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Bitten by a double-sting operation?

By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, Nov 30, 2011

On the face of it, Pakistan’s response to the memo — the removal of the ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani — looks like the salvaging of its so-called national pride. The matter for the time being seems settled. In reality, it underlines yet another instance of the military establishment’s might and hold on key foreign policy issues. That the ISI chief himself chose to fly out to London for a meeting with the controversial Mansoor Ijaz, smells foul for several reasons; was the Pasha-Ijaz meeting part of an ISI sting operation to ambush Haqqani? What did Pasha’s personal involvement in this affair mean? Couldn’t he have tasked his subordinates to meet up with Ijaz? Why did the ISI preclude the possibility of the American intelligence, the CIA or the FBI, working through Ijaz to create yet another indictment on the Pakistani agency’s role in foreign policy? Why did the ISI believe that getting a suspect CIA-operative on board was a wise move, despite being familiar with Ijaz’s questionable background? It apparently never crossed most minds within the GHQ or the ISI that — despite the apparent triumph over the civilian government — the entire operation, if there existed one, simply goes against the masterminds themselves. Haqqani’s removal has simply reinforced the reality the that the security establishment holds sway over foreign policy and, unwittingly, the establishment walked into the trap by using Ijaz as an instrument to get rid of Haqqani.

Does this mean that Pakistan has been bitten by a double-sting operation? One, by the ISI and the other, by the American intelligence, to beef up the charge sheet against Pakistan’s security establishment for its intrusive role in civilian matters?

Let us consider what Dana Rohrbacher, an American congressman and a member of the Pakistan Caucus in Congress, said in an interview with the “Voice of America” recently. “It makes sense if an ambassador representing a democratic government tries to pre-empt a military coup. He, in fact, should be rewarded rather than punished for being protective of the democracy that he represents,” Rohrbacher quipped, while referring to the context of the controversial memo, which seemed to have been triggered by fears of a military coup against the civilian government.

Regardless of the veracity of the claims made by Ijaz, or denials thereof, by the former ambassador, the army and the ISI face the prospect of even harsher questioning were the two houses of the Congress to take up the issue. Bear in mind, most of the American media came out loud and clear in support of Haqqani, saying the US had lost a “valuable asset”. This clearly reflects the goodwill the former ambassador enjoyed within the Obama administration. And we must also bear in mind the view that successive US administrations have had of the Pakistani security establishment; they, together with the Indian and Afghan establishments, consider the GHQ and Aabpara as continuous sources of instability and violence in the region. On two occasions, once in September 2007, and then in March 2008, the former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Richard Boucher, had publicly desired reforms in the ISI and underscored the need for shifting foreign policy control from the military to the civilian government. Premier Gilani’s July 28, 2008, attempt to put the ISI under the ministry of interior, or his decision to send the ISI chief, General Pasha to India, in the aftermath of the November 26, Mumbai attacks, most probably reflected a plan to subject the mighty intelligence apparatus to civilian authority — quite in synch with American desire to empower the civilians in Pakistan. The discord between President Zardari and General Kayani ( sometime in December 2008) over how to pacify Indian outrage over the Mumbai attacks had also sowed seeds of mistrust, prompting the top echelons of the GHQ and the ISI to infer that Zardari and company were out to implement plans scripted in Washington with input from New Delhi.

It is, therefore, safe to presume that the way the ISI went overboard in picking up Mansoor Ijaz to engineer Haqqani’s dismissal reflects the bad blood that exists between the security establishment and the civilian government, as well as the former’s suspicions about the ambassador in Washington. One would only hope that in fulfilling its ambition to get rid of Husain Haqqani, the security establishment has not pushed itself into a corner. Based on the historical evolution of events though, such hopes are of little consequence.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk