Memogate: storm in a teacup?

A memo, allegedly written at the behest of President Asif Zardari and approved by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Mr Husain Haqqani, has seemingly riled up the country’s military establishment. The memo was delivered to the then American military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, through a Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz. According to Mr Ijaz, the Pakistani government feared a military coup after the Abbottabad raid earlier this year in May. The memo asks for American help in stopping the Pakistan Army from staging a coup. In return, the civilians ‘promised’ to eliminate terrorism from Pakistani soil, among other things.

Mr Haqqani has categorically denied his involvement in this issue. Mr Ijaz, known for his anti-ISI and anti-Pak army views, apparently met ISI chief General Shuja Pasha and handed him some kind of ‘evidence’ corroborating his side of the story. An investigation will now take place in Pakistan to ascertain the facts. Mr Haqqani has returned to Pakistan to face an inquiry. On November 22 he resigned from his diplomatic post. In an interview with Yahoo News, he said, “I have resigned to bring closure to this meaningless controversy threatening our fledgling democracy. A transparent inquiry will strengthen the hands of elected leaders whom I strived to empower.” This seems to be a sensible move but it also raises many questions.

The detractors of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are baying for blood and calling it high treason. But until and unless the investigations prove Mansoor Ijaz’s story, we cannot jump to conclusions about the veracity of ‘Memogate’, as this scandal has been dubbed by the media. As far as the contents of the memo are concerned, they are not treasonous. In fact, the points raised in the memo are pertinent to civilian supremacy. This is the core issue.

Four military dictators – General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf – ruled Pakistan for 33 years. Apart from three decades of direct military rule, our army has also been calling the shots one way or the other. Apart from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure, no other democratically elected government has had complete control over its policies, especially when it comes to foreign affairs and security issues. The PPP-led coalition government came into power in 2008 and from the very first day moves were afoot to destabilise democracy. Somehow, it has survived up till now. Whether it will be able to complete its five-year tenure cannot be said with certainty. Apart from palace intrigues, domestic politics has also heated up. The main Opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is wary of the PPP gaining an upper hand in the upcoming Senate elections in March 2012. So far Mian Nawaz Sharif has played a pragmatic role by not derailing the democratic process but it seems that the rising popularity of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has shaken the confidence of the ruling party in Punjab. There are speculations that the PML-N is now considering resigning en masse from the federal and provincial assemblies before March. This does not bode well for democracy in Pakistan.

The reason for the imbalance in the civil-military relations is due to the fact that democracy has never been allowed to take root in the country. We have seen in the past that whenever politicians try to bring each other down, they cede space to the undemocratic forces. The only beneficiary of such catfights is the military establishment. Memogate has damaged the credibility of the civilian government. Mr Haqqani was its first victim but he will not be the only one. The real victim is the entire political class.

On November 23, the government of Pakistan announced Ms Sherry Rehman’s name as Mr Haqqani’s replacement in Washington. Despite her impeccable credentials as a leading politician, journalist and human rights activist, the Jinnah Institute – Ms Rehman’s think tank – has come under some criticism for promoting the establishment’s security policies. In her appointment, some analysts believe, the military seems to have won once again. Mr Haqqani was not much liked in the establishment circles because of his independent thinking and for promoting the interests of the civilian government in the international arena. On the day he resigned, Mr Haqqani tweeted, “I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance. Will focus energies on that.” While Mr Haqqani focuses his energies on building a new Pakistan, the country’s political class should focus its energies on civil-military relations and achieving civilian supremacy.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


Popular posts from this blog

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part V)

The myth of September 6, 1965

Freedoms and sport