Memogate: The Bigger Picture

This appeared in Daily Times on Tuesday December 6, 2011 as my weekly column BAAGHI

In an op-ed in a British paper, a man claims to have communicated a message from a diplomat to the American establishment. After an aggressive media trial, the diplomat in question has to resign while the heat approached the head of the state whose supposed treason is being heard in the Supreme Court on the petition of a key opposition leader. Welcome to Pakistan!

In all this pandemonium, we forget to make even a meagre attempt at knowing who the initiator of all this fuss was, and what his intent could have been. Mansoor Ijaz has been routinely seen by the Pakistani diaspora in the US showing off his close contacts with the American establishment and governments of the world. The man had been hobnobbing with the Israeli government, India’s RAW officials, governments of Sudan and some Middle Eastern countries as well as jihadi networks in Pakistan, etc. His name came in the Pakistani media after the assassination of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. Reportedly, Ijaz had been one of the interlocutors who helped Pearl establish links through former ISI spook Khalid Khawaja with jihadi networks operating in Pakistan.

While going through the record of Ijaz’s bids to play interlocutor in various could-be deals between governments and international stakeholders, the success rate of his dealings appears to be touching zero. Even his present cause célèbre proves his lousiness as an agent. If he was indeed engaged by Mr Husain Haqqani, the former diplomat in question, to convey the message clandestinely and keep it a secret, Ijaz has miserably failed. And if he were to trap President Asif Zardari through Mr Haqqani while working for someone else, his failure cannot be clearer. The zeal Ijaz is pursuing the case which is not only reductio ad absurdum, but also raises the suspicion that his ‘mission’ might not be over yet.

There can be various scenarios if a positivist method of reasoning is implied to decrypt the saga. If Ijaz is right and Mr Haqqani indeed helped write that memo, the latter should immediately be taken to task: one, for the clumsy English writing, secondly, for trusting Ijaz and making him an agent provocateur and finally, for such maladroit and gauche understanding of politics around. If Pakistan’s security establishment hatched the plan, they need to be implicated for insulting Pakistanis’ basic intelligence, which they are so used to doing by now. If the scheme was conceived by some in the US, they surely are wearing invisible clothes. While people might never know who was behind the ignominy, they would surely see how palace intrigues are played by everyone on the international chessboard, making use of crafted ‘public hue and cry’ administered through a hungry corporate media, copiously used by the movers and shakers of the world who otherwise love to appear ‘moralist’ and ‘ethical’.

Within days of the publishing of Ijaz’s op-ed in a British newspaper, the Financial Times, it was reported that the chief of Pakistan’s premier spy agency boarded a London-bound plane and in an approximately £ 780-per-night suite of an expensive hotel, reportedly a favourite of Pakistani Generals, and allegedly met Mansoor Ijaz for four hours. Supposedly an IT expert, our chief of intelligence went on ‘examining’ the ‘forensic evidence’ and after getting ‘satisfied’ with it, he came back and reported it to his boss, the army chief. Err yes, the army chief, the boss.

Ijaz established the authenticity of the said memo (unsigned by the unnamed author) through the transcripts of BBM conversation that Ijaz claimed took place between him and Mr Haqqani. The BBM conversation involves many subjects of discussion and looks like a heap of different chinwags that someone gives out while establishing himself as an informed person of worth. One thing that the Pakistani media has conveniently chosen to ignore is Ijaz’s confirmation to Mr Haqqani in the BBM conversation that some ‘P’ had gotten the nod from some Arab states for toppling the Zardari government in Pakistan. One wonders if the initial investigator paid any heed to this part of the said BBM conversation transcript or tried to know who that Mr/Ms P was.

If anything was treasonous about the said memo, as already written on these pages, it was ‘treasonous’ for some people at the helm of Pakistan’s security establishment, not the country. The contents of that unauthentic memo, however, are not different from what the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been saying about the civil-military imbalance ever since signing the Charter of Democracy (CoD). Now the PML-N chief is currently in the Supreme Court of Pakistan shrieking about purported treason via the alleged memo. All the points contained in the memo make the demand charter of Pakistan’s civil society as well as nationalist parties, including the PML-N, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and elements in the ANP and the PPP as well. Requesting a foreign country’s help in fixing the military establishment’s unconstitutional and covert hegemony over civilian domains could hardly be said to be treasonous. Noteworthy is the fact that Pakistan’s dictators have been the biggest seekers of foreign help for fixing our security and economic problems. Moreover, if seeking the help of a foreign country is treason, let’s find the person mentioned in Ijaz’s BBM conversation, to be tried for treason for getting the ‘nod from Arab states’ to topple the civilian government.

Here, some bigger questions also emerge. Considering that Mr Haqqani has been an ardent supporter of civilian supremacy and key opponent of Pakistan’s strategic depth policy in Afghanistan, he might have been a target of the strategic depth (SD) proponents and advocates of peace with the Taliban. While it is quite clear now that the US State Department is keen to secure a deal with the ‘good Taliban’ (from an American perspective), they might prefer a slightly pro-Taliban and pro-SD officials (or even government) in Islamabad that would be better placed in working with the so far ‘bad guys’ turned ‘workable’ Taliban. Getting rid of Mr Haqqani was, thus, in the interest of the ‘peace process’ and ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Here we see the merger of forces advocating ‘peace process’ and ‘strategic depth’, apparently at odds with each other so far. Is Mr Haqqani the first civilian casualty in Pakistan of the peace process in Afghanistan?

Mansoor Ijaz’s passionate attempts to bring the ‘truth’ to light could be better understood keeping in view his media somersaults. After his anti-Pakistan-military article in the Financial Times, his subsequent appearances on the media are clearly anti-civilian government too. This may mean a rapidly changing US policy towards what it calls ‘AfPak’. People, who stand for an independent and peaceful Afghanistan free of Taliban-like extremism and barbarism, are going to become not workable, if not outright ‘bad guys’. If indeed this is true, the Democrats would be seen as part of toppling democracy in Pakistan. Who says irony is dead?

After the milestone of ‘Get-Zardari’ is achieved, it seems safe to say that the strategic depth policy will be pursued more aggressively while the Afghan Taliban would get a share in the endgame, larger than anticipated. Little do they seem to realise that returning to a 1989-like situation in Pakistan-Afghanistan would be disastrous for regional peace. While the American and Pakistani establishment appears to be in consonance with each other, will ‘My Lordships’ admit for hearing if Zardari is implicated for treason? The theatrics should, thus, end here.