Pakistan Envoy Offers to Resign to Defuse Coup Controversy

Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, has offered to resign to defuse a controversy in Islamabad over an alleged appeal to top U.S. military officials to prevent a coup in Pakistan earlier this year.

Haqqani denied any involvement in a memo that a Pakistani-American businessman asserts he conveyed at the indirect behest of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. The memo is said to have sought U.S. help in reining in Pakistan’s military leadership to ward off a coup in the aftermath of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

“I’ve offered to resign so any controversy over me does not distract the civilian government from dealing with the real challenges of Pakistani democracy,” Haqqani said in a telephone interview in Washington late yesterday. “I never wrote or delivered the memo that an American businessman of Pakistani origin claims.”

Zardari’s political rivals and Pakistani media have seized on the memo to attack his government, which is beset by a slowing economy and militant attacks. Since the bin Laden raid, Pakistani politicians, including Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani have tried to assert their control over foreign policy, which has traditionally been the domain of Pakistan’s army.

Islamabad Call

Pakistani presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar did not respond to calls today for comment on Haqqani’s letter proclaiming his innocence and offering to quit.

Haqqani has been called to Islamabad to brief the country’s leadership on recent events affecting U.S.-Pakistani relations, Babar said in a Nov. 15 statement. Haqqani said he expects to travel to Pakistan in the coming days.

In a piece written for the Financial Times last month, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz said that an unnamed Pakistani diplomat asked him to transmit a message through unidentified channels to Mullen. Ijaz said it contained an appeal for help to stop a feared coup by Pakistani officers disgruntled by the U.S. strike that killed bin Laden in a town north of Islamabad without the knowledge of Pakistani forces.

Ijaz has implied Haqqani was the diplomat involved, a claim Haqqani denies.

‘Concocted Stories’

Ijaz’s allegation is a desperate bid “to seek media attention through concocted stories,” Babar said Oct. 30.

“This is not the first time that Ijaz has invented an imaginary story to gain attention,” the spokesman said, referring to assertions by Ijaz in the Wall Street Journal in 1996 and in the Los Angeles Times in 2001, which were denounced by Pakistani and U.S. officials at the time.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Ijaz wrote an op-ed in the Times asserting that the administration of President Bill Clinton ignored repeated offers he relayed from the Sudanese government to share intelligence or arrest and extradite bin Laden.

At the time, Clinton’s former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger called Ijaz’s allegations “ludicrous and irresponsible,” and former assistant secretary of State Susan Rice, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sudan never gave the U.S. any intelligence files on bin Laden.

‘American Fist’

In the Financial Times, Ijaz wrote that “the embarrassment of bin Laden being found on Pakistani soil had humiliated Mr. Zardari’s weak civilian government to such an extent that the president feared a military takeover was imminent. He needed an American fist on his army chief’s desk to end any misguided notions of a coup -- and fast.”

Ijaz asserted that both Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, were humiliated by the “ease with which U.S. special forces had violated Pakistani sovereignty” and their perceived “complicity in hiding bin Laden for almost six years. Both camps were looking for a scapegoat; Mr. Zardari was their most convenient target.”

Ijaz claimed that Zardari conveyed that if Pakistan’s top military and intelligence officials could be replaced, the country’s new national security apparatus would sever ties with the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani guerrilla network.

Aiding Militants

For years, the U.S. has accused its South Asian ally of aiding militant networks and allowing them to maintain sanctuaries from which they attack U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan, a claim Pakistan denies. Shortly before retiring, Mullen testified before Congress that the Haqqani network, accused of attacking the U.S. embassy in Kabul Sept. 13, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.

Navy Capt. John Kirby, who had served as Mullen’s spokesman, was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable blog saying that when asked, Mullen at first couldn’t even remember the memo. When Mullen tracked it down later, he recalled that he “did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later,” Kirby said.

“I want this controversy to end so Pakistani democracy can move forward instead of getting mired in meaningless debate about whether the civilian government was ever threatened by a coup that never took place,” Haqqani said by telephone.

Yesterday at a breakfast with journalists hours before he offered to resign, Haqqani brushed off the controversy, saying he was being targeted by those who oppose Pakistan’s close ties with the U.S. because he is among the few voices who publicly defends the importance of the alliance.

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