The case of the curious memo

Published: November 19, 2011
The memo does seem to accurately depict the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan.

The memo does seem to accurately depict the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan.

The whole premise of this editorial, for the sake of argument, is that a confidential memorandum, addressed to then Admiral Mike Mullen, was assumed to have been written and passed on to the then US military chief. The latter, for his part, curiously enough, first denied any knowledge of the memo, and then said that he may have come across it; then his spokesman confirmed it; and then someone from among his former staff came up with a copy, which then quite conveniently found its way to a blog maintained by Foreign Policy, a prestigious US-based publication.

A close reading of the said memo would suggest — without taking into account all the havoc that it has caused — that it is a backgrounder, so to speak, on how important decisions and policies (permission for drone attacks, release of Raymond Davis, and so on) in Pakistan are made and implemented, particularly those that relate to security, the war on terror, and ties with foreign states, especially America, India and Afghanistan. It really is no secret — and clearly the memo’s content is no revelation on this account — that much of the power rests with Pakistan’s military. The memo has six points, some of which are more interesting and intriguing than others, none so than the second one. Here, the writer or writers (since the last sentence says “members of the new national security team”) claim that if an independent inquiry were to be ordered by the president, a promise held out in the first point, then it would be “certain” that the findings of the commission so formed would “result in immediate termination of active service officers in the appropriate government offices and agencies found responsible for complicity in assisting UBL [Osama bin Laden]”. These are explosive claims, to say the least, and the havoc unleashed by the memo would seem understandable, especially in the state of relations between the civilian government and the military. Going back to the point, again, that divorced from the effects currently taking place inside the country, the memo does seem to accurately depict the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The reference to Osama bin Laden being allegedly harboured by state elements had cropped up initially as well. The real issue is that these accusations should have been investigated thoroughly because bin Laden happened to be the world’s most wanted terrorist and, if elements in the government or its associated departments thought otherwise, they should have been uncovered and held accountable. However, the commission that was set up by the government went on to probe other things, mainly whether there was any cooperation at any level by government officials with the Americans. While investigating this may have been a reasonable course of action, one can only wonder how other, perhaps more important questions — such as how bin Laden could have been hiding undetected in a place like Abbottabad for so many years — were never asked. At the very least, an independent forensic probe should be conducted to ascertain who exactly sent and received the BlackBerry messages that are part of the controversy. This can be done by calling in some foreign experts to ensure the perception of impartiality. And since the matter is of a most grave nature, involving, as some have said Article 6, the Supreme Court could take note of it as well. Nawaz Sharif has already called for a committee into this matter and that is a worthwhile demand.

Instead of routing its attempt to bring the military under its control via the Americans, the PPP-led government should have used the parliament. Let us, for example, consider what has happened in Turkey in recent months, where a once-powerful army has seen its authority appropriated by an elected civilian government. In this, the impetus for change was brought about by the ruling Justice and Development Party, which won an almost two-thirds majority in its third election win this past June. It has dexterously and openly, unlike the backchannels that seem to have been used in Pakistan and that too via a country that seems to be disliked by many Pakistanis, used its widening popular support to tilt the balance of power in favour of civilian centres of authority in Turkey, as should be the case in a fully functional democracy.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Dr.Tanwir Ahmad
    Nov 19, 2011 - 2:32AM

    It is CAOS,whose duty is investigate the OBL fiasco trasparantly.If he does not do so,he himself is complicit He should be tried.


  • Peace
    Nov 19, 2011 - 2:42AM

    Zardari and Associates must go. Fired.


  • Mir Agha
    Nov 19, 2011 - 4:40AM

    Liberals love getting into long-winded conspiracy theories in order to protect their ideologues. Playing out internal politics regardless of your ‘principled wish’ in the international domain is a disaster for the Pakistani people. Why get into refuting such claims now when such liberal usage of English was never used in refuting allegations against Pakistan and its institutions? Either way no one believes you in your proclamations and declarations. Thankfully.


  • Noor Nabi
    Nov 19, 2011 - 6:36AM

    The main thrust of the Abbottabad Commission should be to determine if OBL’s presence in Pakistan was due to complicity of the intelligence agencies or their incompetence. The rest of what the Commission seems to be focusing on is of little importance.


