laundromat.

Armed with the sabre of sovereignty, anchors of independent electronic media have joined ranks to cut the likes of Haqqani down to size. Letting Pakistani sovereignty be violated by the Americans, if one believes the talk shows, appears to be the present government’s invention. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In theory, Haqqani is accused of trying to rope the Americans into what should be the exclusive domain of Pakistan’s national politics. If he is to be reprimanded for doing this, then the pioneer of this trend was none other than Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister.

Liaquat Ali Khan did not write or instruct the then ambassador to send any secret memorandum to the Americans. He was pretty open about it. During his first trip to the United States in 1950, he met the press at the National Press Club in the American capital. A reporter asked how large a standing army Pakistan wanted. Liaquat Ali Khan’s reply was quite simple to the inquisitive American reporter and here is a direct quote from the prime minister’s answer: “If your country will guarantee our territorial integrity, I will not keep any army at all.”

So if Pakistan now has an all-powerful army, it is partly thanks to the American hesitation in extending the guarantee Pakistan’s first prime minister was seeking.

It is ironic, bordering on being comical, the way commentators de-contextualise the issues at hand. What Mr Haqqani has purportedly done is part and parcel of the Pakistani ruling elite’s historical trait. In 1953, Ghulam Mohammad, then governor general, dismissed Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin and promptly appointed Mohammad Ali Bogra as the new prime minister.

Mohammad Ali Bogra at that time was serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. Nazimuddin’s ouster was planned by the establishment of the time and Bogra’s greatest political asset was his pro-American stance. One can infer that the Pakistani establishment of the 1950s, mainly comprising the civil and military bureaucracies, had no qualms in having Americans on board when it came to Pakistan’s national affairs.

In 1958 Iskander Mirza, according to the US embassy in Karachi’s reports, was thinking of imposing dictatorship. The State Department instructed the American ambassador to caution Mirza about taking such a step and he deferred it for a while. The less one says about taking vital decisions without heeding the Americans’ advice the better.

But in October of the same year when Mirza and Ayub Khan, the then army commander, decided to impose martial law, the American ambassador was told a week in advance of the impending decision. This should tell the reader that Pakistani leaders have a long tradition of consulting and soliciting American approval in their national affairs. More importantly, the Pakistani leadership has seldom shared the details of the nature of their ties with the Pakistani public.

Ayub Khan allowed the Americans to use Pakistani territory to fly U2 spy planes over the Soviet Union. Pakistanis came to know about these covert operations when the Soviets downed an American plane and captured its pilot and put him on television screens for the world to see. Pakistanis, all along, were told that the Americans were using the base outside Peshawar for weather-monitoring purposes.

Mr Haqqani is not the first high-level Pakistani official to have compromised Pakistan’s much-talked-about sovereignty. Nor were the contents of his alleged memorandum out of tune with the practices of the past. Pakistan’s first prime minister started the process of leaning on American crutches. His successors stayed on that course, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto being the rare exception.

Pakistan’s electronic media tends to put ordinary Pakistanis on the steroid of hyper-patriotism. Patriotism of this sort goes hand-in-hand with inducing historical amnesia. The result is viewing Haqqani and his antics as an exception rather than a time-tested axiom in the annals of more than half a century of US-Pakistan relations. Chiefs of the Pakistan Army have been in the forefront of striking covert deals with the Americans. Mr Haqqani’s biggest fault was to have tried hobnobbing without the blessings of the custodians of hyper-patriotism in Pakistan. And he has paid the price for it.

The writer is an academic.

hnizamani@hotmail.com