This was written for Daily Times, appeared as my weekly Op-Ed BAAGHI on Monday November 21, 2011
By now we all know what Memogate is, and what memo we are referring to here. Without going into the details of what happened or did not happen between Mr Husain Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz, one has to admit that the contents of the memo represent a most pressing issue that Pakistan faces today. It is high time that we bring civil-military relations to a meaningful public debate.
The public outrage manufactured within the past couple of weeks through some sections of the media, trained and adept at manipulating public opinion on anything their bosses assign them, moved into action rather briskly. The din approached its crescendo when Imran Khan got the nod to bring it up in his rally two weeks ago. And now the media is in generous supply of information about the saga, bit by bit. In a very typical spooky way, we are fed up with the bits of supposed conversation that they claim had happened between some Mansoor Ijaz and Mr Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington. In all this euphoria of mindless hatred directed at persons, we in this rush of adrenalin are once again forgetting to bother our brains that are tutored to blindly go in the directions normally set against the civilian set-up.
Irrespective of who authored it, I decided to give the memo, now available on the internet, a cursory look without listening to angry anchors and their fit-for-mental-asylum guests (some of them start shouting at random Americans in restaurants). While reading the memo I realised that the contents point to some very important issues every Pakistani should stand for. Mainly the memo seeks the recipient for his “direct intervention in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and General Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus”. Is it not what many of us would always stand for? I mean, only if we are patriotic enough to believe in democracy and civilian supremacy.
Next, the memo goes on to describe how this ‘intervention’ could be beneficial for the US itself (which we may note here, has always been supportive of Pakistan’s military dictators). These lines appear to be a bid to ‘market’ the main proposition of the memo, i.e. Mullen may convey a strong message to Kayani that civilian supremacy should not be undermined. Then, like a good salesperson, the author of the memo goes on to describe what changes could be brought in the aftermath of such message from the US that could go for the benefit of both the US and Pakistan. The conservatives (in the strict Pakistani sense) at home might comprehend international relations as a zero-sum game, but the sad fact for them is that it is no more like that. Two or more nations could be winners simultaneously in today’s globalised world.
The revamping of the civilian structure ‘favourably viewed’ by Washington may keep the Hizb-ut-Tahrirish elements at bay, one might think, it may include committed and progressive Pakistanis like Salmaan Taseer was or now Mian Nawaz Sharif is (although there is no apparent parallel between the two and I am not accusing Nawaz Sharif of having progressive credentials according to my standards). We, after all, have been letting some other countries poke their noses in our internal affairs quite frequently in the past. We send our democratically elected prime ministers into exile on the guarantees of some foreign rulers. And we do not even blink our eyes. We let our land be used by terrorists from all over the world and do not get bothered much. We allow the world’s most sought-after terrorist enjoy the safety of our garrison town for half a decade and then shelter ourselves comfortably behind the ‘incompetence, not complicity’ argument.
Next, the memo lists a number of steps that could be taken in case the civilian leadership is empowered by General Kayani after getting the message by Mullen, his friend. First of these is an independent enquiry into the Abbottabad incident and how Osama bin Laden could live in Pakistan for such a long time. Second, the enquiry would be impartial and would be of tangible value in the sense that if anyone was found guilty, they would be taken to task whether they come from the civilian, intelligence or military institutions. That sounds like a revolution! If it happens, Pakistan would see a new dawn, would usher in a new era of peace, respect and esteem among the comity of nations. Third, all terrorists operating on Pakistani soil would be either captured or killed by one means or another. What could be more ‘patriotic’ than eliminating terrorists from Pakistan’s soil? Pakistanis deserve a better future without any references to the terrorists being harboured on their land.
Fourth, and the most important proposal as spelled out in the memo is about our nuclear assets, which our forces fear, are, vulnerable — especially keeping in view the stealth capabilities of the US. The memo says that to make the nukes more secure, an acceptable framework of discipline is carried forward as started by the previous military regime. The national security team spearheading this proposed framework would be initially civilian but eventually would entail all three power centres. For a democratic, sensible and peaceful Pakistan, nothing could be more appropriate than this.
The fifth proposal is the most sensitive one, especially for the one who rushed in a hurry (supposedly without the knowledge of the supreme commander of the forces) to a godforsaken European country to collect forensic evidence from this infamous Mansoor Ijaz guy. This killer proposition promises the shunning of the Directorate S of our premier intelligence agency, the ISI. For beginners, Directorate S is the wing that has been responsible for all the mess that the ISI is accused of creating in Afghanistan through proxies and agents. The removal of this wing would ensure lesser ISI control on foreign policy in general and revision of the crazy policy of gaining more strategic depth in Afghanistan in particular. An abandonment of the strategic depth policy would allow the civilians to take corrective measures in our Afghanistan policy, which would ultimately lead to better relations with Afghanistan and real strategic depth.
No, hell’s doors are not closed yet. Another bombshell for our security establishment is yet to come in the memo. It is about enquiry and investigation of alleged Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, 2008. Not only an enquiry but the memo also proposes the handing over of those proven guilty after sufficient evidence to the Indian security forces. This is like an ultimate sniff of red chillies for our security establishment.
If this happens, Pakistan will be another country. We would be a country with our heads proudly held high having a higher moral ground and better prospects of progress and respect in the region. The only loser will be our security establishment, which has been eating up Pakistan’s resources and Pakistanis’ lives, including our precious soldiers, for the wars they keep creating at the expense of the poor of Pakistan. Mr Haqqani has categorically denied any involvement in this but if something happens to him, we precisely know who needs to be incriminated.