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Memo Publication Escalates Scandal In Pakistan

PKKH

November 19, 2011

A furore over claims that Pakistan’s president tried to make a secret deal with the US to bring the country’s powerful generals under control intensified when a newspaper published details of the memo at the centre of the scandal.

The "Memogate" affair has thrust a long-running power struggle between civilians and the military into the open and could potentially threaten the administration of Asif Ali Zardari, the president.

The controversy hinges on a claim that Mr Zardari authorised Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, to send a memo to a top US official seeking help in preventing a coup following the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Both men deny the claims.

The charge that civilian officials sought Washington’s help to assert control over Pakistani generals is a highly incendiary one in a country where the military portrays itself as the guardian of patriotic virtue and the US is often seen as an enemy.

The storm widened on Friday when The News, an opposition-leaning daily, published a copy of the memo, the full contents of which had not previously been public. A column in the paper questioned whether the president might be guilty of treason, fuelling questions over whether Mr Zardari’s own position might be threatened if the scandal deepens.

The opposition seized on the coverage to pile pressure on Mr Zardari as political temperatures rise ahead of elections due in early 2013.

"The government is claiming it is investigating this issue, but we’ve not seen any positive action," said Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister and one of the most influential politicians in the populous Punjab province.

Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, sought to calm tempers by reminding members of the National Assembly that he had summoned Mr Haqqani to Islamabad to offer an explanation.

"We should show political maturity. I have already summoned the ambassador here in Pakistan. Let’s wait," Mr Gilani said.

The memo’s existence was first revealed by Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, who referred to it in an opinion on Thursday that Mr Haqqani approved the memo and told him it was authorised by "the boss" – a reference to Mr Zardari.

Mr Ijaz wrote in his FT article that he had helped deliver the memo to Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. The claim, which raised eyebrows in Islamabad, was initially dismissed as a "fantasy" by Mr Zardari’s spokesman.

But Adm Mullen injected new impetus into the affair this week when his spokesman confirmed that he had indeed received the document, although he had not found its contents credible.

The authors of the unsigned document offer concessions including help in tracking down the remaining leaders of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the installation of a new team of Washington-friendly civilian officials to oversee the security forces, and an offer to allow US troops to hunt militants on Pakistani soil.

The authors also promised to disband "S-Wing" – a section of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency which they said was responsible for maintaining relations with Taliban militants fighting Nato forces in Afghanistan.

"A unique window of opportunity exists for the civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates due to their complicity in the UBL (Osama bin Laden) matter," the memo said.

Any such manoeuvring would be certain to have infuriated Pakistan’s military, which regards itself as the ultimate arbiter of the country’s destiny and continues to define the limits of civilian authority in spite of the formal end of army rule.

Mr Haqqani has denied any involvement in the memo and said the allegations are the result of a propaganda campaign to smear him. He has, however, offered to resign if it will help to defuse the controversy.

"The target is not me, the target is President Zardari and Pakistani democracy," he said in Washington.





:: Article nr. 83271 sent on 20-nov-2011 22:43 ECT

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Link: www.pakistankakhudahafiz.com/2011/11/19/memo-publication-escalates-scandal-in-pa
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