Zardari’s hospitalisation in Dubai triggers coup rumours in Pakistan
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s hospitalisation in Dubai on Tuesday evening fuelled rumours about a coup or a possible resignation in light of the recent strain in civil-military relations over the ‘memogate’ controversy.
A statement put out by the Prime Minister’s office on Wednesday afternoon somewhat put a stop to the rumours as it clarified that he would return to resume his normal functions as advised by the doctors.
Through the previous night and all morning, rumours thickened as they spread though the President’s office had announced his departure for Dubai for routine medical examination on Tuesday afternoon.
The speculations ranged from the omnipresent military coup to the President being eased out and the hospitalisation being used as a means to leave the country with the presidential immunity he enjoys.
What is “Memogate” controversy?
The memogate controversy (also Mullen memo controversy revolves around an alleged memorandum seeking help of the Obama administration (addressed to Admiral Mike Mullen) in the wake of the Osama Bin Laden raid to avert a military takeover in Pakistan.
Central actor in the plot included American-Pakistani businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleging that the former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani asked him to deliver a confidential memo to US Admiral Mike Mullen asking for US assistance.
The memo is alleged to have been drafted by Haqqani at the behest of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, but Haqqani and several senior Pakistani officials have consistently denied these allegations.
Although the authenticity of the memo could not be deduced, politicians in the opposition called for a broader inquiry into the origins, credibility and purpose of the memo. Pending the investigation, it was required that all officials involved in the inquiry be suspended from or relieved of their duties which ultimately led to Haqqani’s resignation as envoy to the US. His resignation was demanded and then duly accepted by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Sherry Rehman succeeded Haqqani to the position of the Pakistan Ambassador to the US.
The US-Pakistan relationship was at an all-time low before the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. Many people in civilian leadership and the public media blamed the Pakistani armed forces for showing incompetence in trying to effectively locate bin Laden’s whereabouts. Following the raid, the military was further criticized for letting the United States conduct a unilateral operation on Pakistani soil, thereby prompting furore over violation of Pakistani sovereignty by the United States.
Amidst this chaos, the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad was deliberately leaked to the media, allegedly by an ISI official. This incident put the civilian government and military officials at loggerheads. A meeting of the president, prime minister and the chief of army staff was called to discuss this issue in detail. The memorandum in question was allegedly written less than two days after the meeting was called, and a few days after the raid on the Bin Laden compound.
Contents of the memorandum
The alleged memorandum requested the Obama administration (in particular admiral Mullen) to convey “a strong, urgent message to General Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and General Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus”.
In exchange for this support, the memo is shown to make several offers to the U.S. Government. The offers include:
The President of Pakistan ordering an inquiry into allegations that Pakistan may have harboured and assisted terrorists, stating that the investigation would be “accountable and independent, and result in findings of tangible value to the US Government”.
Proposal for the establishment of a new “national security team” within Pakistan which would support the US administration, and give “green light” to future US operations on Pakistani soil.
Developing “an acceptable framework of discipline” for handling Pakistani nuclear weapons.
Disbanding units within the ISI believed to have contacts with terrorist organizations.
Assisting the Indian government in apprehending suspects related to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Disclosure of events
On October 10, 2011, Ijaz wrote a column in the Financial Times revealing and confirming that he had helped in delivering a memorandum to admiral Mullen drafted by a Pakistani official stationed in the United States at the behest of the president Zardari. The op-ed did not explicitly name Haqqani as being the author of the memo. This disclosure fueled the Pakistani media into frenzy.