There has been remarkably little US media coverage of the situation in Pakistan, which could, at a stroke, cause Washington’s policy in central Asia to implode. The silence might be because the US media attention span runs to about thirty seconds while the situation in Pakistan is quite complicated. For those who haven’t been following developments, there is a massive and growing political scandal surrounding Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s personal involvement in what has been dubbed “Memogate.”
The memo in question, which was directed to Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and the Obama Administration as coming confidentially from Zardari, urged Mullen to use the full resources of the US military to join with the Pakistani civilian government to put pressure on key figures in Pakistan’s military’s leadership and force them to resign. General Kayani, Chairman of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs, and General Pasha, head of the ISI intelligence service were particularly targeted. In return, Zardari promised to replace them with officers who are more friendly to the United States and who would fully support Washington’s interests in the region.
The memo was delivered to Mullen personally by a wealthy Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who had the text dictated to him by Pakistani Ambassador in Washington Husain Haqqani. Haqqani is regarded as President Zardari’s closest adviser while Ijaz has been closely linked to a number of prominent neoconservatives, including James Woolsey. He is an occasional commentator on Fox news programs.
Mullen turned down the offer and at first denied that the memo even existed. Haqqani has been recalled and has been forced to resign by Pakistan’s parliament where he will have to explain his involvement with the memo. Key parliamentary opposition leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has rejected claims from the ruling party that the memo is a conspiracy against Zardari and efforts to make the crisis go away are failing, which could lead to impeachment of the president.
The end result is that President Zardari has become markedly weaker while the military leadership and major opposition bloc have been empowered. A third political party headed by former cricket hero Imran Khan is also making headway based on Khan’s pledge to distance his country from US policy. He has called Hillary Clinton “Auntie Hillary,” referring to her frequent, and deeply resented, visits to tell the Pakistanis how to behave.
The killing of 28 Pakistani soldiers by NATO forces over the weekend has also helped to inflame the crisis situation. If pro-Western but hideously corrupt Zardari somehow loses power the likelihood that a new government that is reflexively anti-American and supported by a vengeful military establishment will emerge is very strong. The Pakistanis have already cut supply lines into Afghanistan and closed down a drone base and might well opt to end all cooperation on terrorism issues.
I for one would like to see the United States depart Afghanistan and adjacent areas posthaste, but there is real danger that the on-again off-again US policies of the past ten years have created a powderkeg situation that will be fed by visceral hatred of Washington and all its works. Stay tuned.