How the Memo Case Turned into a Damp Squib
By Baqir Sajjad Syed
After former ambassador Husain Haqqani’s departure for Washington, the question is how did ‘Memogate’, a red hot political scandal, all of a sudden turn into a damp squib?
The answer is not an easy one. Despite many turns and twists in the case and the associated tense moments, it can now be enjoyed as a classic struggle between the civilian government and the military establishment, but with a different outcome this time.
The story, which started on Oct 10 with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz claiming in an article for Financial Times to have helped pass on a message from a senior Pakistani official (later alleged to be Mr Haqqani) to US leaders seeking help against a perceived army coup, has so far been told in bits and pieces.
The only official narration of the events has been available in the form of statements filed by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Director General Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha.
Intriguingly, beyond that literally nothing is known about what transpired behind the scenes once the political crisis ensuing from the memo affair climaxed, a fortnight ago, and all of a sudden started unraveling with a surprise meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Gen Kayani, ultimately leading to the Supreme Court easing travel restrictions on Mr Haqqani and the former ambassador, benefiting from the reprieve, leaving the country the same night.
One explanation with which everyone agrees is that “some friends” helped broker a truce between the military commanders, who were then on the offensive and smelled blood, and an equally relentless civilian leadership that at one stage did not shy away from accusing the army chief and the spy master of acting “unconstitutionally and illegally”.
Some say “early election” was the deal. But the actual terms and conditions on which both sides eventually settled may be known only to the principals.
Explanations by military insiders that the commanders backed down because of fears that divisiveness among state institutions could increase the country’s vulnerability; and Haqqani camp’s contention that as the probe progressed, it dawned on those pushing the matter that Blackberry messages hardly constituted legally tenable evidence and they had been actually duped by Mr Ijaz, are nothing more than lame excuses for camouflaging the actual deal.
Going by a chronology of the events may, however, provide hints about who did what at which stage.
Till Jan 11 civil-military confrontation was intensifying; former defense secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired and the army had warned the prime minister of serious repercussions of the allegations leveled by him against Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha in an interview to Chinese Daily Online.
It was at the same time that mediation efforts by some political leaders, who had close ties with the military, and some ‘foreign friends’ got into top gear.
Alongside this, Mr Haqqani’s wife Farahnaz Ispahani was in the US lobbying to get her husband out of Pakistan. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland at a media briefing said the US was closely following developments in the case and was also in regular contact with the former ambassador’s wife.
The multi-pronged intervention proved fruitful very soon and within a day unnamed military sources admitted that there had been an informal agreement that the issue of secret memorandum would not be pursued after Haqqani’s resignation even though the ISI chief, in his reply to petitions in the memo case, had demanded a thorough investigation by an apex court-appointed commission.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reciprocated by offering an olive branch to the military commanders at a meeting of the Defense Committee of Cabinet on Jan 14 and appreciated the armed forces’ sacrifices for the country.
A defense analyst agreed that the army, which was treating the memo case as a national security issue, made adjustments after the matter became too politicized.
He, however, denied any backtracking. He also disagreed with the perception of differences between Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha who had been keenly pursuing the scandal. “Accommodating each other’s views and making adjustments reflect the strength of the institution,” he added.
Mansoor Ijaz, the star witness in the case, sensed the changing scenario and avoided traveling to Pakistan on Jan 16 for testimony even though he had himself suggested that the date for appearance before the judicial commission for “uncovering the whole truth”. His lawyer then said Mr Ijaz would appear on Jan 24.
In the meantime, Mr Ijaz claimed to have consulted the US State Department and got a go-ahead for his trip to Pakistan. But the US embassy in Islamabad gave a lie to his claim and said he had not been given any assurance.
Finding himself in a tight spot his lawyer sent an SOS to Gen Kayani for guarantees of foolproof security during his visit, but with nothing coming forth he called off his travel plans and suggested that the commission instead travel abroad to record his testimony.
Now that the Supreme Court has eased travel restrictions on Mr