Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani said on Thursday that, in Pakistan, a single person’s claims can create crises. Whether the claims are true or not, the crisis has well and truly been created.
The controversy over a secret backchannel memo sent purportedly from the civilian leadership of Pakistan to the then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen regarding an offer to rein in Pakistan’s powerful army and its spy agency continued to unfold dramatically on Thursday.
Though his name has not been openly taken, the man said to have played a crucial role in the purported memo is none other than Ambassador Haqqani, who is alleged to have contacted another middleman to get the message to Mullen.
Mullen confirms memo
Hours after Ambassador Haqqani offered to resign, the website of a prestigious US-based publication, which had printed a denial on the matter by Mullen a few days ago, dropped a bombshell by claiming that the former chairman US joint chiefs of staff had confirmed receiving the alleged memo.
The Cable, a blog at Foreign Policy, published a statement from former Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s spokesperson who acknowledged that the now retired officer did receive a memo, but didn’t believe it was credible.
“Adm. Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Ijaz. After the original article appeared … he felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory. He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it,” John Kirby said. “That said, neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm. Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani government. He took no note of it.”
Alarm in Islamabad
The confirmation has set off alarm bells in Islamabad.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, has summoned a crucial meeting of his close associates, commonly known as core committee, today (Friday). In this meeting, it is expected that Ambassador Haqqani’s fate will be decided.
PPP Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira confirmed the schedule of the core committee meeting, but said that usually the agenda of the meeting is decided when it begins. Before the core committee meeting, another meeting between Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President Zardari is also expected.
The meetings were about the memo – and while it is unclear what action was agreed to, media reports suggest that it could end up with Haqqani being sacked as ambassador to appease the military, which is said to be highly irked by the purported memo.
Though Haqqani has refuted allegations, the civilian government is under tremendous pressure to sack him and appoint Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir as the new envoy.
A Pakistan-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, had alleged in an October 10 op-ed in the Financial Times that on May 10, in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad, Zardari had offered to replace Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups. Ijaz said he was directed to craft the memo by a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari (now believed to be Haqqani). It is said that the government feared a coup at the time.
Ambassador Haqqani, who has served as Pakistan’s representative to the US since 2008, denied that he had either drafted or delivered any memo. Referring to Mansoor Ijaz indirectly, the Ambassador said, “There are many businessmen in this world who claim to have a role in a country’s affairs, but they are not given importance. In Pakistan, however, one man’s claims create a crisis.” He added that if his name had been linked openly to the memo, he would have replied by now.
On Wednesday, the Ambassador sent a letter to the President. Sources said that the letter states that Haqqani was ready to face any inquiry against him.
Later speaking to the media, Haqqani said that he had already booked a seat to Pakistan, aiming to be back in the country before the end of the week.
Haqqani added that he had good relations with Mullen, however, he did not believe that the admiral, even as the chief of joint staff, had the power to bring about any change in the Pakistani top brass.
The ambassador said that he was being made a scapegoat for doing his job, of maintaining good relations with the US.
“Ask Mansoor Ijaz why he wrote the article? And why he was now making the claims in public?”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2011.