The change of leadership at Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency is an appropriate moment to reflect on what went wrong with the last adventure of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) i.e. the memo affair. Despite a veiled-yet-major putsch by all concerned, the ruse was too obvious and slipshod to oust the civilian order. Healthy institutions take stock of where they went wrong and undertake course correction.
The ungainly leak to a newspaper editor, quoted by the new saviour in the making, Imran Khan, in a public rally, indicated how a new game was being engineered. Khan named Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani as the alleged author of a memo which sought to undermine national security, which, unfortunately, is equated with patriotism in Pakistan. No sooner than this revelation was made, the media jumped in and for weeks there was nothing else but the story on how Haqqani had attempted to sell his country. A virulent media campaign was launched with the words of an American-Pakistani businessman repeated as gospel. Mansoor Ijaz emerged as a man of honour who ironically was on record to have called our spy agency as the source of global terror! However, these ‘minor’ issues with Ijaz were brushed aside, Haqqani was summoned, forced to quit and then kept as a prisoner without a passport.
Many questioned if the so-called memo asking for US support to reign in the military meant anything. Was it signed by anyone? Was even a portion of its recommendations implemented? Did the US pay any attention to such a silly scheme? Questions of this nature rarely find a place in the irrational media popular these days. Enter the largest opposition party and its gullibility in playing along with this game. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court, and the judgment which was delivered might haunt us for a long time as it, in effect, gave precedence to a militaristic definition of ‘national security’ over and above the fundamental rights of citizens. A judicial commission continues to investigate the traitors despite Ijaz’s refusal to travel to Pakistan.
What other things were revealed via this whole affair? Firstly, that the head of the agency had been travelling without the knowledge of his superior, the prime minister. If Ijaz was right about Haqqani plotting against the army, then was he also not correct about General Pasha’s visit to Middle Eastern kingdoms to garner support for a military coup? Secondly, the then former defence secretary, dismissed by the prime minister eventually, in his affidavits before the Court stated that the ISI and military operations were not under the control of the civilian government. This was a damning admission of how arms of the executive defy constitutional provisions!
Thirdly, the memo affair empowered the otherwise discredited government to assert itself and thus came the famous remarks of the prime minister that a state within a state would not be tolerated and those who were paid salaries with taxpayers’ money must be accountable to public representatives. Thus, the patriotism-game backfired. That may just be a defining moment for the future of democratic rule in Pakistan.
Some in the media are now saying that President Zardari will delay elections to wait for General Kayani to retire. This never-ending plotting must end now. The Senate elections have taken place and there is agreement on transfer of power via the Twentieth Amendment. The Constitution is clear that the term of elected legislatures is five years. There is no plot there.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2012.