“In the foreseeable future, Islam will remain a factor in Pakistan’s politics. Musharraf and his likely successors from the ranks of the military, promising reform, will continue to seek U.S. economic and military assistance; yet the power of such promises is tempered by the strong links between Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus and extremist Islamists”.
Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military— Husain Haqqani
As Ambassador Husain Haqqani landed in a Pakistan caught between the notorious memo and an army posturing for a kill, one felt that there was more to the Memogate than meets the eye. Was it the alleged memo or was it the consistent advocacy of civilian supremacy, first as a scholar and then as an envoy, which earned Haqqani the junta’s wrath and cost him his job?
Not only does the central character of the Memogate saga, Mansoor Ijaz remain, well, a shady character — as I had pointed out earlier this month — but the draft of the memo is at best shoddy. In a television show, a senior Pakistani columnist and parliamentarian, Ayaz Amir fussed about the diction of the alleged electronic correspondence between Mansoor Ijaz and Ambassador Haqqani. Amir maintained that the BlackBerry messages were in contemporary American English idiom. He thus concluded that Husain Haqqani, a tenured professor at the Boston University in the US, and Mansoor Ijaz — a US citizen — must have written these BBMs.
But Ayaz Amir and other such ‘language experts’ have failed to scrutinize the text of the memo itself. The abbreviation UBL used for Osama bin Laden in the memo, has not been in currency in the US since George W. Bush called the al-Qaeda leader, Usama (and pronounced it Yoosama), and that too, only in the first couple of months post-9/11. UBL, not OBL, remains the preferred Pakistan army speak for the terrorist leader.
Besides conveniently overlooking the memo’s sloppy language and unimaginative substance, these ‘experts’ also ignored that Husain Haqqani is the author of an authoritative work that deconstructs the Charlie Foxtrot that the ideology of Pakistan is, how the country’s praetorian army manipulates it and what should be done, within the realm of pragmatism, especially by the US to manage the international pain-in-the-neck that Pakistan has become.
Husain Haqqani’s 2005 book is a deft analysis of Pakistan’s predicament and, unlike the counterintuitive and outlandish nonsense “promised” in the memo, gives succinct and actionable policy recommendations to the Pakistani, American and world political leaders. It cogently prescribes weaning away Pakistan Army from its combustible jihadist mindset and proxies and to persuade it to turn over power gradually to secular civilians. Little wonder that General David Petraeus had himself recommended the book to those under his command.
The aforementioned quote from Haqqani turned out to be almost prophetic. Successors of General Pervez Musharraf raised a ruckus against the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, for they could never countenance the civilians being the conduit for American largesse, the sole proprietor of which thus far had been the military brass. But more ominously for the army, the events of May 2011 with OBL’s lair discovered near the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, Abbottabad showed that Haqqani — by now a dynamic presence at the Capitol Hill — had been ahead of the curve by a good six years.
The junta’s dislike of Haqqani thus turned into pure hatred. In their eyes, he was the ‘absolute poison’ who reversed decades of ‘achievements’ by the Pakistan army’s plants in the US academic and think-tank circles. The Pakistani brass never accepted that the ‘gullible’ Americans, who they had played like a fiddle for decades, now listened to this ‘bloody’ civilian from a modest (never mind honourable) family background. Worse still, the Ambassador has firmly been in the Pakistan Peoples Party’s camp for over 20 years and was serving in Washington, DC at the pleasure of the only man that the army hated more than him — President Asif Ali Zardari.
Simply put, the junta has feared the Zardari-Haqqani combine for the same reasons it dreaded Benazir Bhutto. Benazir was adept at international and domestic politics alike but Asif Zardari, while being a slick operator on the domestic front, had little exposure to the geopolitical major league. This is where Haqqani’s prowess complemented Zardari’s. An unrelenting and unabashed proponent of the civilian supremacy over military, working with full faith and confidence of his President, just had to be taken down — even if it needed a murky hatchet job a la Mansoor Ijaz.
The post-OBL phase could indeed have been a fraught and dangerous one for the civilian rule in Pakistan. Historically, the army has not hesitated to undermine and overthrow civilians even when the former itself had recently been humiliated. As senior columnist Kamran Shafi pointed out, Shahbaz Sharif’s SOS to Bill Clinton in post-Kargil phase indicated that despite losing face in Kargil, the army was ready to nix the civilian setup.
Incidentally, no pundit/analyst/talking-head has questioned that the BBMs do mention certain Arab rulers apparently giving a go ahead to Pakistani ISI chief to can the PPP government. Was there any reason for the Pakistani civilians to act alarmed at that time? But then again the Pakistani media had already put Haqqani on trial and passed verdict against him. So one-sided has been the media coverage of the event that other than a few short interviews of Haqqani himself, any point of view contrary to the military’s has been blacked out completely.
Private citizens have historically been used as back channel conduits, both for making war and peace. The prominent leftist ideologue Mazhar Ali Khan had acted as interlocutor between ZA Bhutto and Mrs. Indira Gandhi and did succeed in softening Mrs. Gandhi’s stance during Simla talks. Banking tycoon and philanthropist, Agha Hasan Abedi remained involved in deals between the US, Pakistan and China. Abedi’s BCCI funding the CIA’s covert operations is part of history. It is not totally surprising that a civilian government under existential threat may try to muster all the support it can get.
General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s secret meeting with Mansoor Ijaz, without the knowledge of the supreme commander of Pakistan’s armed forces, has further muddied the waters. The forensic lab in his hip pocket notwithstanding, the General, effectively, was spying on President Asif Zardari. Were there more meetings between him and Mansoor Ijaz and why should the General’s Blackberry also not be subjected to a forensic analysis? Not a single media person has pointed out that Pasha’s rogue moves undoubtedly were seditious.
Clearly, the flip-flopping and unstable Mansoor Ijaz continues to fumble under scrutiny and more names and devices may still be out there. Who is to say what the cast of characters may eventually turn out to be, in what increasingly appears to have been an ISI sting operation.
In Pakistan, the establishment’s machinery has been in an overdrive to propel into power the neo-Islamist clique forming around the pro-Taliban Imran Khan. Khan's hobnobbing with General Pasha on one hand and the US Ambassador Cameron Munter on the other raises the question whether a rapprochement between the US and Pakistan army is in the offing to ease the US out of Afghanistan.
However, the security establishment has thus far failed to dislodge the PPP via parliament or the street and thus to forestall the March 2012 senate elections, which would give the PPP a clear majority in the Upper House. Also, Asif Zardari could not be impeached if the things numerically and constitutionally stand as present. But this invincibility makes President Zardari, not Husain Haqqani, the ultimate target — precisely the reason Pakistan why will remain caught between the memo and the military in foreseeable future.
Post Script: Ms Sherry Rehman has just been appointed as the new Pakistani ambassador to the US. Her known views on Afghanistan mirror that of the Pakistan Army, especially regarding giving a prominent role to Siraj Haqqani network and Mullah Omar in any future Afghan settlement. The military establishment has clearly prevailed over Asif Zardari in this round. What remains to be seen is whether he will still be around for next .