x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pakistan coup memo 'dictated by envoy'

Ambassador to US denies claims he instructed note be sent outlining fears of military takeover.

ISLAMABAD // A businessman claims an important Pakistani official asked him to seek help from the Pentagon to protect Pakistan's civilian government.

Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, said a diplomat asked for assistance in getting a message to the US military.

Mr Ijaz claimed Pakistan's ambassador to the US asked him to forward the message from Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Zardari wanted to warn Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Pakistan's military might be planning a coup.

Mr Ijaz told Reuters on Friday he wrote a memo outlining the government's fears of military intervention and sent it to the Pentagon on the instructions of Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani. Mr Haqqani denies the claims, while US officials said they did not take the memo seriously.

The affair highlights the tensions in Pakistani politics since the nation was founded in 1947 and the power play between civilian politicians and military commanders.

That Mr Zardari wants to exert greater civilian control over the military is well known. But the memo, which the Pakistan ambassador denied writing, appears to show the civilian government trying to bring the US to its side in the struggle with the military. The memo requested Adm Mullen's intercession to stave off any coup but added that, with the military on the defensive after the killing of Osama bin Laden, there was an opportunity to bring it to heel.

Mr Ijaz said Mr Haqqani called him on May 9, one week after the US raid that killed bin Laden, to help get a message to the Americans.

"The memo's content in its entirety originated from him," Mr Ijaz told Reuters, referring to Mr Haqqani. "At a certain point he started talking so fast, I opened up my computer and I started typing the basic outline of the verbal message he wanted me to transmit.

"He was originally asking me to deliver a verbal message. When I went back to my US interlocutors, all three of them said they wouldn't touch this unless it was in writing."

Mr Haqqani has denied any connection with the memo. "I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz's claims and assertions," he said. "I did not write or deliver the memo he describes, nor did I authorise anyone, including Mr Ijaz, to do so."

Mr Haqqani has offered his resignation to Mr Zardari. It was not accepted but he was summoned to Islamabad.

Some analysts cast doubt on Mr Ijaz's credibility. "Ijaz is someone who has been circulating on the fringes of Washington policy circles for years but most Pakistan watchers don't find him particularly reliable," said Lisa Curtis, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Copies of the memo have been published in Pakistan, with anti-American and anti-government media speculating whether it was authorised by Mr Zardari or if Mr Haqqani was acting on his own. Mr Ijaz said he did not know.

Mr Haqqani has said: "Zardari doesn't even know this guy."

Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs declined to comment.

The memo's contents are likely to anger Pakistan's military, which sets foreign and security policies.

"Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the army to succumb to wholesale changes," the memo states, according to published reports, which Mr Ijaz confirmed matched the document he sent to Adm Mullen.

In the memo, the military and intelligence agencies are accused of being complicit in aiding bin Laden. The military has repeatedly said it had no links to bin Laden.

Mr Mullen said he received the note but his staff said he took no action. "Neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Admiral Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with General Kayani and the Pakistani government," said Captain John Kirby, who was his spokesman when he was in office.

"He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it."