Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has had "unauthorized" contact with Asif Ali Zardari, who recently announced his bid to run for president of Pakistan.
Pervez Musharraf recently stepped down from the office after Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party agreed with Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, agreed to seek his impeachment. Sharif announced earlier this week that his party would withdraw from the coalition government, citing broken agreements between he and Zardari, including Zardari's failure to work towards reinstating Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry, former Supreme Court chief justice, and 60 other justices removed by Musharraf during his miscalculated attempt to consolidate his grip on power last November.
Khalilzad has been in touch with Zardari on the phone "several times a week for the past month" the New York Times reports, and had even planned to meet with him in Dubai while ostensibly on vacation. The trip was cancelled after Zardari himself told Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, that Khalilzad had been providing "advice and help".
Boucher then sent an e-mail to Khalilzad and others in the State Department, a copy of which was provided to the New York Times, demanding to know what was going on.
The day before the Times article, the Yirmeyahu Review reported in an analysis that "As the government of Pakistan moves to resettle the political turmoil caused by Musharraf's miscalculated bid to keep his grip on power last year and his recent resignation, the U.S. is scrambling to make the most of the loss of Washington's man in Pakistan."
The Review analysis added that, "With Musharraf gone, public allegations of ISI collusion with terrorism marks a shift in U.S. policy towards Pakistan, the message being clear that whatever occurs with the political scene there, they'd better get behind the U.S. like their man Musharraf had done."
The Times article states, "The Bush administration has long been uneasy with the idea of Mr. Sharif as a potential leader of Pakistan, and now that Mr. Musharraf is out of the picture, the administration, despite public protestation of neutrality, is seeking another ally."
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that agencies of the U.S. government are debating taking military action against militants within Pakistan. Under Musharraf, U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan, though never officially authorized, were tolerated. But the new coalition government elected into power earlier this year, which includes Zardari's party, has expressed outrage at U.S. military action within its borders and cancelled a U.S. military training mission after a U.S. airstrike killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.
Under the Logan Act of 1799, it is a "high misdemeanor" for a United States citizen who is "not duly authorized" to "counsel, advise, aid or assist" any foreign government or officer or agent thereof with relation to "any dispute or controversy between any foreign Government and the United States, with an intent to influence the measure or conduct of the Government having disputes or controversies with the United States".
Whether Khalilzad's contacts with Zardari were illegal or not is unclear at this point. Also unclear is whether Khalilzad was acting alone in providing "advice and help" to Zardari or on behalf of the White House in an effort to bypass the State Department.
In a statement to the Times, the White House said only, "The Pakistani elections are an internal matter for the Pakistani people."