Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani, will fight claims that he secretly asked for American help to block his country’s military from any move to overthrow its government, his wife told reporters yesterday.
Farahnaz Ispahani, a legislator of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party who serves as a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, spoke after Haqqani flew home on Nov. 20 to defend himself in a controversy that may deepen existing tensions between the civilian government and an army that has ruled the country for more than half of its 64 years of independence.
Ispahani, in comments broadcast by television networks, called for an investigation of Pakistani-American Mansoor Ijaz, who says he helped Haqqani send a memo from Zardari to the top U.S. military commander. The memo sought help to prevent a coup following the killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, according to a text of the document that the Washington Post published, saying it received it from Ijaz.
“This will increase a feeling of disgust within the military leadership toward the government” and may slow U.S. efforts to secure Pakistani help in resolving the war in Afghanistan, said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a military analyst and retired political science professor in Lahore.
Haqqani last week denied any involvement in the drafting of the memo and offered to resign. Ispahani and another Zardari spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, did not respond to phone calls for comment on whether Zardari may ask Haqqani to quit.
Pakistan’s military is the country’s most powerful institution, and continues to control foreign and security policies more than three years after having handed power to an elected government. The suggestion that civilian authorities sought U.S. pressure against the armed forces “will increase the army’s monitoring of the civilian government, and it has the means to do that,” Rizvi said.
Before being named ambassador to Washington, Haqqani was a professor at Boston University who wrote a 2005 book recounting the military’s interventions over decades 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 as ambassador” to the U.S., and will likely press fro his dismissal, Rizvi said.
Ijaz in 2001 said he had secretly persuaded Sudan in the 1990s to extradite Osama bin Laden, an assertion for which the U.S. government’s 9/11 Commission said it “found no credible evidence.”
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 rejected Ijaz’s allegations that the memo was passed on to Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the ambassador’s behest following the unilateral U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in May in a Pakistani garrison town. “I never wrote or delivered the memo,” Haqqani said in a Nov. 16 phone interview.
Mullen dismissed the memo as lacking in credibility, his former spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby, said in a report on the Foreign Policy website. Ijaz said the memo conveyed that if Pakistan’s top military and intelligence officials could be replaced, the new national security apparatus would sever ties with the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani guerrilla network.
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 American forces across the border in Afghanistan, a claim Pakistan denies. Shortly before retiring, Mullen testified before Congress that the Haqqani network, is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.
Pakistan’s army sent the director of its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, to meet Ijaz in London Oct. 22, Ijaz told Express News, a Pakistani broadcaster. The officer, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, “looked at my original telephone records” to verify his account of having communicated with Haqqani to develop and send the memo, he said.
Opposition politicians, including 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 and perhaps an act of treason.
In an article for the Financial Times last month, Ijaz first made his allegations that an unnamed Pakistani diplomat asked him to transmit a message to Mullen, appealing for help to stop a feared coup by disgruntled Pakistani officers.
“This is not the first time that Ijaz has invented an imaginary story to gain attention,” Babar said in an Oct. 30 phone interview, referring to Ijaz’s assertions that he relayed repeated offers from the Sudanese government to share intelligence or arrest and extradite bin Laden. Ijaz said then that the U.S. ignored the offers.