The writer is
editor The News, Islamabad.
At the time of writing these lines, the all-powerful civil-military tribunal had yet to hold its promised huddle with Ambassador Haqqani. Surely, he will be asked to resign but while his inevitable resignation must not be taken as being tantamount to his admission of guilt, it does highlight the fatal consequence of state representatives confusing themselves with the state itself. The expected resignation will not mark the culmination of a raging controversy but signal the beginning of silent and far more meaningful changes.
According to informed sources, armed with highly incriminating communication data evidence, the non-civilian part of the power equation has already worked out a national charter of demands in which Haqqani’s removal is a minimum starter. Word has it that the military establishment, while weary of seeking any direct role is also conscious of the public sentiment of being held responsible for helping the marauding government stay in the saddle. It wants the system to work without stepping in, if possible. A middle ground may yet be found in case Haqqani is made to walk his resignation talk and the matters reach level two. In such an eventuality and still holding a smoking gun, in the first phase the Rawalpindi chaps may ask the government to cause massive changes in top managements of various state institutions and corporations being headed by known incompetent and corrupt government cronies. If this covert effort of restoring some sanity to governance fails then we could well see a renewed effort to find out the accomplices in this dirty-memo case. You get it, right?
Talking of state functionaries suffering the Napoleon syndrome. In June this year, Haqqani reportedly played dinner host to a couple of prominent former federal ministers along with their spouses. One former minister in particular stands out as he has remained a close associate of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, served twice in her cabinet, and was once fairly close to Mr. President who at that time was just Mr. Zardari. The dinner guests also included a few Americans including a leading functionary of the Homeland Security Department. The dinner conversation flowed the way of drinks. Tongues loosened up. Guards came down. At one point, Ambassador Haqqani reportedly told his rather startled Pakistani friends that the Americans had identified 362 military targets in Pakistan, including 28 in and around Islamabad alone, and asked our prominent friend to share his address so in case he was near one of the chosen targets he could be told to move away to safety. These targets, according to the shared discussion, included even the residences of irritating military decision makers and not just security affairs related installations.
Haqqani, according to one of the many dinner guests, then talked rather boisterously about his extremely close links with the US administration and at one point reportedly told his guests that whenever he went to have a meeting with his US counterparts he decided unilaterally what he had to say and not what his government wanted him to. “Every time I have a candid discussion with them, and that is why they trust me. At the end of my meetings, I leave the FO brief telling them it was my official duty to hand over this pack of official lies,” he reportedly told his Pakistani guests.
Fast forward to October. A perturbed sounding Husain Haqqani, according to Mansoor Ijaz, called him up to find out whether he knew anything about the DG ISI flying into London to discuss the memo issue. At the time, according to Mansoor, the envoy had believed that the DG ISI was coming to meet with FT chaps to get more detailed info and wanted Mansoor to ask the FT chaps to desist from sharing info. Little did he know who was coming to meet who. But since we have been taking every claim of Mansoor with a bucket of salt, I subject this claim also to the same level of suspicion.
Why am I sharing these asides? Because I don’t look for grand designs behind every big development. I believe in majority of cases, individual ambitions and subsequent actions sire larger than life devastating consequences. Don’t forget that the sacking of the chief justice had its genesis in the denied individual ambitions of someone wanting to be a Supreme Court judge. The memo controversy too, I believe, was spawned by an individual vaulting ambition and may just end up deciding the fate of more than one in the coming months.
Personality can never be taken out of politics, rather it is the personal traits of an individual that predominantly define the political outlook and even more important, the practices. President Zardari is no exception. Temperamentally, he is anything but a meek docile pushover who would scamper under the bed every time the floor boards creek in the night. He does not shirk from bold moves. He loves to roll the dice even if it appears loaded against him. Like an incorrigible compulsive gambler, even after calling it a night and on his way home, he will still yank the lever of that shiny slot machine right by the casino exit. He is someone who loves to push back when pushed, call the other side’s bluff while doubling his own, believes power to be the sole justified end -- means be damned, and thrives on his reputation of being ‘yaaron kaa yaar’ (friend of friends). The unfolding Mullen-memo mess is likely to see all these traits come into play and it is his personal countenance more than anything else, which shall ultimately dictate the future contours of country’s political and power landscape. What is really important therefore is not how the president deals with Husain Haqqani’s personal future but that of the entire political structure.
It matters little whether Ambassador Haqqani resigns or is made to resign because what matters is how the president and his team deal with the fallout. Things could move smoothly if the presidency views this controversy as a bump on the road instead of making it an ego issue and lie low for a vengeful strike back a few weeks or months down the road. That would be disastrous for democracy.
How the president behaves in the coming days is the key to the future. A rather interestingly incisive analysis of president’s ‘political persona was done by a former federal minister who used to be extremely close to Benazir Bhutto and at one time, was also considered a close friend of the president himself. To quote him, “ On close observation, one can analyse and filter down the president’s power politics doctrine to four basic principles. 1) The first rigid political principle is that there are no rigid principles in politics. 2) If there is a problem then throw in concessions and money and ‘buy’ a solution. 3) Do not resist an irresistible force. 4) But, do not give in till a force becomes irresistible”. Hopefully, the president will realise that the heavy dossier of evidence has created an irresistible force and in such a case he knows exactly what to do.
The memo has changed a lot more in the power equation than is apparent at this moment. Theatrics won’t do anymore. No more these cheeky cloak-and-dagger games. We live in a serious world with serious challenges and can’t afford vagaries of foolish ambitions. Individuals are dispensable, the country is not.