By Tim Lister, CNN.com, Jan 19, 2012
Pakistan once more finds itself enveloped in overlapping crises. Daggers are drawn between the civilian government and the military brass; the Supreme Court is reviving corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari; the Taliban and other militant groups continue to carry out suicide bombings and assassinations at will; and the economy is in dire straits.
Added to which relations between Pakistan and its most important partner, the United States, are at their lowest ebb in years, according to long-time observers of the relationship. This week, Ambassador Marc Grossman, the State Department’s lead diplomat on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is visiting several countries in the region – but not Islamabad, at the Pakistanis’ request.
"His visit could fuel anti-American sentiments and create trouble for the government which is already surrounded by storms", a Pakistani official told CNN.
One of those storms is dubbed "memogate" and is being probed by a commission set up by the Supreme Court. At the center of the furor is Pakistani-American financier Mansoor Ijaz. He says that in the aftermath of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan last May, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, telephoned him with an urgent request. Haqqani asked him to contact the White House – to prevent a possible coup in Pakistan.
Ijaz says a memo "was crafted" and passed to the then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on May 10th. The intermediary was former U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones. The memo was unsigned but Ijaz insisted it was authorized by "the highest authority" in Pakistan.
Its most explosive passage promised that "a new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI [military intelligence] charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan." The United States has long contended that the ISI supports militant jihadist groups, but such a move would have been a direct challenge to the military’s authority.
Few observers expect a military coup. Hassan Abbas, a senior adviser at the Asia Society, told CNN: "Prospects of a military coup in near future are very low the as army leadership is well aware that the newly empowered judiciary, increasingly influential media and – most importantly- a great majority of political parties with significant public support will openly and strongly resist such a move."
Abbas also believes that the Movement for Justice led by Imran Khan, Pakistan's former cricket captain, could benefit from the current imbroglio.
"No party is likely to win clear majority," Abbas says. "However, another six months of planning and strategizing will enhance the prospects of Imran Khan's Justice Parry. His movement is gaining momentum among the young people and that can be a critical factor in next elections."
In the meantime, the word "paralysis" is on the lips of many Pakistan-watchers, as a three-cornered battle between the judiciary, civilian government and military ebbs and flows. So preoccupied are all parties with this domestic struggle that prospects for Washington to begin repairing its relationship with Pakistan seem dim.
In the wake of the U.S. air-strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Pakistan-Afghan border on November 26th, a parliamentary committee in Islamabad is examining ties with the U.S. The government has already rejected a NATO report that blamed misunderstandings on both sides for the deadly incident, amid growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
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