On October 10, Mansoor Ijaz, an American business tycoon of Pakistani origin, made a startling disclosure in an op-ed article that he had written for The Financial Times (FT) regarding the contents of a memo which were revealed to him by a “senior Pakistani diplomat… close to President Zardari”. The memo was finalised on May 11 and intended for Admiral Mike Mullen to pass it on to US President Barack Obama. Apparently, Zardari apprehended a military coup in the blowback from Osama bin Laden’s unilateral execution by the US and, in attempting to preempt it, went so far as to promise an entire ‘new security team’, which, by implication, would be more prone to accept US demands. Zardari, apparently, promised to defang the ISI and also offered more, which the author implies, but did not disclose.
Quite obviously, this ‘leak’ resulted in considerable speculation, as it was surely intended to. There was the expected anti-Zardari hype but there was also a strong feeling that Ijaz’s disclosure was a pack of lies. Pakistani government spokesmen obviously denied the existence of such a memo and cast aspersions on the author; as did Mike Mullen and the US government.
I must admit that I too was skeptical to begin with, but I was also conscious that the FT is not an irresponsible rag and was unlikely to carry such an accusation without insuring itself against legal proceedings by ensuring its veracity.
What finally convinced me of the truth of Ijaz’s assertion was his statement in response to the Haqqani challenge to produce his evidence before the Supreme Court. He concluded his response with, “As a 27-year veteran of Wall Street, I can do no better than to quote the big-screen character of Gordon Gekko. He said: “if you stop telling lies about me, I might just stop telling the truth about you”. It is time that Pakistan’s leaders stopped telling lies and got back to the business of governing for the betterment of their people rather than wasting time, energy and much-needed resources in the useless bickering and backbiting that defines today’s debate over the nation’s affairs.”
The question that arose was: if Ijaz was not seeking cheap publicity, nor does he need to make a name for himself as an investigative journalist, why should this leak occur in October, more than five months after the event? It also became obvious that his role as the preferred intermediary was critical; it offered Zardari that priceless luxury: deniability!
The first thing that came to mind after this realisation dawned was that if this memo had been entrusted to Ijaz’s care on behalf of Zardari, it was more than likely that its disclosure was also on Zardari’s request. The question then was, what did Zardari hope to gain?
So, I went back and reread Ijaz’s original article. Ijaz, very cleverly, had picked up on Mullen’s accusations made days before his retirement, to let loose another tirade on the ‘rogue ISI’ and, by implication, the already embarrassed Pakistan army chief.
And who could gain more from this than Zardari? What wouldn’t he give to further embarrass the army and the ISI and perhaps put into place a more pliable ‘new security team’?
The denial by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, our man in DC and the spokesperson for the president, followed by Ijaz’s strongly worded statement, merely played out the conclusion of a well-orchestrated farce; which actually ended in convincing most analysts in Pakistan of the veracity of Ijaz’s assertion.
It also succeeded in further demonising the ISI and embarrassing the GHQ.
Unfortunately for Zardari, it still did not weaken the GHQ so much that he could find himself in a position strong enough to put in place a ‘new security team’! The one thing Zardari and Ijaz failed to vector into their equation is the fact that when there is such an obvious attempt to undermine the army chief, it is the entire army that is affected and the consequence is greater unity within the ranks.
If Zardari were to try to install a new security team, he would face considerable opposition and, what is far more important, he is unlikely to find a ‘pliable’ team which would succumb to domestic political pressure or to US demands that clash with our national interests. Perhaps it is time for Zardari to follow the sterling advice in Ijaz’s response, even if it was made sarcastically.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2011.