ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s former envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani, is no stranger to intrigue. But even he didn’t anticipate finding himself effectively imprisoned amid a scandal involving a shady memo, a businessman with unclear motives and allegations of treason.
He is caught up in a tense stand-off between Pakistan’s civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May.
Now fearing for his life, he has taken refuge in the opulent hilltop home of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad.
The scandal broke three months ago when businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that the memo be delivered to the U.S. Defense Department for help in reining in the military.
Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Haqqani, who was never liked by the military for his strong advocacy of civilian supremacy. No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.
Haqqani returned to Pakistan in November and resigned as ambassador in a bid to end the crisis. He denies that he had anything to do with the memo and says he is fighting the traditional foes of civilian government in Pakistan.
“Since the 1980s, there are powerful interests within the permanent state apparatus as well as outside who want to control the definition of what it means to be a Pakistani patriot,” Haqqani told Reuters Friday at the prime minister’s residence.
He avoided naming the powerful Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but it was clear he considers parts of the military spy agency responsible for his troubles in a scandal that the media has dubbed “memogate.”
Pakistan’s Supreme Court set up a judicial commission last week to investigate the memo, keeping Haqqani nervous.
He has some allies still in Washington. Senators Mark Kirk, John McCain and Joe Lieberman issued a joint statement on Thursday decrying his treatment.
“We are increasingly troubled by Ambassador Haqqani’s treatment since he returned home to Pakistan, including the travel ban imposed on him,” the senators said.
“We urge Pakistani authorities to resolve this matter swiftly and consistent with civilian rule of law and to prevent the judicial commission investigating Ambassador Haqqani from becoming a political tool for revenge.”
“Memogate” encapsulates the two issues that have troubled Pakistan for decades, and which dominate national debate: the relationship between the military and civilian governments and Pakistan’s ties with the United States.
Friction between the civilian leadership and the generals has bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.
Another takeover could further tarnish the military’s public image, which took a battering after the surprise bin Laden operation by U.S. Navy SEALs that was widely seen as an intelligence failure.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani last month dismissed coup rumors as speculation and said the army supported democracy.
Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is just as contentious. Anti-Americanism is rampant, and any whiff of collusion with Washington can lead to accusations of treason, which Haqqani has - so far - successfully deflected.
But now, the “j’accuse” brigade in the press have grown louder and more visceral, and Haqqani fears for his life should he step outside the prime minister’s well-guarded grounds.
“I’m not a prisoner, I’m a guest. But for all practical purposes, I can’t go out, because what if someone shoots me like they did Salman Taseer?” he said.
Taseer, the former Punjab governor, was assassinated a year ago Wednesday by one of his own bodyguards for calling for changes to Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was lionized across the country as a hero.
Haqqani’s former lawyer doubts justice would prevail in any legal proceedings against him. And merely associating with the man who once enjoyed Pakistan’s premier diplomatic post is seen as risky.
“I want to meet my client either in my space, my office, or the court, or somewhere I feel is relatively bug-free,” said Asma Jahangir, when she still represented him.
She refused to represent Haqqani before the judicial commission, saying it was an overreach by the court and a victory for the security establishment.
Haqqani, for his part, spends his days reading and emailing friends. He is plowing through a massive biography of Tamerlane the Great and Barbara Tuchman’s “March of Folly,” her opus to nations’ relentless pursuit of policy harmful to their interests.
Perhaps Tuchman’s book has something to say to the man who says Pakistan would best be served by civilian control of the military and better relations with the United States.
“It’s a double-bind,” he said. “Civilian-military, U.S.-Pakistan. I’m on the wrong side of both.”
Editing by John Chalmers and Ron Popeski