The government is either doing its best to appear calm or is disturbingly confident in the face of an issue that could still engulf its incumbency.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani spent Thursday in a concerted effort to play down the fallout of the memogate controversy and the reported pressure from the country’s military on the issue – which included a face-off between the premier and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.
“If there is any threat, we will look to the people of Pakistan and not to the army,” Gilani said in response to Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s allegation that the premier and President Asif Ali Zardari had been holding ‘midnight’ meetings with top military leaders to save their government. Nisar chided the government for not taking the parliament into confidence.
The premier’s demeanour towards the opposition’s moving of the Supreme Court for a probe into memogate was almost dismissive. Appearing unconcerned by the move, Gilani told the National Assembly that he would ‘soon’ constitute a committee to investigate who was involved in the sending of a controversial memo to the then chief of the US military.
The failure to give a timeframe or any concrete details two days after first announcing the probe is in marked contrast to the urgency with which the opposition is pushing the issue and the rumours regarding a rift between the civilian and military leadership.
He also assured all around him that there was no pressure from the military to act on the matter – which led to the sacking of Ambassador to US Hussain Haqqani – and that the government was acting on its own behest. He added that the civilian and military leadership was on the same page on the matter.
“I’m forming a committee for an impartial inquiry to satisfy the nation, the parliament and the opposition,” Gilani said in a speech to the National Assembly after Nisar accused the government of trying to “sweep the issue under the carpet”.
Nisar termed the resignation by Haqqani an incident of “serious consequences” and claimed he had credible information that the government moved on the matter only after a threat by both the military and intelligence chiefs.
He said Haqqani had expressed a desire to fly back to Washington but was denied permission on the orders of some ‘powerful institutions’. While Gilani denied that he moved after the military’s pressure fell on him, he did not comment on whether Haqqani had actually been stopped from travelling abroad.
“I sought a resignation from Haqqani to make sure that the inquiry into the matter is impartial,” the premier said in an apparent bid to justify the move.
Later in the National Assembly, Nisar said that the appointment of a new ambassador within hours of Haqqani’s ‘removal’ was an indication that the government considered him guilty and did not plan to restore him.
“He (Haqqani) was an ambassador and had contacts in the US. He might have not needed a link to deliver the message,” Gilani explained.
Nisar later led a boycott of members from his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Clearance for Sherry
Earlier in the day, prime minister denied reports that he had appointed MNA Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Washington only after the military cleared her name for the slot. He also said the military had not asked him to sack Haqqani.
“It was my prerogative and, of course, my decision as well,” he told journalists after addressing a ceremony.
Even before the National Assembly, the premier took great pains to stress that the government was not facing any threat – from the military or from the opposition.
Speaking to the media after addressing the concluding session of 2nd International Islamic Women Police Conference on Thursday, Gilani said that a high-level committee will soon start a probe into the memo scandal and assured that the investigation would be held in a fair manner.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2011.