  • harkol
    Nov 19, 2011 - 10:18AM


    It appears yet another NSA (non-state actor) acted as a proxy to a Pakistani ‘state actor’, delivering intended act/message, while affording ‘state actor’ the luxury of hiding behind the safety of ‘deniability’!

    What is new in this affair? This is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) with which all of Pakistani state operates!

    Besides, why is anyone shocked that a civilian ruler is insecure against a rogue army?


  • X-Cen
    Nov 19, 2011 - 11:39AM

    it is a rogue civilan ruler who is insecure against Army. Even now if you keep your eyes closed and hope for a better tomorrow, you are mistaken and playing an equally important role in devastating this country. and actually all the states operate using same SOP, its not just Pakistan. In Pakistan thnx to rogue civilian leaders. And why to feel insecure if you have not done anything wrong? Insecurity means there are lapses on part of civilian government.
    i would like to mention an important fact here that civilian government should understand this fact by now that it is Pakistan Army and they are Pakistan Government. Both need to work side by side. One trying to subjugate other will only bring us more Chaos.


  • Uzair arif
    Nov 19, 2011 - 3:40PM

    @ last paragraph
    A government which has been engaged in the war for fighting its credibility from the very first day cannot take such courageous step ;secondly the dynamics of the region where we live are very different from those in turkey,the prevailing situation dictates army as the most important stake holder thus we cant simply take that thing away from it ,having said that the debate for civilian government reining over army is the necessary part of the evolution this country is going through,thus we may come across these controversies time and again…


  • D Das
    Nov 19, 2011 - 5:13PM

    Pakistanis should be clear that these events will keep happening so long there are two centres of power,strong military and weak civilian.Weaker power is day in and day out hounded by biased media and politicians.But no one,I repeat no one has the guts or courage to question the military as why they go scott free when there is glaring dereliction of duty as on OBL and Mehran base cases.Whole high command should have been asked to present to court martial to explain why they failed to detect attack on pakistan.But all the dictators Ayub,Yahya,Zia,Begs and Guls and Mushrrafs are feted not as some one who tramples the sovereign will “Constitution” of the people.

  • Usman Ghani Khan
    Nov 19, 2011 - 5:35PM

    I dn’t know how many Haqqani we have in our country. This is so painful development, our country embassador involved in such shamefull activity, instead of promoting good image of Pakistan, which is his prime duty, he indulged himself in so filthy work, unbelieveable. Gen Kayyani must take stern action against persons involved, pass directive to current regime immediate arrest of whoever is involved in this act. Country cannot afford more crises as we are already under tremendous pressures from internal and international fronts. Everyone of us has to play it due role in betterment for this country before it is too late.


  • shekar
    Nov 19, 2011 - 5:47PM

    modify constitution to co-opt COAS and core commanders as MNA, pakistanis will have a brighter future


  • k. Salim Jahangir
    Nov 19, 2011 - 6:34PM

    @Dr.Tanwir Ahmad……….You are giving ideas to the Abbottabad Commission.Some allege Zardari had known about this operation,but did not take the armed forces into confidence & the rest is history.


  • A J Khan
    Nov 19, 2011 - 9:26PM

    The originators are not letting the hullabaloo to die down. Though the US did not took a serious note of this memo, however the vested interests are trying to use it against the Armed Forces of Pakistan in an oblique manner.
    Keep your fingers crossed. Nawaz Sharif may be behind the entire game.


  • Cautious
    Nov 19, 2011 - 11:05PM

    After discovering OBL in the shadows of the Pakistan Military Academy Zardari should have publicly demanded the resignation of the heads of the military/ISI and publicly exposed the complicit relationship between them and OBL/Taliban. Instead he chose to help ignite an anti American fire who’s smoke clouded the real issue. American’s have no sympathy for Zardari and don’t trust him anymore than they trust the Pakistan military.
    Who the the memo is of little consequence — it outlines what most already know and makes promises that the American’s know are beyond the capability of a weak leader.


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