- By Huma Imtiaz
In his last official event as an ambassador, barely an hour after the un-redacted transcripts of his alleged Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversations with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz were released, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani bore a grim expression as authors read out from short stories and poetry at the Pakistan Embassy (in the interest of full disclosure, I frequently cover issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and have interviewed Ambassador Haqqani a number of times).
Later that evening, he lost his cool with the media after they harassed him for a sound byte on Ijaz’s accusations that Haqqani was the "senior diplomat" who led a plan following the death of Osama bin Laden to solicit American assistance to prevent a coup in Pakistan, and to help remove the country’s senior military and intelligence personnel, by means of a "backchannel" memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. At the time he denied any involvement and said his fate was in President Asif Ali Zardari’s hands, a position he maintains.
A day later, he boarded a flight to Islamabad.
This morning, news outlets reported on a meeting taking place at the Prime Minister’s House with President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence head honcho Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha with the ambassador. Not long after the meeting, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was then accepted by the PM. According to Pakistani news channels, the Prime Minister asked for the Ambassador’s resignation. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Gilani said, "As a result of controversy generated by the alleged memo which had been drafted, formulated and further admitted to have been received by Authority in USA, it has become necessary in National interest to formally arrive at the actual and true facts." Further details on what really happened in the meeting weren’t available, but for days, many had speculated that this would be the expected outcome.
Several names for replacements for Haqqani have been making the rounds since he offered to resign last week, in light of the "memogate" disclosures. These include current Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, the current Pakistani representative to the United Nations Hussain Haroon, and former Pakistani Army chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat.
Lodhi, when asked about whether she would want to be ambassador, said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) last week that she had picked up the American expression, "three strikes and you’re out." Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington under Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf’s governments respectively.
Bashir, who at 59 years old is due to the reach the age of retirement soon, could be asked to resign from the Foreign Office and become a political appointee to the United States. Bashir’s brother is Admiral Noman Bashir, the former Chief of Naval Staff, and he is viewed as being close to the military and establishment. He was also part of the Pakistani delegation that met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York in September.
But beyond the rumours on Ambassador Haqqani’s replacement, there are dozens of unanswered questions about "memogate." Who was responsible for the contents of the memo, which did not reflect Haqqani’s polished and erudite English prose? (Though by all accounts the alleged BBM transcripts closely resemble Haqqani’s style). Why did they decide to use Mansoor Ijaz, who has a history of making extravagant and sometimes false public claims? And lastly — what motive did all the players have for their roles in this episode?
More importantly though, it is unclear how this affair will impact civilian and military relations within Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistani Army was not Haqqani’s biggest fan — and if it turns out they insisted on his resignation, one can expect that they plan to call the shots with Pakistan’s next emissary to Washington.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org