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Top Pakistan envoy to U.S. called back over reported coup memo

Ambassador Husain Haqqani faces questioning over a businessman's claim of passing along a memo from Pakistan's president seeking U.S. aid fending off a possible military overthrow.

November 18, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, speaks in Washington in 2008. He has been recalled to Islamabad to explain his involvement with a purported memo soliciting U.S. aid in fending off a possible military coup.
Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, speaks… (Gerald Herbert, AP )

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan —  

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States was summoned back to Islamabad this week to explain his role in a purported attempt to get Washington's help in reining in his country's powerful military.

The envoy, Husain Haqqani, faces questioning in a controversy involving a Pakistani American businessman's claim that the businessman passed along a memo from President Asif Ali Zardari seeking Washington's assistance in fending off a possible military overthrow.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, claimed in a newspaper column Oct. 10 that he delivered the memo to Adm. Michael G. Mullen, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the request of an unnamed senior Pakistani diplomat. The request reportedly came after the U.S. commando raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The country's top civilian leaders have dismissed Ijaz's assertions as outlandish, and Haqqani has adamantly denied any involvement in the alleged memo. Nevertheless, Haqqani has offered to resign to defuse the controversy, which could severely worsen tension between Zardari's government and the military, led by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

Zardari has not indicated whether he would accept Haqqani's resignation. In a statement issued late last month, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua called the allegations "a total fabrication.... The insinuations and assertions in the fictitious story are devoid of any credence and are emphatically rejected."

In the column in Britain's Financial Times, Ijaz said a senior Pakistani diplomat had called him a week after U.S. commandos killed Bin Laden on May 2 in the military city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the Al Qaeda leader had been hiding for five years. Ijaz said the diplomat told him that the Bin Laden raid had deeply embarrassed the government, and that Zardari was concerned that the military could make him a scapegoat and stage a takeover.

Ijaz said Zardari "needed an American fist on his army chief's desk to end any misguided notions of a coup — and fast."

Ijaz also said Zardari offered to eliminate a wing of Pakistan's intelligence services that nurtured links with the Afghan Taliban and a Taliban offshoot that the U.S. now regards as the worst threat to Western and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan.

Ijaz did not name Haqqani as the diplomat involved, but within the Pakistani media suspicion has centered on Haqqani. The envoy allegedly wanted Ijaz to convey a memo to Mullen, which Ijaz did May 10.

The website of Foreign Policy newsmagazine quoted Mullen's spokesman at the time, Navy Capt. John Kirby, as saying Mullen initially did not remember the memo, but later was able to track it down. "He did not find it credible at all and took no note of it," Foreign Policy quoted Kirby as saying.

Pakistan's military leaders appear to be taking Ijaz's allegations seriously. This week Kayani met with Zardari, and though the substance of the meeting was not divulged, Pakistani news reports said reported that Kayani raised the military's concern about the memo.

Zardari has been at odds with Pakistan's military commanders since taking over as president in 2008. Though constitutionally Pakistan's security establishment is supposed to be subordinate to the civilian government, in reality the military together with its powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, wield control over the country, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

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