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Pakistan’s “memogate”: As you were

1532a 20111126 ASP006 0 Pakistan’s “memogate”: As you wereSherry Rehman won’t be writing memos

OFTEN during Pakistan’s turbulent history has the army’s 111th Brigade swept out of its headquarters in Rawalpindi, scooted to Islamabad 20 minutes away, and effortlessly taken over the government. These days, under General Ashfaq Kayani, the soldiers know it is wiser to rule from behind the scenes, with a weak civilian government taking the blame for the country’s problems. On November 22nd the army heaped humiliation on the government, pressing it to jettison Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, a smooth operator, over allegations that he crafted an offer to rein in the Pakistani army and its spy agency in return for American help in averting a feared coup.

The offer to the American administration was made in an unsigned memo, which Mr Haqqani denies writing. It was sent to America’s military high command in May, during a time when relations were febrile following the killing in Pakistan by American special forces of Osama bin Laden. The memo’s existence was revealed only in October, by the controversial American businessman of Pakistani origin who delivered it. It was supposedly composed on the instructions of Mr Haqqani acting on behalf of President Asif Zardari. The incendiary document proposed that government would dismantle the wing of the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence responsible for dealing with the Taliban, in return for American support.

Though the bin Laden raid was a huge embarrassment to the army, the “memogate” scandal showed again that real power in Pakistan still lies with the soldiers. No evidence pins the memo to Mr Zardari. Its recipient, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he did not take it seriously. The army and the friendly television stations it whipped up forced Mr Haqqani’s exit before an investigation into the matter had even begun.

Mr Haqqani had once written a book detailing the links between the army and jihadists. In America his connections ensured a direct line to top decision-makers. The armed forces had never liked having the country’s most important relationship entrusted to him.

The government has saved a little face by appointing Sherry Rehman to succeed Mr Haqqani as ambassador in Washington. She is a rare politician of substance in the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She has a record as a campaigner for human rights. And she supports the government’s welcome attempts to improve ties with India, the army’s eternal enemy. Yet the soldiers do not seem to mind her. She argues for more American understanding of army views that, she says, are shaped more by fears about a dangerous region than by self-serving ambition. The 111th can stand easy for now.


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