The ignominious departure of Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, over the so-called “memogate” scandal is yet more evidence of the troubled state of his country. Sadly, the fractured nature of the Pakistani polity has serious repercussions not only for the future of that nuclear-armed country, but also its relations with the US and India.
The memo, purportedly drafted by Haqqani, was reportedly delivered to Adm. Mike Mullen, the US joint chief of staff, through former US national security adviser General James L. Jones by Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani descent, soon after the successful Osama bin Laden raid in May. The convoluted path followed by the messenger was matched only by the incredulous nature of the message.
The unsigned memo hints at the possibility of a military coup and calls for Mullen’s “direct intervention” to “stand down the (present) Pakistani military-intelligence establishment” and its replacement with a “new national security team”. In return, the memo promises that the “new national security team, with the full backing of the civilian apparatus” would carry out a six-point reform of the military-intelligence set-up, including develop a “framework of discipline for the nuclear program”; “eliminate Section S of the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence)”; and cooperate with the Indian government to bring “all perpetrators of Pakistani origin to account for the 2008 Mumbai attacks”.
Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s erstwhile ambassador to the US. Photo: Bloomberg
Mullen and others allegedly saw the memo, but judged that Pakistan’s civilian apparatus would not be able to deliver on the promises and disregarded the memo. Nonetheless, Mullen did go public in his criticism of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment; especially their links with the Taliban and the Sirajuddin Haqqani network (see “Betrayal across the Durand Line”, Mint, 3 October). This might have given hope to the authors of the memo, which evaporated when the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment struck back and successfully scalped Haqqani.
The veracity of the memo notwithstanding, it exposes the fundamental flaw in the Pakistani polity: the inability of any civilian establishment to control the military-security complex without some sort of external “third-party” intervention. While the memo reveals the particular powerlessness of the Asif Ali Zardari government, this was also the case with earlier governments. For instance, while opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is now defending the military-intelligence establishment and calling the memo an act of treason, his government was in a similar predicament during the 1999 Kargil crisis. Indeed, so terrified was prime minister Sharif of his fate from his own military that he ostensibly contemplated seeking refuge in the US while negotiating with president Bill Clinton to end the Kargil war. He was ousted by the last military coup in October 1999.
Interestingly, the inability to bring the military to heel is not limited only to civilian leaders. Even dictators, who come to power with the help of the military-security complex, are unable to do so once they hang up their uniform and severe military ties. This was evident in the case of the transition of Pervez Musharraf from a general to a president.
Ironically, since the 1999 coup, the Pakistani army has become so powerful that it no longer needs to exercise direct power through a military coup. Indeed, the military is able to protect its corporate interests though a sympathetic media, a fragmented civil society and pliant opposition political leaders. Consequently, no civilian government, let alone an accidental diplomat, can challenge them.
In light of this reality, the best efforts of India and Pakistan’s civilian apparatus to normalize relations through a series of bilateral initiatives are likely to yield limited results. Unless Pakistan becomes a normal polity, the only relations it can sustain are those based on conflict.
W.P.S. Sidhu is senior fellow, Center on International Cooperation at New York University
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