Memo-Gate Exposes Pakistan’s Fault Lines

They are calling it ‘Memo-gate’ in Pakistan and the whole nation seems to be living up to the excitement that a scandal to parallel the epic proportions of the historic Water-gate scandal of US-back in 1974-could stir.

Pakistan, ostensibly an ideological state, is more prone to scandals than ideology. It has, in any case, desecrated and banished from its collective memory its so-called ideology a long time ago. In its place, it has developed an acute sense of nurturing scandals of all types and living by them. ‘Memo-gate,’ of course, looks like it has overshadowed all previous national scandals already and paled them into boring episodes.

Memo-gate, in a nutshell, is the story of Pakistan’s enigmatic and hideous head of state, Asif Ali Zardari, conjuring up a plan to undercut the authority of the country’s powerful military ‘establishment’ with the help of his mentors in US but, apparently, failing in that bid.

Zardari’s front-man in what was obviously an intriguing cloak-and-dagger operation was Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, who has, since, lost his job and become the first wall-guy in the episode. Haqqani had the dubious reputation of being Zardari’s top henchman. But more than that he was derided and ridiculed by the Pakistani intelligentsia as ‘America’s ambassador’ masquerading as Pakistan’s man in Washington. He’d earned this sobriquet on account of his pandering to the Americans, for whom he used to work as a loyal factotum in the think-tank community of pen-pushers before landing the most coveted diplomatic assignment for a Pakistani technocrat.

The high-drama began on the heels of the May 2 stealth operation by US that eliminated the notorious Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad. That over-publicized operation had embarrassed the Pakistan armed forces to no end and left them smarting.

It seems that Zardari and his scheming minion, Haqqani, thought that vulnerability of the Pakistani military establishment was god-send for them to administer a coup de grace of their own to finish it off for good. Haqqani hired the services of Mansur Ejaz, a Washington lobbyist of Pakistani origin and dubious reputation as an agent of both CIA and Pakistan’s ISI intelligence outfits.

Ejaz was pressed into service to pass on a memo, on behalf of Zardari-Haqqani duo, to the then Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, seeking his help to discipline the Pakistani military establishment and ensure that it didn’t topple the Zardari regime. In return, US were given all assurances that the Pakistan military would be made completely subservient to Washington and cast in its image, literally.

The memo, allegedly, undertook to make sure that the top brass of the Pakistan army would be studded with officers loyal to Washington. Mullen was assured that ISI’s wings would be clipped, as persistently demanded by the Americans, and its special operations division would be disbanded.

The most startling-and for the Pakistanis the most annoying-undertaking in the memo affirmed that US would be given a key role in overseeing Pakistan’s nuclear programme, something the Americans have been after for a number of years, especially since 9/11 and continually disputing Pakistan’s ability to safeguard its nuclear assets.

It’s easy to see why the Pakistani military establishment has taken umbrage to the ‘memo’ and regards it as a blatant effort to breach Pakistan’s national security, particularly its nuclear capability of which it regards itself the sole custodian.
The choice of Mnsur Ejaz as the memo’s messenger was tactically a brilliant move by Haqqani, who obviously saw in it a win-win situation for himself. Ejaz’ dubious credentials as a free-lancer-a euphemism for an agent open to sale to the highest bidder-were a boon to Haqqani. If the Americans swallowed the bait and acted as required in the memo, Haqqani would have collected all the laurels from his ‘boss’ sitting in the President’s House of Islamabad. If the scheme didn’t work out-as it didn’t, eventually-Haqqani thought he’d an escape clause: he would disown the memo, altogether, and blame Ejaz for doing it off his own bat.

This is exactly how Haqqani has been pretending his innocence in the matter and professing no knowledge of it in the wake of the scandal blowing sky-high in Pakistan and taking the country by storm.

But Mansur Ejaz is as clever and crafty and operator as Haqqani is. He not only unraveled the whole scheme in a whistle-blowing piece he wrote for London’s Financial Times, in mid-October but has since passed on every detail of the episode and every bit of material evidence-Blackberry messages and e-mails record etc.-to the head of ISI, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Those privy to the cache of material handed over by Ejaz to the ISI chief contend that it’s enough to bury all those who sought to present Pakistan’s security establishment on a platter to US.

The uproar the unveiling of the scandal caused in Pakistan should be quite understandable to anyone knowing how the Pakistanis have been used to living on the edge. Likening the scandal to the historic Water-gate scandal of 1974 that brought down President Richard Nixon is also understandable. Nixon bore the ultimate responsibility for the scandalous breaking-in of the rival Democratic Party’s headquarters. The American people were convinced of Nixon’s culpability and forced him to step down.

Pakistanis from all walks of life, likewise, have no doubt of Zardari’s culpability in Memo-gate. Zardari has never been an honourable man in the esteem of the Pakistani people. To the man on the street he has the reputation of a crook and a scoundrel who-as the conventional wisdom of Pakistanis dictates-should be in jail but is occupying the highest office of the land because of a quirk of fate and fluke of history. With Zardari’s credibility at zero-and the people of Pakistan having no more tolerance for the culture of loot and plunder that Zardari and his cabal of corrupt cronies in power have taken to abysmal depths-it didn’t take a genius to tell them who the real author of the memo was.

