With President Asif Ali Zardari having suddenly summoned Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US back to Islamabad, two key meetings took place at the Presidency late on Tuesday.
Ambassador Haqqani has officially been called to deliver a ‘briefing on Pak-US ties’ – but his arrival in Islamabad will coincide with a deepening controversy of alleged back-channel contacts between the Pakistan’s civilian leadership and US high officials, purportedly brokered by a Pakistani-American ‘businessman’.
One of the meetings was with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – a day after the army chief reportedly abstained from attending a presidential dinner in honour of the visiting Turkmenistan president.
The Presidency issued a single-sentence statement after the meeting saying that the “current security situation and professional matters pertaining to Pakistan Army were discussed during the meeting.” The ISPR also refused to divulge any details about the meeting and said that it was the Presidency’s prerogative to comment.
According to some media reports, none of the three services chiefs were present at Monday’s official dinner hosted for the Turkmen President, a snub that raised eyebrows. Officials in the Presidency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that they had invited all three services chiefs and the president and prime minister both noted and inquired about their absence. They said that, under normal practice, in case of their absence, they are represented by three-star officers.
The army chief and chief of naval staff were in town the night of the dinner while the air chief and chairman joint chiefs of staff committee were in Dubai.
The military’s media wing said the presidency had only invited the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, but he could not make it since he was out of the country. “How could the army chief have attended the function when he was not invited?” asked an ISPR official rhetorically.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said under normal protocol all the services chiefs are invited to such functions after confirmation of their availability. He said he does not know who was invited for Monday’s function since the protocol department deals with such issues.
The other key meeting that took place at the Aiwan-e-Sadr was between the president and US Ambassador Cameron Munter. That meeting also produced only a single-line statement from the presidency. It is unclear what was discussed in that meeting – although reports suggest that it was tied to the summoning of Ambassador Haqqani to Islamabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2011.