January issue 2012

By | News & Politics | Published 12 years ago

Clearly, most Pakistani politicians and large sections of the media projected the controversial Memo like a noose, that would firstly strangulate the former ambassador, and then his boss, the president, in a short span of time. A quick settlement of scores, they probably thought. Mansoor Ijaz pointed this scenario in an article on the CNN website, where he described Haqqani as an “honourable” public servant and called for his immunity so that he could name the president and force his ouster.

By implication, the expectation was that Hussain Haqqani would turn approver against Zardari. A pretty naïve expectation, one must say.  Why, because the eagerness of Ijaz and the DG ISI to meet up in London within 12 days of the publication of an article (in which Ijaz demanded that a section of the ISI should be declared “a global sponsor of terrorism”) reeks of foulplay. It also raises questions as to why the ISI chief believed that he personally needed to meet with a person, who claims to have contacts with intelligence agencies in over two dozen countries and who had, in the past, made claims that benefitted one agency or another, before being proved wrong. Soon after 9/11, he said that he had negotiated a deal with Sudan’s government to headhunt Osama bin Laden for the US in 1993, but the Clinton administration failed to do anything about it. The bipartisan US 9/11 Commission later said there was no evidence that Mansoor Ijaz had told the truth. In 2003, he claimed that he had evidence of Saddam Hussein possessing nuclear and chemical weapons, thereby, justifying the US invasion of Iraq. Ijaz also claimed that he knew “through intelligence sources” that Osama bin Laden had been seen in Iran. In each case, intelligence agencies seem to have been the prime beneficiaries of Ijaz’s claims.

As a whole, the Memogate scandal has consumed a tremendous amount of time and resources of this hapless country — already embroiled in so many conflicts and crises — resulting in an unprecedented paralysis of governance. One would hope that the Supreme Court, and critically-thinking analysts and writers, do accord attention to the pressing issues that confront the majority of the 180 million Pakistanis. They probably would be well-advised to try and decipher the real motives of a memo that continues to suck the energies of all and sundry. Little do they realise that instead of harping on about conventionally perceived security threats, the real security threats, at the moment, stem from power and gas outages, crippling inflation, and the millions of marginalised helpless people of Pakistan. Scores of protests against power and gas shortages in the past few days — including the ransacking of utility offices and assets — must be seen as more alarming than a document that draws scepticism and has also become extremely controversial for its content. It requires a dispassionate and critical review, more in light of the current insecurities that the country faces, rather than purported threats that never transcended email exchanges.

The year 2011 also cast ominous shadows over US-Pakistan relations. It began with the murder of two Pakistanis by the CIA’s private security contractor, Raymond Davis, on January 27. The ensuing spat, which continued until Davis’s release on March 17, held the US-Pakistan relationship hostage, and injected more despair and mistrust. On May 2, Pakistan suffered the worst humiliation since the 1971 break-up of the country, when US Navy Seal’s intruded and eliminated the world’s most-wanted person, Osama bin Laden. As if the following weeks of acrimony with Washington were not enough, former US army chief, Admiral Mike Mullen came down hard on the ISI on September 22 by branding the Haqqani network as the “veritable arm of the ISI.”

Only a personal visit to Islamabad by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, managed to defuse tension and set the relationship back on track. Then came the thunderbolt of the November 26 NATO attack on the Pakistani security checkpost, Volcano, in the Mohmand Agency. Viewed as a slap across the Pakistan army’s face, the attack brought Pak-US relations to a grinding halt — with acrimony flowing both ways. It resulted in the longest-ever disruption so far of NATO-US supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistan, and the US also was told to evacuate the Shamsi Air base — the same base the army and the government had consistenly denied was being used by the US to launch drone attacks in Waziristan.

Clearly, the government and the army embarked on a confrontationist path with the United States, and Pakistan’s rejection of the US Army’s investigation report, led by Air Force General Stephen Clark, killed off hopes — at least for the time being — of any meaningful rapproachement and, thereby, resumption of the NATO supplies via Pakistan. That is why the chorus of “scaling down” relations with Pakistan is getting louder in Washington. This obviously bears ominous signs for the year 2012, the forecast for which is not encouraging at all. The balance of payments has never been worse. International oil prices are likely to soar beyond US$100 per barrel. The debt servicing, according to estimates placed before the National Assembly recently, will cross a whopping US$4.2 billion, with no hope of a substantial cut in the defense and internal security budget that currently stands over US$9 billion.

Tens of millions of Pakistan’s poor  will be the direct victims of these crises, which will not end until the ruling elite puts an end to squabbling for personal gains. Pakistan’s mighty military establishment has created and emboldened vested interest groups within political, religious, criminal and social spheres — who are jointly acting like vultures — slicing away the vitals of this country.

The year 2011 ends on an alarming and bitter note for Pakistan: succumbing to the incessant pressures from the religio-political groups, the Islamabad Capital Administration, and the Capital Development Authority — with the mediation of the real estate tycoon Riaz Malik — who signed off 2.5 acres of land in H-11 sector for thereconstruction of the Jamia Hafsa that had once stood by the Red Mosque. Originally allotted around 256 square yards for a day-school facility for girls, the seminary went on to occupy four times the space — illegally. It was eventually demolished following the bloody operation on July 10, 2007, and after several attempts by Maulana Aziz, the authorities have now caved in and allowed them 2.5 acres of land for a new Jamia Hafsa, although the Supreme Court had allowed them only reconstruction on the original 256 square yards.

So much for the rule of law and the political expedience of the real ruling elite. A warning to all and sundry in Pakistan: religio-political groups can impose their will wherever they want.

This cover story was originally published in the Annual 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “Battlefront Pakistan.”