By Imtiaz AlamOctober 20, 2016Print : Opinion
The timing of Dawn-story-gate, more aptly Memogate II, could not have been worse for a vulnerable democratic setup. India is on a diplomatic offensive to castigate Pakistan as the “mothership of terrorism”. Imran Khan is bent upon breaking down the constitutional order by forcing a shutdown of the capital. The Supreme Court is proceeding with the Panama leaks case involving the prime minister’s children. All this is happening at the same time when the prime minister is about to appoint a new COAS.
Memogate I had also come into the open when Pakistan was extremely humiliated by the embarrassing uncovering of Osama bin Laden’s hideout close to Kakul Academy and the helplessness of the state in guarding its frontiers against the US Marines’ surgical operation in Abbottabad. The military leadership at that time was put on the spot when it cried foul to cover up the embarrassment.
Salvaging the national pride, the then president Asif Ali Zardari exhibited his talent for superior tactics and wrote an article in the New York Times about how the ‘lead’ provided by Pakistan helped the Americans grab and kill the most-wanted terrorist. But, suddenly the scenario took a dramatic turn with the mysterious appearance of a Pakistani-American, Mansoor Ijaz, on the scene. Ijaz confessed that he was approached by Ambassador Hussain Haqqani to write a memo to Admiral Mullen to help the Zardari-led government against the powers that be.
The revelation was so startling that the president was accused of “endangering” the national security of the state in connivance with his ambassador in the US through the mischievous offices of maverick Mansoor Ijaz. This is how Memogate I was staged, and General Pasha left no stone unturned in unearthing the conspiracy against the state by no less a person than the symbol of the federation.
In one of the worst civil-military power plays, the whole drama ended up in the Supreme Court where the most powerful organ of the executive became a party against the federation of Pakistan. The then leader of the opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif, crossed the limits of political expediency in joining hands with those he has locked horns with now and is now watching Imran Khan trying to replay the same against him. Zardari, who had made Musharraf vacate the Presidency, had to beat a retreat, and made his ambassador a scapegoat to salvage an irreparable damage to a precarious democratic transition. Consequently, a president who asked difficult questions about the presence of Bin Laden and stood firm against the terrorists in Swat had to arrange personal guards for his security in an otherwise well-guarded Presidency in the capital.
Memogate II is also somewhat not dissimilar to Memogate I. There was a mysterious ‘memo’ then and the target was a civilian president; and here we have a “false and fabricated story of an important security meeting held at PM House and (the corps commanders meeting) viewed it as a breach of national security”. The story gathered by journalist Cyril Almedia from his undisclosed sources was “checked, cross-checked and fact-checked” by the worthy editor of Dawn, and the newspaper stood by the authenticity of its otherwise mischievous report.
The obvious differences between the elected chief executive of this country and the worthy guardians of our frontiers over regional policy are otherwise quite known to the world. What made the report explosive was the report by the foreign secretary about the ill-fated diplomacy in selling a flawed and double-edged security policy to the world and Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s complaint against the security agencies that allegedly “rescued” terrorists belonging to banned outfits, according to the story.
In an established democracy and an open society, such differences are discussed often in the open and occasionally revealed without any offence to anybody and no journalist is deprived of his/her freedom of movement nor pressurised to reveal the source. Finding itself on the backfoot and under pressure from the military establishment, a hapless government contradicted the report three times and then put the reporter on the Exit Control List; it had to subsequently withdraw the restriction under pressure from the media.
Indeed the story was ‘planted’ and both the reporter and the editor were justified in publishing it in what they deemed was the public interest. This, however, defied the overall self-censorship observed by the media in matters of otherwise untouchable security matters. The irony of the whole controversy is that what was revealed by the ‘fabricated report’ was quite well known in the public domain, but nobody had dared raise an accusing finger against those who matter in their exclusive domain of security affairs.
Ironically, the focus is not the skeletons in our cupboard that need to be sorted out to make our diplomacy a success against the vicious drive of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to diplomatically isolate Pakistan, but who ‘fed’ the story that indeed spilled the beans.
It is to the misfortune of our struggling democracy that – like Memogate I – the Dawn-story-gate or Memogate II brings into question the sanctity of yet another public office, the PM House, from where the story was allegedly leaked. And that has apparently potentially caused a “breach of national security”.
The public reprimand by the GHQ was also unwarranted since it gave an inverse confirmation of the differences between the civilian and military components of the executive vying for control over foreign and security policies. At worse, the ‘leak’ warranted a case for violation of the Official Secrets Act by some official, but it is being irresponsibly exploited by certain unscrupulous elements and job-seekers to perpetuate the civil-military conflict to suit their ambitious and expeditious designs at the cost of the constitutional framework.
If Nawaz Sharif became an approver in Memogate I out of political expediency, PTI Chief Imran Khan is hell bent on bringing down a system he has some chances to benefit from through electoral change. Imran-Qadri’s first dharna helped exclude the prime minister from his legitimate duty to set the direction of foreign and security policies, despite keeping both portfolios with him. What would happen if the second dharna succeeds in shutting down the capital for a considerable time? Will that pave the way for yet another martial law or else?
Given the current level of tension in civil-military relations, the grave-diggers of democracy are bent on bringing down the constitutional order, without realising that it could make the survival of state a bit more difficult. The nation needs to be united to get out of the quagmire it finds itself in due to the self-destructive course of jihad and its devastating implications. Both the civil and military leadership must find ways to get out of the looming isolation and destabilisation, rather than passing the buck.
The impetuosity of power-hungry politicians must find some solace in the democratic space they have to share, rather than lose it to those who have their own terms to dictate. Let Memogate II also go down in history as a ‘fake story’ with a Hussain Haqqani-like scapegoat, but it should not absolve those who brought this nation to such a pass that nobody is ready to listen to our fake story in the world today. Let the Foreign Office speak out before parliament about the whole truth since half-truths have failed to compensate for half-falsehoods.
The writer is a senior journalist.
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