There’s irony upon irony in the story circulating now that a Pakistani-American businessman named Mansour Ijaz, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, and President Asif Ali Zardari sought US help to overturn the power of Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service, the ISI. Why irony? For decades, since the 1950s, the United States has supported and, in some cases, encouraged Pakistan’s armed forces to seize power in that unfortunate nation. In the 1970s and ’80s Washington backed the bloody dictator General Zia ul-Haq, who hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his civilian, democratically elected predecessor, and then proceeded to Islamize the country. In the 1990s, the United States coddled General Pervez Musharraf, even after 9/11, despite Musharraf’s obvious support for the Taliban.
It all unfolded in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US military forces, which angered the Pakistani army. Reports of a possible army coup d'état were widespread in the wake of the bin Laden killing.
It isn’t clear what really happened in the back-and-forth involving Ijaz, Haqqani, and Zardari. According to one source, it’s unlikely that Zardari would have directly sought American help in what would have amounted to a counter-coup against his own military establishment.
But Ijaz insists that Haqqani asked him to draft a memorandum from Zardari to Mike Mullen, then chairman of Joint Chiefs, seeking American help in a plan by Zardari to forestall a military coup against Pakistan’s shaky and unpopular civilian government. As part of Zardari’s alleged plan, he would have ousted Pakistan’s army chief and the commander of the ISI, replacing them with military men less friendly to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the panoply of terrorist groups that Pakistan has set up and fostered over the last twenty-five years.
Haqqani denies involvement, and he’s offered his resignation. Mullen, for his part, had said that he did receive some sort of communication from Zardari, but he won’t say what—although a spokesman says that he “did not find the memo at all credible.” Haqqani, who has long been on record as questioning the troubling alliance between Pakistan’s army and its religious right, as described in Haqqani’s book Between Mosque and Military, is reportedly viewed with great suspicion by the Pakistan army, which has tried to discredit him since his appointment as ambassador to the United States.
The story has shaken Pakistan’s establishment to the core. The basic problem in that country is that the civilian parties, including Zardari’s own party, have not been able to create any real grassroots power or to function as true political parties. Instead, plagued by corruption and self-dealing, both Zardari’s PPP and the rival party led by the Sharif bothers are virtually powerless and subservient to the armed forces, which is exactly how the generals like it.