Christmas day, December 25, 2011, was an interesting day in Pakistan. That evening, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hosted a dinner for the China’s visiting special envoy, Dai Bingguo.
Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was invited but declined the President’s invitation. This was despite China’s special status in Pakistan. The same evening, Kayani reiterated his support for the democratic political process. The day also saw a rally held in Karachi by former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan’s political party the ‘Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’ (PTI), which attracted a crowd of 500,000 people, unprecedented in recent years. This rally followed another one staged just days earlier on 18th December in Lahore by the terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT, the terrorist organization that carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attacks) and the Afghan Taliban where LeT leader Hafez Sayeed spoke. The rally was attended by 30,000 Islamists carrying banners of the LeT front organization the Jamaat-ud- Dawaa.
These events show that the political situation in Pakistan is extremely fragile and that the Pakistani Army continues to be the final arbiter. The events once again highlighted the tensions that exist between the country’s political establishment and the Pakistan Army. The LeT rally was an unwelcome reminder of the weakening sinews of state power as also the secretive links between the Army and Islamist terrorist groups in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army is in a dilemma as it does not want to be perceived as forcibly ousting an elected government. At the same time it is discomfited by its dented popular image following the successful US raid which eliminated Osama bin Laden and the disastrous US drone attack in Pakistan’s northwest border areas which killed Pakistani soldiers. The Army tried to limit the damage by adopting a tough stance, insisting that US forces vacate the Shamsi airbase. No mention was made of the Shabaz airbase, but it continues to feel that the political government did not respond as it should have, to the violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – nor can it manage the domestic situation or Afghanistan.
The so-called ‘Memogate’ fiasco a couple of months ago signaled the current, new phase of tension and was probably master-minded by the Army.
The circumstances surrounding it are intriguing and mysterious, as are the dramatis personae involved. The 1961-born Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin, is a figure with doubtful antecedents who has tried to carve a role for himself in conflict resolution situations on a couple of occasions including between the US and Sudan and in Kashmir. He is known to be connected to the U.S. State Department and has long been suspected of maintaining links with Pakistan’s Intelligence agency, the ISI.
Given this background, it is strange that the second actor in the drama, Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, should have been in touch with Mansoor Ijaz on such a sensitive issue. Haqqani is intelligent, a survivor, who has been critical of the Pakistan Army till he was appointed Ambassador thanks to his closeness to Benazir Bhutto. He is aware that the Army has a long memory and should have been circumspect in his dealings with Mansoor Ijaz.
The other actors are Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and the U.S. military. The plot as revealed suggests that Zardari instructed Haqqani to use Mansoor Ijaz’s good offices to convey to appropriate authorities in the US Administration that a military coup was imminent in Pakistan.
This plan was for a letter drafted by Hussain Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz to be handed over to the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mike Mullen. Mullen is reputed to be a friend of Pakistan Army Chief Kayani. In fact, till Mike Mullen retired in September, he and the Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani met almost every month. The relationship between Mullen and Kayani was no secret in Islamabad or Washington, which makes it all the more likely that it was intended that the contents of such a communication get back to General Kayani.
The U.S. Administration is well aware of the Pakistan Army’s influence. This was emphasized when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director-designate General Petraeus, and Mullen’s successor General Martin Dempsey, met a Pakistani delegation in Islamabad in mid-October, which comprised only military officers including General Kayani and ISI Director General Shuja Pasha. US-educated Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who has close links to the Pakistan Military, was the sole civilian representative. The meeting was held in Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani’s residence, but he was not an invitee. Wikileaks cables also reveal that Kayani had confided to American officials his utter contempt for Zardari and “hinted that he might, however reluctantly, have to persuade President Zardari to resign”.
It seems clear that the letter was the first step to push the civilian government into a corner. There are sufficient indications that General Kayani was planning to mount a coup and remove Zardari – which is why the latter fled to Dubai. This is confirmed by the meeting between CIA Chief General Petraeus and Zardari in Dubai a few days ago, where the former assured Zardari that it was safe to return to Pakistan as the US had Kayani’s promise that he would not stage a coup. Zardari was the main target and Hussain Haqqani only the fall guy. Why Haqqani walked into the trap remains the subject of speculation. The Pakistan Army’s involvement is also strongly suggested by its stance that the memo does exist and needs to be investigated, which is at sharp variance with that of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. Mansoor Ijaz has also meanwhile made public the trail of messages exchanged between him and Hussain Haqqani via Blackberry.
The final acts of this maneuvering are now being played out. Key to the Army’s plan is Imran Khan, who, according to most accounts, is being supported by the Army and positioned as an acceptable political ally. With Hussain Haqqani’s removal, the Army has rid itself of someone it did not trust; Sherry Rehman, though a Bhutto confidante, is a more acceptable Pakistani ambassador to the US. The think-tank she works for, the Jinnah Institute, which is reported to be funded by her husband Nadeem Hussain, shares the same national security objectives as the Pakistan Army. Though General Petraeus had also apparently conveyed to General Kayani that the US did not favour a military coup and would come down hard if a coup was attempted, and though because of this assurance Pakistan President Zardari returned to Pakistan, indications are that the situation continues to be turbulent and unsettled.
The military might yet act to oust Zardari. This could either be through early elections in a bid to get Imran Khan’s party to secure a large number of seats, or by staging a coup.
Neither of these developments ushers in a period of promise for Indo-Pak relations. Imran Khan’s utterances on Kashmir etc. are indicative of a hardline posture, and any suggestion that they are intended only for the domestic Pakistani audience do not wash. If the Pakistan Army does stage a coup, which option they retain as indicated by China’s signalled support despite US disapproval, then no improvement in Indo-Pak relations is likely. In both cases, the ‘Jehadi tanzeems’ will receive Islamabad and Rawalpindi’s support and continue to target India. In the event of a military take-over the terrorist attacks could become bolder and more lethal.
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