LAHORE: A growing storm over a confidential memo is laying bare the profound division between Pakistan’s powerful army and its civilian government, and the nation’s relationship with the United States is again at the center of the gulf.
At issue are allegations that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari asked for U.S. help to prevent a military coup after the Navy SEAL raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The claim is thought to have enraged Pakistan’s army, and the resulting controversy prompted Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, to offer his resignation this week.Zardari’s government has nominally been leading Pakistan since 2008.
But real power remains in the hands of the military, which has ruled the South Asian nation for half its 64-year existence and was livid after the U.S. operation against bin Laden. Though both the army and the civilian government receive billions of dollars in American assistance, the military views the United States, and its support for Zardari’s unpopular administration, with deep distrust.
That attitude is widespread in Pakistan, where patriotism is equated with support for the military and the United States is often seen more as bully than friend.Against that backdrop, a column published last month in the Financial Times has proved explosive. In it, Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz asserted that a senior Pakistani diplomat — whom he identified Thursday as Haqqani — asked him to help relay a request to the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to stop the military from staging a coup.
The memo, a copy of which was provided by Ijaz to The Washington Post, warns that a military takeover would result in “potentially the platform for far more rapid spread of al Qaeda’s brand of fanaticism and terror.” The upheaval in the wake of the bin Laden killing, it said, provided “a unique window of opportunity” for “civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates.”It said that in exchange for U.S. “direct intervention” to convey a strong no-coup message to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, leader of Pakistan’s military, a newly appointed civilian national security team would shepherd an independent investigation of the bin Laden matter and terminate any “active service officers” found to have been complicit in concealing the al-Qaeda leader.
Pakistan, it said, would also move to hand over all remaining al-Qaeda leaders on its soil, as well as Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani insurgent network. Alternatively, it could give “U.S. military forces a ‘green light’ to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil,” the memo said.It said the civilian government would eliminate “Section S” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, a unit that handles relations with insurgent groups; bring to justice the perpetrators of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai; and implement new measures to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. – WP