The incident involving a secret memo allegedly drafted by Pakistan Ambassador to the US, Mr. Hussain Haqqani, at the behest of President Zardari to be delivered on their behalf to chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen can become a defining moment for Pakistan. It has been confirmed that Admiral Mullen did receive the memo. The memo contains an SOS plea by the Pakistan President urging America to intervene in order to prevent an army coup in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. In the memo the President offers full cooperation in ridding Pakistan of its pro-terrorist elements within and outside the Pakistan military establishment. Ambassador Haqqani has denied drafting or delivering the memo. President Zardari has denied authorizing the memo. Meanwhile to allay suspicion Mr. Haqqani has offered to resign and return to Pakistan and be subjected to scrutiny. Reportedly Pakistan’s Army Generals are incensed. So, how will this episode unravel?
Politics is more about perception than reality. What the memo states reflects accurately the feelings of Pakistan’s civilian government. Therefore regardless of statements issued by various individuals whether in Pakistan or in the US the people generally will believe the allegations. That brings one to the curious role of the whistle blower. He is Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani descent. It was Mr. Ijaz who personally delivered the memo to Admiral Mullen allegedly on the request of Ambassador Haqqani with whom he claims old friendship. Mr. Ijaz has stuck to his guns and claims having evidence on his Blackberry to substantiate his charges. He claims he was impelled to speak the truth because of his regard for Admiral Mullen. Clearly, that regard overcame his old friendship with Ambassador Haqqani.
If Mr. Ijaz is speaking the truth the implications for President Zardari can be grave. No circumstances in the eyes of Pakistan’s army or its public condone the President for seeking covert foreign help to curtail his own army. If the claims of Mr. Ijaz are correct what seems to have happened is clear. Both President Zardari and Ambassador Haqqani were conned into becoming dupes in a far reaching sting operation. The alacrity with which Mr. Ijaz is throwing the President and the Ambassador to the wolves suggests a pre-planned conspiracy that could become a Pakistani game-changer. If the charges are substantiated it is difficult to see how the President can survive in office.
Two questions arise. First, who could have authored the sting operation? It could be either some elements in America or those in Pakistan. The result of the exposure for American elements would be to bring out in the open the amount of power that Pakistan’s Army is prepared to exercise over the civilian government. The result of this exposure for elements inside Pakistan would be to render President Zardari’s position untenable. President Zardari’s ouster would set the stage for a regime change in Pakistan. Pakistan’s opposition leaders would benefit from this. Not surprisingly Mr. Nawaz Sharif has already demanded a commission of inquiry to probe this episode.
Now the ball will be in the Army’s court. How will it respond? If General Kayani intervenes to overthrow the civilian government it would irrevocably mar the future prospects of Pakistan. Not only would the fragile hopes of democracy in Pakistan be dashed. The reactions by politicians in the Pakhtunkhwa Khyber and Baluchistan provinces could conceivably redefine the status of Pakistan. Conversely if the Pakistan Army stays aloof from the crisis and allows the judiciary and civilian political forces to deal with it, Pakistan’s democracy would be further strengthened and the Army’s professionalism further established. This crisis might well prove to be a litmus test for Pakistan’s Army. Its immediate role could mend or mar Pakistan’s nascent democracy.