ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani-American businessman said on Friday that Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States had asked him in May to appeal to the Pentagon to help the civilian government ward off a coup by Pakistan’s powerful military.
Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin based in Zurich, said in a column in the Financial Times last month that a senior Pakistani diplomat asked for assistance in getting a message from President Asif Ali Zardari to Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ijaz told Reuters on Friday he wrote a memo outlining the civilian government’s fears of military intervention and sent it to the Pentagon on the instructions of Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.
The affair highlights the fundamental tension in Pakistani politics since the nation was founded in 1947 -- competition for power between civilian politicians and military commanders.
That Zardari wants to exert greater civilian control over the powerful military is an open secret in the capital, Islamabad.
But the memo, which the Pakistan ambassador denies writing, would appear to show the civilian government trying to bring the United States in on its side in the struggle with the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its history.
The memo requested Mullen’s intercession to stave off any coup but added that with the military on the defensive after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on his Pakistani hideout, there was an opportunity to bring it to heel.
Ijaz said Haqqani called him on May 9, one week after the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden, to help get a message to the Americans.
“The memo’s content in its entirety originated from him,” Ijaz told Reuters, referring to Haqqani.
”At a certain point he started talking so fast, I opened up my computer and I started typing the basic outline of the verbal message he wanted me to transmit.
“He was originally asking me to deliver a verbal message. And when I went back to my U.S. interlocutors -- all three of them -- said they wouldn’t touch this unless it was in writing.”
Haqqani has denied any connection with the memo.
“I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz’s claims and assertions,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “I did not write or deliver the memo he describes, nor did I authorize anyone including Mr Ijaz to do so.”
On Wednesday, Haqqani offered his resignation to Zardari, but it has not been accepted. He has, however, been summoned to Islamabad.
Copies of the memo have been published in Pakistan with the controversy stoked by anti-American and anti-government media speculating whether it was authorized by Zardari or if Haqqani was acting on his own. Ijaz says he doesn’t know.
Haqqani has said: “Zardari doesn’t even know this guy.”
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the matter on Friday.
The memo’s contents are likely to anger Pakistan’s military, which sets foreign and security policies. In recent months, there has been sharp tension between the weak civilian government and the military leadership.
Ijaz wrote in the newspaper column that Zardari feared a military takeover following the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden, which brought intense pressure on the army.
He told Reuters that Haqqani approached him in the days immediately after the raid, asking for help against what he feared was an imminent coup.
“Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the army to succumb to wholesale changes,” the memo states according to published reports, which Ijaz confirmed matched the document he sent to Mullen.
“I don’t know if Haqqani had a blanket power of attorney with Zardari, whether he ever discussed this with Zardari or whether he was acting on his own,” he said.
In the memo, the military and intelligence agencies are accused of being complicit in aiding bin Laden. The military has repeatedly said it had no links to bin Laden.
Mullen has said he received the note, but his staff said he took no action.
“Neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm. Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani government,” said Captain John Kirby, who was his spokesman when he was in office.
“He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it.”
(This story is corrected to make clear in the first two paragraphs that businessman is
American of Pakistani origin, not Pakistani.)
Additional reporting by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel and Kevin Liffey