President Asif Ali Zardari returned to Pakistan Sunday after assurances from the Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani that he will not be implicated in the so-called Memogate scandal that has destabilized Zardari's U.S.-installed government. Beleaguered by the escalating Memogate scandal, President Zardari snuck out of Islamabad in the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 6 to Dubai, where he was admitted to the American Hospital. His sudden departure from Pakistan strengthened speculations about his role in the memo sent on May 10 to Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen through former National Security Advisor Jim Jones.
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In the memo, the Pakistani government sought Washington's help as it feared a military coup following the alleged killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces. "Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the Army to succumb to wholesale changes," the memo said.
On Dec. 17, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held a 2-hour long meeting with Kayani who gave assurance that the army would not implicate President Zardari in the memo conspiracy. It was after this meeting that General Kiyani phoned to President Zardari "to enquire about his health." Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Gilani also met on Friday with U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter and sought "the U.S. to give him the political space."
All this indicates behind-the-scene activities to seek assurances for the beleaguered Zardari regime from the powerful army and Washington since Mansoor Ijaz also claimed on Dec. 3 that he was sure it was President Zardari who had authorized the memo and that both Zardari and Hussain Haqqani had prior information about the May 2 U.S. operation in Abbottabad.
Supreme Court Resumes Hearing of Memogate Scandal
A politically weakened President Zardari returns to Pakistan on the day when the Supreme Court resumes hearing of the Memogate scandal. Both Kayani and ISI Director General Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, in their first official and public statements on the memo scandal on Dec. 14, dropped a bomb by acknowledging the document and expressing satisfaction with the evidence provided by American businessman Ijaz, who sent the confidential memo to Admiral Mullen through Gen. Jim John.
In separate replies filed with the Supreme Court, which is hearing petitions related to the matter, they called for a thorough investigation of the memorandum, which they blamed on former ambassador to the U.S., Haqqani, saying the issue had an impact on national security. General Pasha demanded a detailed investigation, saying "access to unadulterated truth and justice is a right of the people of Pakistan, the real sovereign masters of this country." The other important common feature of both replies is that they confirm that Haqqani had been summoned to the country at their insistence, following which, the premier asked him to resign.
"It was, therefore, important that complete details be established as early as possible. I strongly recommended to the prime minister that our ambassador in the United States, who was best suited and informed on the matter, be called to brief the country's leadership," Kayani said.
Pasha, narrating his meeting with President Zardari on Nov. 18, said he told the president that "the issue pertained to national security and should not be taken lightly. I suggested to the president that it will be in the fitness of things to ask our ambassador in Washington to verify or contradict the matter." The army chief also gave a brief account of a briefing he received on the issue from Pasha on Oct. 24 after the spy chief had met Ijaz in London. "He (Pasha) opined that the evidence shown to him by Ijaz was enough to establish that Ijaz remained in touch with Haqqani from May 9, 2011 onwards and exchanged numerous text messages and telephone calls. As per DG ISI's assessment, the sequence and contents of text messages and telephone calls created a reasonable doubt regarding Haqqani's association with the memo.
Retired Brigadier Asif Haroon Raja wrote in the Pak Tribune that the U.S. has spent a colossal amount on a secret war in Pakistan to accomplish its objectives. Whatever the U.S. had wished for has been penned down in the memo. There was talk of replacing the current military leadership, pledges to abandon support to all militant groups, and offers of 'transparent' and secure handling of nuclear assets among others. "Washington 's political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that" in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington," he wrote.
Raja sees four possibilities behind the confidential memo: 1) the President authored the memo with the help of his confidants and authorized Haqqani to deliver it to Mullen, 2) the President shared his anxiety with Haqqani and later convinced him to seek U.S. assistance and volunteered to do the needful at his end, 3) it was entirely the doing of Haqqani aspiring to become the next prime minister with the blessing of the U.S., or 4) it was a joint venture between Ijaz and the U.S. to create a rift between the Army and Presidency, then instigate Kayani to topple the government and takeover, or, instigate Zardari to sack Kayani and Pasha and then implement the points mentioned in the memo.
On Dec. 1, in the preliminary hearing in the petitions on the memo issue, the Supreme Council, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had constituted a commission headed by former Director General Federal Investigation Agency Tariq Khosa to probe the memo scandal, but Khosa declined to head the commission because of controversy over his personality.
The Supreme Court is likely to form another investigating commission to probe two crucial questions in the Memogate scandal: (1) whether Haqqani had a role in the conception, preparation, and writing of the memo. and (2) whether there was also someone else behind him, prompting him to produce the memo.
Alarmingly, the existence and delivery of the memo to the ultimate recipient stands proved as the originator, Ijaz, said he wrote it. Gen. Jones says he delivered it to Adm. Mullen who says he received it.
7,000 Visas Issued to American Citizens Without Security Clearance
In a new twist to the memo scandal, Advocate of the Supreme Court Tariq Asad, who is a petitioner in the case, has filed a rejoinder in the Court, saying that the replies submitted by Kayani, Pasha and Haqqani did not coincide with the contents of the petition. He told the court that the Pakistani Embassy in the U.S., headed by Haqqani, had issued a total of 7,000 visas to U.S. citizens without security clearance from 2008 to date, out of which, 450 visas were stamped in a single night. He said that from July 14 to Aug. 30, 2010, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington issued as many as 1,445 visas to the U.S. citizens -- mostly in the garb of diplomats without security clearance.
It may be recalled, on May 12, 2011 that Reuters quoted an unnamed senior Pakistani security official as saying that at the end of 2009, a special presidential order was issued to give 7,000 visas, and that the same order was passed through the prime minister's office to Pakistan's ambassador in the United States, Hussain Haqqani. "On the basis of these orders, the visas which were valid for three to six months were issued without the scrutiny or routine security clearance of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)," Reuters reported. "About 450 of those visas were issued to the CIA," the security official told Reuters, adding, "We lost control of CIA operatives in Pakistan."