The memo that saved Zardari - at what cost?
Shaheen Sehbai...News Analysis
DUBAI: The sensational Financial Times revelation about a secret memo from President Asif Ali Zardari to President Obama, through Admiral Mike Mullen, has exploded on the Pakistani political scene, with Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali raising it in the National Assembly and TV channels speculating on its credibility. But some key facts are being ignored.
The first is the critical decision by the Financial Times, a newspaper of the highest repute and standing, to go ahead with the article written by Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin who has a long history of interactions with the top Pakistani military and civilian leaders on key security issues, including governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the 90s.
The FT is not likely to publish something which it cannot substantiate if it was so required, so any number of denials and clarifications by our diplomats or the presidency will only be for domestic consumption and would mean nothing. The US would, obviously not comment on any of this as policy.
The second, and larger issue, however, is what else was contained in the memorandum as reported in the FT Comment Page. The real facts would come out if and when the full text of that memo ever gets out. In my view, such memos are not a one-point declaration but contain a full case, argued on the basis of assumptions, promises and commitments in return for actions, assistance and public affirmations along particular policy lines.
If this is the case in this memo, then it is quite possible that for a huge favour like stopping the Pakistan Army from staging a coup against the civilian government, a lot more may have been offered and promised.
Some points raised in the FT article hint at these additional commitments. For example, what did Ijaz mean to tell us by writing about "a new national security team". Could President Zardari have promised to remove the entire present leadership of the Pakistan Army, including General Kayani and General Pasha, and to bring in his own team, which would not be so resistant to the US demands of helping out the Americans in Afghanistan.
If evidence comes to light that this memo was sent through a top Pakistani diplomat, then there would be many questions about how our foreign office and foreign service are being run, because anything of this sort cannot simply pass through the normal Foreign Office channels and must have been done by bypassing all the established SOPs. In that case, a full and thorough probe needs to be carried out as to how and through which way this message was conveyed and what it contained.
The third key issue is the credibility of the writer, Mansoor Ijaz, a man once dubbed by our ambassador to Washington as the "silent billionaire", a self-made man as one of the world's top investment minds and with friends in the highest defence, national security and political echelons of many governments around the world, a man who surely doesn't need the headache of dealing with our incestuous politics while he jets around the French Riviera.
Ijaz, it may be recalled, was involved in mediating in Sudan during the Clinton presidency, where he secured critical counter-terrorism assistance for the US authorities. He was also the man who worked behind the scenes to get a statement issued by the then Vice President Al Gore against a possible military coup during Benazir's second tenure. In fact, I personally attended the event where Gore came to join Pakistani activists at a fundraiser and out of the blue ended his speech with the warning that no military coups would be tolerated in Pakistan.
Wajid Shamsul Hassan, the then Pakistan High Commissioner to UK, had specially flown to Washington to attend the event, knowing that such a statement would be made by Gore.
Again, during the Benazir government when Nawaz Sharif was the opposition leader, it was Mansoor Ijaz who arranged quietly for Sharif to meet with senior US national security officials at the White House when he could not get a phone call answered in Washington. He was deeply involved in bringing Sharif to a seminar held by the Carnegie Endowment on Pakistan's nuclear programme to make Nawaz appear more rational when after an earlier statement had been made by Nawaz that Pakistan could explode the bomb. That was at least two or three years before Nawaz came back to power and officially made Pakistan a nuclear power.
In that event, when Maleeha Lodhi was the Pakistan Ambassador in US, a host of speakers took part in the seminar, including Lt Gen KM Arif and the then Editor Najam Sethi. Robin Raphael was the then Assistant Secretary of State. Mansoor Ijaz also made a speech in the seminar.
Nawaz Sharif spoke on the sensitive subject but refused to take any questions from the audience as this was his condition to participate in the seminar.
In 1999, just weeks after the bloodless coup that brought Pervez Musharraf to power, Mansoor Ijaz got involved in a much publicised effort to bring Pakistani and Indian sides closer to a solution on Kashmir and I know it for a fact that he had contacts with the ISI and the Indian intelligence leadership to go ahead with his effort. The summit between Musharraf and India's Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra came about much because of this ceasefire that was declared in the summer months of 2000.
Given this background, there cannot be any doubt that a senior Pakistani diplomat contacted Mansoor Ijaz with the message for the US leadership in the way the FT article revealed. Surely, the text of the memo to which Ijaz refers, which was finally sent on to Admiral Mike Mullen, must have been revised and written many times over, with each word carefully considered.
With such intense interactions, which must have taken place, there has to be a record of some kind, some telephone calls, some emails or SMS messages or other communication to prove that all this was going on before this memo was agreed to and then finally sent to the US.
Whatever happened will come out, but the effect this memo had was astonishing, not for us but even for General Kayani as he reportedly went on record to express surprise that in Spain Admiral Mullen had a very cordial meeting with them and then two days later he came out with a charge against Pakistan Army.
This matter appears to be much deeper than it looks and needs to be properly investigated by the Pakistani authorities.