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November 16, 2011

The memo returns

 
November 16, 2011

The writer is editor The News, Islamabad.
Kids clasped their hands in tense excitement as events unfolded in the popular Brendan Fraser starrer, The Mummy Returns. An even larger number of informed adults in the twin cities are experiencing a somewhat similar anxiety as the memo returns. Just like the movie character Imhotep, this darn memo too refuses to melt away. He may be controversial, spreading half-truths or whole lies, but Mansoor Ejaz’s smoking-memo has silently morphed into a smouldering fuse, with the potential to ignite the powder keg already threatened by a string of recent unsettling political developments, and many more appearing on the horizon.
Mansoor struck back hard at his detractors in Sana Bucha’s brilliantly incisive interview on Geo News. But even before this interview, Mansoor had already released to the media some damning evidence in the form of BlackBerry messages (BBMs) and emails, exchanged between him and the yet unnamed top Pakistani diplomat (The News, November 12). Though unnamed, virtually everyone in the power corridors knows the identity of this top non-career diplomat.
In his TV interview, Mansoor, not only dared his ‘officious detractors’ to sue him but also committed to appear, along with all forensic evidence, before a proper Pakistani investigative forum, including a parliamentary committee and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Mansoor further told (details of that meeting were revealed in my earlier column) that he had shared all evidence with a very important official from Pakistan. As for the illogical logic of using an interlocutor with credibility issues, he retorted, “...for the very purpose of plausible deniability”. The man does have a point here. What better choice for a messenger in such cloak and dagger style diplomacy than a potential whistle blower with a controversial past? Destroy the message by destroying the credibility of the messenger. Indeed a brilliant tactical move. Only this time

around, the extrovert controversial interlocutor surprised everyone by keeping tidy records of the untidy doings.
The quiet offer of the unnamed diplomat’s head has already been rebuffed because according to the institutional view the issue is far more serious than that of merely one person or the taming of a couple of vaulting ambitions. It pertains to the future safety of the state itself. The relevant quarters have apparently also conveyed that it’s time-up for meaningless denials and is time to come clean. It’s time to thoroughly investigate the matter. (Hopefully the one-on-one meeting between President Zardari and Army Chief Kayani touched the subject). And damn these politicians for not letting the sleeping dogs lie either. If earlier Imran Khan wanted a thorough probe into the matter, on Monday evening, a fuming Shah Mehmood Qureshi wanted the government to either come clean on the matter or else sue Mansoor for spreading such preposterous lies. He even implored the CJ to go suo motu on this one. As for taking such ‘ridiculous’ sounding claims seriously, the former foreign minister should definitely know a thing or two about the different shades of conspiratorial diplomacy.
But all said and done, there are only two sides to this memo controversy: Mansoor is either telling the truth, or he is lying. It is as simple as that. No rocket science here. If he is telling the truth then we are looking at elements of treason, endangering of country’s nuclear safety, bartering of national sovereignty and the list gets dirtier and more alarming. It needs to be investigated. On the other hand, if he is lying then he must be sued by the Pakistan government for his last penny and made an unsavoury example. The same must be the approach towards the Financial Times. But so far, all we have seen are some inexplicably delayed and grudging denials (which too had to be forced out by a pestering media) by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, the presidency and the prime minister’s office, while the ISPR is maintaining an ominous silence over an issue with direct ramifications for the army itself. Is it a silence spawned by ignorance of facts, or sired by too much knowledge? According to a highly informed individual, Islamabad also tried prevailing upon Rawalpindi to force the ISPR into publically shooting down the Mansoor-drone. The ISPR’s continued silence however speaks loudly of the prevailing state of affairs.
While Imran Khan has hogged the media’s attention and the peoples’ fascination for the past few days, more serious elements remain focused elsewhere. That the memo can continue to be shrugged off and ‘officially’ ignored is no longer an option for the Islamabad officialdom. The ‘very important person’ that Mansoor alluded to, has done his own checking and rechecking and apparently Mansoor’s claims are not entirely a figment of a colourful imagination. To be fair to President Zardari however, it is not known with any certainty whether he even knew about this memo; initiated it himself, or was convinced (or conned) into authorising this initiative. But we should soon be crossing this bridge as well, because from what I hear an all-important epistle may soon be landing on his table to order a formal enquiry into the affair so that at least official institutions, even if not the general public, should know the exact facts. And the political leadership would be well advised to do so because in such cases, wrong perceptions can prove far more harmful than even the deadliest of realities. And doing so is not that complicated a task either and simply answering ‘36 questions’ or so should settle the matter once and for all.
The talk of “inviting” – that’s how it was put by a smiling top gun – the unnamed top Pakistani official back home to explain and clarify the matter has already come true but nobody really expects him to turn up on this dinner invitation as the gentleman has a keen survival instinct and having remained a part of the establishment for years is conversant with the institutional thought process. His not turning up could well be taken as his tacit acceptance of touted facts and an implied validation of Mansoor’s version of events. The course of action chosen by the political leadership in such a likely eventuality would therefore be of immense significance and a development warranting close scrutiny. If he turns up some straight talking can and should be expected.
The nonchalant façade notwithstanding, the critical implications of this matter are not lost on the ruling dispensation. It would be naïve for anyone to believe that premier Gilani’s sudden concerns about unconstitutional threats to the system have been caused solely by a massive Imran Khan rally in Lahore. He has started airing his ‘constitutional and democratic’ worries because he is aware of the public fallout of the private doings of the members of his administration.
The charge of the government conspiring against the state itself is no laughing matter and when the timing coincides with a resurgent opposition, the smiles tend to disappear altogether. The prospect of the PML-N resigning en-masse from national and provincial assemblies within the next 60-90 days (most probably in January) and then going the popular-agitation route is getting stronger by the day. Imran is riding the wave too and adding to his political and street muscle at a steroid pace. The economy is in shambles, the people desperate. Political instability is peaking far too sharply.
Anything can happen at any time. One spark can ignite the keg. The government is about to be hit by a political blizzard in the coming weeks. All the elements appear to be falling into place. The government must stop stonewalling the explosive issue with fatal consequences. For the country and democracy to coexist, the people must know the truth. The question is, can the government afford telling it?

Email: [email protected]