Pakistan's U.S. envoy forced to quit over scandal
Nov 23, 2011 – 6:44 PM ET
By Jennie Matthew
ISLAMABAD — The departure of Pakistan's U.S. envoy over claims that he sought U.S. help against the military risks snowballing into a wider scandal threatening the president and stepping up calls for early polls.
Husain Haqqani was forced to quit on Tuesday, after offering to resign and flying home to explain himself to political and security chiefs in what has fast become one of the biggest scandals to engulf the government recently.
In naming his successor as Sherry Rehman, a former information minister and journalist, a rights campaigner and lawmaker close to Zardari, the government appeared keen to temper the storm clouds in appeasing liberals and generals.
But the trouble hinges on a memo asking the then-U.S. joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen to prevent a military coup in exchange for overhauling Pakistan's security leadership after U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.
Haqqani denies any wrongdoing, but was widely accused of helping put together the memo. Considered close to Zardari, he was at the same time deeply distrusted and considered too close to the Americans by the powerful military.
"It's just the beginning. It's not going to end here," former lieutenant general turned political analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
"The opposition will try to take advantage of this and definitely try to push for an early election and put pressure on the government," he added.
Haqqani's departure was seen as forced by the military with U.S.-Pakistani relations as fraught as ever and the government under pressure from the opposition ahead of polls expected as early as next autumn.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Haqqani was asked to resign after what television channel Geo said was a meeting with Zardari, Gilani and top military leaders, including intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
But analysts say the opposition, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and cricket star Imran Khan who set Pakistan alight by drawing tens of thousands to a political rally last month, will try to exploit the scandal.
On Tuesday, Gilani announced a "detailed investigation at an appropriate level" — the scope and make-up of which remain unclear.
Analysts say the crucial question will be to what extent Zardari is implicated in the steps leading up to the memo, although investigations are generally seen as little more than whitewash in Pakistan.
"Who was responsible? Who was involved?" asked Masood. "He (Haqqani) couldn't have been an author by himself… If they push it to its logical end, then they'll try to undermine Zardari as well," Masood added.
The memo was revealed by US businessman Mansoor Ijaz in an opinion piece in Britain's Financial Times on October 10.
Ijaz wrote that a "senior Pakistani diplomat" telephoned him soon after bin Laden's death, urging him to deliver a message from Zardari to the White House.
Zardari reportedly feared that the military might seize power. At the time, politicians were reportedly keen to use the bin Laden debacle as a means to clip the all-powerful military's wings and strengthen civilian institutions.
According to leaked copies, the memo offers to hand over remaining Al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, eliminate "Section S" of intelligence charged with maintaining Taliban relations and invite US monitoring of its nuclear assets.
Haqqani, long an ardent campaigner of boosting civilian power, has been distrusted by the military since writing a book in 2005, "Pakistan Between Mosque and Military", tracing the military's ties with Islamist militants.
"For the time being, the government has seen off the storm but most opposition parties are likely to use this to score points against the government and to mount pressure on it for change," said analyst Imtiaz Gul.
But Gul said it was premature to conclude that "memogate" could force early elections or bring down the government.
"The only institution who could force the government out is the military and it seems, at least at this moment, they won't be doing that," agreed fellow analyst Hasan Askari.
Confirming his departure, Haqqani has indicated that he will remain involved in public life and struck an upbeat note on his Twitter feed Wednesday.
"Ah! To wake up in my motherland, without the burden of conducting Pakistan's most difficult external relationship," he tweeted.