ISLAMABAD: The embattled ambassador may take a breather – but not for very long.
Having purportedly ‘convinced’ the president of his alibi on the memo controversy, Pakistan’s ambassador to US Hussain Haqqani will now face the troika – the president, the prime minister, and the army chief.
In a meeting that is likely to take place within the next 48 hours, according to an official familiar with the development, Haqqani will face tough questions about his role in a memo, allegedly drafted by him for delivery via a middleman to former chairman US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, asking for assistance to Pakistan’s civilian government to rein in the military establishment.
Haqqani pleads ‘not guilty’
The decision to convene the troika meeting, second in less than a week on the memo controversy, was taken after a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Haqqani on Sunday.
Haqqani, who arrived in the capital earlier in the day, had a marathon session with the President where he is believed to have pleaded not guilty.
Haqqani strongly denied his role in drafting the memo and offered to face any inquiry, a source close to the ambassador told The Express Tribune. He told the president he is ready to answer questions raised by the military, the source added.
“I heard that certain elements in the military are accusing me of working against Pakistan’s interests. I challenge them to say this on my face,” the source quoted Haqqani as telling the president.
‘Well thought out conspiracy’
Haqqani is said to have flushed in detail, what he termed was a ‘well-thought out conspiracy’ to implicate him in the memo controversy.
He questioned the role of the self-declared interlocutor and Pakistani-origin American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, who claimed to have delivered the memo on behalf of Haqqani.
Ijaz is the same person who called for declaring the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) a terrorist organisation, Haqqani was quoted as telling the president.
A few days later, the same person then reportedly met the head of ISI Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Haqqani reportedly added. “What does this indicate?” he was quoted as rhetorically asking the president.
Haqqani, sources added, also referred to a statement of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan on October 30, where he was implicated in the scandal for the first time.
“I was summoned on November 15 … how could Imran know about it on October 30,” Haqqani was quoted as saying.
President ‘fully convinced’
After hearing his point of view, the President decided to convene the meeting of the troika where Haqqani would defend the allegations leveled against him, the source said, adding that the president was “fully convinced” with Haqqani’s alibi.
Sources also added that Haqqani, who was hesitant to return to Islamabad, flew back once he was believed to have been assured by the Presidency that they would stand by him.
When contacted, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar refused to comment.
Ijaz continues to strike
Ijaz’s revelations, however, continued to pour in, and on Sunday he claimed that DG ISI had forensically tested the evidence connected to the controversial memo, and deemed it legitimate.
Speaking to Express News (in an interview with Maria Zulfiqar which will be aired today), Ijaz claimed to have met General Pasha in London and provided him the evidence regarding the controversial memo drafted allegedly by Haqqani, including telephone records. He said it was irrefutable evidence since it was in his phone and forensically tested by General Pasha.
And while earlier Ijaz had claimed that the memo was sent with the blessings of President Zardari, he ruled out any understanding between the president and Haqqani on Sunday, and said the president had no knowledge of any such document.
Ijaz claimed that President Zardari might have spoken to Haqqani after the Abbottabad raid about the pressure on him, and asked the latter to help him out in this regard, but would have left the mechanics to the ambassador.
Defence minister weighs in
Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar weighed in on Sunday and called Ijaz a ‘conspirator,’ adding that only Haqqani can clear the mystery regarding the memo controversy.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Mukhtar said it would take some time to determine who drafted the memo.
If Haqqani is involved in the scandal, then the prime minister will also be held accountable since the ambassador is part of the premier’s team, Mukhtar added.
The minister vowed that all details will be brought before the public, as soon as details unravel.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2011.