All the names are out in the open. The secret memo is secret no more.
Now, all that remains to be seen is how Pakistan’s civilian leadership will handle the consequences of the allegations being levelled against it.
The first part of this remaining chapter was written in the Presidency on Friday, with President Asif Ali Zardari meeting his close associates – better known as the core committee.
The president is being quoted as telling the meeting that the controversy surrounding the memo, purportedly secretly sent on his behalf to now retired chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, was part of a concerted effort against his party’s government – that it is a conspiracy.
“When I have direct access to the US president, why should I be using intermediaries,” Zardari told the core committee.
The meeting was held in the wake of increasing pressure on the government following Mullen’s confirmation that he had received such a memo asking for US support in reining in Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus.
The president told participants that the man who has put forward the claims, Mansoor Ijaz, had contacted him twice when he was in New York after release from jail during Gen. Musharraf’s regime – but Zardari declined to meet him. “BB (Benazir Bhutto) had warned me to stay away from this man. We will see on whose behest Mansoor Ijaz was playing this game,” a participant of the meeting quoted Zardari as saying.
The president’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the meeting decided that Ambassador Hussain Haqqani will be given a fair chance to give his version before decisions are reached.
PM tries to calm things down
Over in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani did his utmost to calm a fiery opposition that was calling for treason charges against those involved in the controversy.
“Be patient. Don’t panic. The country is not disintegrating … we will resolve this issue,” Gilani calmly said.
Some lawmakers called for a parliamentary probe, but Gilani did not agree with the demand and insisted that the government had already initiated action by summoning Haqqani to Islamabad to explain his position. “Let him (ambassador) come back. He will give an explanation to the Pakistani leadership,” Gilani added in a brief speech after which he left the house to attend the PPP core committee meeting.
Gilani said the government had defended the military and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) whenever there was crisis in the past and will continue to do so in the future as well.
Haqqani denies he drafted memo
Ambassador Haqqani, meanwhile, vehemently defended himself, reiterating that neither did he draft the memo, nor did he ask anyone else to.
The ambassador said he was due to board a flight to Pakistan late Friday evening. “I do not have my itinerary in front of me, but I am scheduled to board a flight later tonight, I may adjust my flight due to some reasons, but I will be returning to Pakistan,” Haqqani said, adding that he was suffering from high blood pressure.
Speaking to Express News from Washington, Haqqani did not deny that there was a memo delivered to Mullen. “Ijaz is a very rich, influential man; he has drafted the memo and managed to deliver it to Admiral Mullen.”
In reference to an exchange of messages between him and Ijaz printed in a newspaper on Friday, Haqqani said that the Pakistani press does not verify facts. The only verifiable element in the conversation was the date on which the ambassador was in London. “Yes, I was in London on an official visit, however anyone could have given that information out,” the ambassador said.
Haqqani said that he had stood for Pakistan and the army in the most difficult of times especially during the Kerry-Lugar bill. “[Even] After the Abbottabad incident, I defended the Pakistan army in front of the whole world,” he said.Haqqani also alluded to possible threat against his life citing what he termed incitement by media as had happened in the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer.
Mansoor Ijaz refuses to back off
“The memo’s content in its entirety originated from [Haqqani],” Mansoor Ijaz told news agency Reuters. “At a certain point he started talking so fast, I opened up my computer and I started typing the basic outline of the verbal message he wanted me to transmit.
“He was originally asking me to deliver a verbal message. And when I went back to my US interlocutors – all three of them – said they wouldn’t touch this unless it was in writing.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2011.