In sharp contrast to Zardari’s image of a thief, the Pakistan army has always had a special place in the hearts of its people. Call it anything, a mental fixation or a legacy of its martial culture, there is a soft spot for the man-in-uniform despite the military’s track record of lording over the country’s political fortunes. With Zardari’s shenanigans and petty intrigues unravelling in full display of a watchful people-whose lives have become an unremitting toil under the corrupt civilian rule-the reservoir of goodwill for the army swelled to a new height.

In the midst of a groundswell for the army-seen as an under-dog in the memo scandal and an unwitting victim of a heinous plot to hand over Pakistan’s national security to aliens-the NATO military strike, of November 26, against a military post in Mohmand Agency, along the border with Afghanistan, took the popular support for the army to unprecedented heights. The murder of 24 Pakistani soldiers fuelled public anger against US to the hilt and, by coincidence, lent more grist to discontent against a thieving and conniving pro-American government.

Zardari, unnerved by crescendo of popular uproar against his corrupt setup and its collusion with a hated US, took fright and fled the country, on December 6, on the excuse of seeking medical help in Dubai, his favourite foreign perch. The tsunami of speculations triggered by his craven flight from a tight spot at home made him more of a villain in the public eye. This perception was directly opposite to the empathy for the military establishment seen under assault from US and its Pakistani hirelings.

The intercession of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the memo scandal has been welcomed by all strata of the Pakistani society, except those currently in power and partner to the crimes of Zardari and his henchmen. The court’s initiative to appoint a special commission to investigate the whole sordid affair has won it kudos from the people. But it also lit a fire under the feet of Zardari and PM Gilani, The hypocrisy of this bumbling-duo stands blatantly exposed to the people of Pakistan, because of their robust insistence that the apex court has no locus standi in the matter.

Zardari sneaked back into Pakistan after 12 days of hibernation in Dubai. However, the ‘prodigal son’s’ return to home shores was as surreptitious as was his flight from it.

During those 12 days when Zardari’s flight to Dubai remained a subject of intense speculation and media debate-as to whether he was gone for good or would return, eventually-and held the people of Pakistan hostage to a state of utter confusion and diffidence. It not only exposed the inherent weaknesses of Pakistan’s tenuous democracy but also served a reminder to the people of Pakistan that there was an urgent need to clean up the mess of governance in Pakistan.

Nothing could be more graphic and illustrative of the structural vacuity of the state system in Pakistan than the manner of Zardari’s mysterious flight from Pakistan, in obvious panic, and his return home wrapped in secrecy and stealth.

It was in every layman’s knowledge in Pakistan that Zardari-with his acute sense of a street-smart thug-had fled the country because he suspected the army was planning to stage another coup d’etat in Pakistan and would grab him as a much-sought trophy. But he’d totally misread the situation. The army may be sick and tired of his antics and shenanigans but has no stomach to upstage his corrupt regime because of fear it would bring upon it international condemnation and opprobrium.

However, Zardari still needed a green-light from the Chief of Pakistan’s Army, General Ashfaq Kayani to return in safety. He got the general’s nod the night before setting sail for Pakistan again in a phone conversation. Assured that the army entertained no ill-will to him or his regime-at least not yet-he came back to carry on the perverse game of deception and deceit that has been the signature theme of his 4 years in power.

The fact that a so-called democratically elected head of state needed a laissez-passe from the army chief to return home is a vociferous manifestation of Pakistan’s macabre political chemistry and dispensation of power. For all intents and purposes it attests to the most prominent feature of governance in Pakistan, i.e. power resides, first and foremost, in the General Headquarters of the army and not in the elected parliament or whatever sham democratic government this may have propped up.

The question why it’s so in Pakistan and how has this weird system of governance survived for so long-it has been there since the first military coup d’etat of October 1958-is largely academic to those familiar with the country’s political history.

Democracy in Pakistan has been hostage to the greed and avarice of hereditary politicians who mostly hail from feudal families and owe allegiance not to the people who have been electing them year-after-year but to their narrow agenda of loot and plunder. The powerful and well-disciplined armed forces-a polished and honed institution-doesn’t mind, up to a point, the lustful politicians making hay under their auspices so long as their core interests aren’t threatened. Few are the politicos with the death wish to challenge the army at its turf or poach on the grounds reserved for the military brass.

However, it leaves the people of Pakistan on shaky grounds and at the mercy of forces-be they in uniform or in civvies-that don’t, necessarily, have any compulsion on them to think of the people’s interests before their own , or think of cleaning up the Augean Stables that political one-upmanship has been in Pakistan for decades.

But there’s still light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hope that the wave of Arab Spring would also, in the course of time, wash up at the shores of Pakistan and stir its people to get rid of the yoke of living under their robber-barons is faintly there. After all, the people of Pakistan swear by the camaraderie, nay kinship, with their Arab brethren.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2012 on page no. 18

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