The South Asia Channel
Missing the forest for the memos
This morning Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, resigned his post over the scandal known as "Memogate," whereby Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in ...
This morning Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, resigned his post over the scandal known as "Memogate," whereby Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan’s military establishment. But while Haqqani’s resignation may signal an end to this episode, the prior evolution of events was nothing short of a witch hunt.
The ‘witch’ in question varies depending on whom you speak to. If you’re a member of Pakistan’s opposition parties, Haqqani’s actions were an act of treason, and his resignation is only a further admission of guilt. How dare he, they demand to know, ask for foreign (American) help to control Pakistan’s military? How dare he be secretive about said actions?
If you’re one of those in the ruling party, Mansoor Ijaz is a lying conspirator, a man not to be trusted. The revelation of the memo, they claimed, was really just an excuse to target democracy, to vilify the PPP government. Haqqani’s resignation was not an admission of guilt, but a sacrifice in honor of said democracy.
In the serial drama also known as Pakistani politics, all the key elements have been in place – intrigue, cloak-and-dagger conspiracy, treason, and secrecy. From the outset, it plays out much like an episode of Game of Thrones, where in their thirst for power, the main actors all simultaneously destroy each other (or themselves). Except this is real life, and we’ve seen this episode numerous times before. Politicians are intent on leveraging "Memogate" for their own party ambitions in anticipation of the upcoming elections, while the military sits pretty on the sideline, their hands clean of the public mudslinging. As is often the case, dangling a threat to sovereignty or to Pakistan’s security is enough to stir a feeding frenzy.
For those of us who read the memo in question, who perused through the BlackBerry messages exchanged between Haqqani and Ijaz, and who have read every imaginable op-ed and interview on the controversy, one thing is abundantly clear: even with Haqqani’s resignation, we still are not entirely sure what happened. It is possible that we may never know. We should concern ourselves not with asking hypothetical questions, but asking the right questions. What constitutes treason within the Pakistani narrative? And why are many challenges to the current civil-military status quo met with such accusations?
In the case of this incident, Haqqani’s alleged actions were called treasonous and unpatriotic because he is said to have attempted to challenge the security establishment, to hand over Pakistan’s sovereignty to America. As Fasi Zaka noted in his op-ed for the Express Tribune the memo sought to allow "another state a unilateral deal of internal policy actions without any legal authority [that] bypasses all codes of conduct." Extra negative points if that foreign hand happens to be American.
But shouldn’t we then place other purported back door dealings under similar scrutiny? Why do we continue to be incensed by the alleged attempts by a civilian politician to undermine the security establishment but fail to express similar outrage if the same security establishment undermines a civilian government, whether it be through military coups, backchannel talks with militants to retain strategic depth in Pakistan, or even purported deals permitting a U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
The civil-military imbalance, as also noted by Mosharraf Zaidi for Foreign Policy, is the primary reason behind this disconnect. Pakistan’s military, despite its flaws, has historically projected a stronger and more resolute image than any civilian regime. The national sentiment has long bought into this perception. The charge of treason against former Ambassador Haqqani is, therefore, subjective, laced with emotion, and used conveniently in the semantics of political pot shots to desperately curry favor among the masses. Treason makes for a good sound bite. But in throwing around such accusations, we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Haqqani’s resignation today will be viewed as an admission of guilt to some and a sacrifice to others. But the bigger issue has been left untouched. In terms of Pakistan’s broader civil-military relations, the sign is clear — cross the military, and you will get burned. And as the mudslinging continued, it became increasingly clear that the only players getting dirty and tainted were the politicians. Long live democracy.
Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder/CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i), a start-up that aims to grow the social entrepreneurship space in new markets, beginning in Pakistan. She is based in Washington, D.C., and blogs at CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan.