The ouster yesterday of Pakistan’s envoy to Washington marks a victory for the nation’s military and spy services in a power struggle with elected leaders that may strain U.S. relations, former U.S. officials said.
Ambassador Husain Haqqani was asked to resign by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani over allegations that Haqqani was behind a secret memo seeking U.S. help in heading off a feared military coup earlier this year. Haqqani’s ouster, even before any investigation to prove wrongdoing, was a concession by civilian leaders to quell the military’s fury over the scandal, former officials and analysts in Washington and Islamabad said in interviews.
“The real question is, does this end with Haqqani’s resignation or is this the beginning of a larger effort to oust” the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari, said Lisa Curtis, who has worked on Pakistan policy at the State Department, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the CIA.
The departure of Haqqani, who was close to Zardari, will weaken what Curtis described as an embattled government. There is already “a great deal of effort to provoke an early election” to unseat Zardari and his allies, she said.
Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, praised Haqqani as “an active, articulate and first-rate ambassador,” and said the scandal is an example of how political rivals in Islamabad exploit close ties with or antipathy toward the United States in internal power struggles.
Haqqani, reached in Islamabad, said he had resigned “to bring closure to this meaningless controversy threatening our fledgling democracy.”
Maintaining his innocence, Haqqani said in an e-mail that “a transparent inquiry will strengthen the hands of elected leaders whom I have always strived to empower” and will “bring to rest wild conspiracy theories.”
The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said “Haqqani’s wisdom and insights will be missed.”
A Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, has alleged he helped Haqqani deliver a message from Zardari to the then- chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. The memo, which Mullen’s spokesman last week said the chairman ignored because he gave it no credence, sought American pressure to prevent Pakistan’s army from seizing power after the U.S. conducted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden without informing Pakistan, humiliating the security establishment.
Ijaz wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times last month alleging that the memo offered that the civilian government would replace Pakistani military and intelligence officials with officers compliant with U.S. demands to sever the military’s ties with the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups.
Pakistan’s government yesterday denied media reports that it is holding peace talks with the country’s Taliban militants, even as an unidentified commander of the movement was cited as saying a truce has been declared. Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the army yesterday issued statements denying reports in recent days of secret talks between officials and the Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan, the main Islamic guerrilla movement fighting the government.
Haqqani has denied Ijaz’s story and defenders such as presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar pointed to Ijaz’s involvement in previous controversies in which U.S. and Pakistani officials denied his claims.
Ijaz, who grew up in Virginia, has helped lead various New York-based companies, including Crescent Hydropolis Resorts Plc, which in 2008 called itself “the world’s leading developer of ultra-luxury underwater resort hotels.”
Haqqani “has been such an important ally to President Zardari that his exit” will weaken him, said Chamberlin, now president of the Middle East Institute in Washington.
The winner in this controversy, which the Pakistani press dubbed “memogate,” is “the purported injured party, the military,” she said.
Before he was named ambassador to Washington in 2008, Haqqani was a professor at Boston University. He wrote a 2005 book recounting the military’s interventions in Pakistani politics and saying that the military had encouraged the growth of violent Islamic militancy in the country.
In part because of the book, the army “has always been opposed to Haqqani,” Pakistani military analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi, said in an interview from Lahore, Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for half of the nation’s 64-year history. It remains the country’s most powerful institution, retaining control over national security matters more than three years after transferring power to an elected government.
Opposition politicians such as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have seized on the memo to attack Zardari’s government for what they have called a breach of Pakistan sovereignty.
Haqqani’s ouster will also complicate efforts to stabilize volatile U.S.-Pakistan ties, said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council research group.
“It will be very difficult for any successor” to replicate Haqqani’s efforts, said Nawaz, a former official in Pakistan’s planning ministry.
To contact the reporters on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at email@example.com;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org