Pakistan: Judges Rebuke Haqqani in Memogate Scandal

A judicial commission has accused Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, of disloyalty to his country—a charge punishable by death.

Aamir Qureshi, AFP / Getty Images

Six months after it was created by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, a roving three-judge commission has concluded its damning and potentially fatal findings against Husain Haqqani, Islamabad’s former ambassador to Washington.

According to the commission, Haqqani, a close aide of President Asif Ali Zardari, operated out of personal ambition and disloyalty to Pakistan in writing a sensational confidential memorandum relayed to the Pentagon just days after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad last year. Haqqani denies any involvement in writing or creating the memo.

The scandal, known in Pakistan as Memogate, blew up after Musawer Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, who says he had Haqqani’s note delivered to the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, referred to it in an October op-ed for Financial Times. The memo called on the U.S. to prevent a possible coup against the Zardari-led government and alleged the Pakistani Army’s complicity in harboring and assisting bin Laden and other high-level terrorists. Civilian–military relations hit rock bottom. Haqqani resigned from his post on Nov. 22, and after two months of living under virtual house arrest in the prime minister’s official residence, he left for the U.S. after obtaining court permission.

The judicial commission’s 121-page report, dated June 4, was submitted to the court on Monday, and Haqqani has been summoned to appear before the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, later this month. But the commission’s findings, which Haqqani has vowed to appeal and which are unlikely to be overturned, make it impossible for him to return home without risking his life. “I would like to be able to return to Pakistan, but I won’t return to face a lynch mob,” Haqqani told The Daily Beast. “The threats to my life are real.”

Pakistan’s populist judges have cast Haqqani as an American loyalist, an incendiary appellation in a country riven by anti-American sentiment. On May 24, a quasi-judicial forum sentenced Dr. Shakeel Afridi to 33 years for his role in helping the CIA home in on bin Laden through a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad. The following day, the Supreme Court suspended Haqqani’s wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, from Parliament, questioning her loyalty to Pakistan because she may have two citizenships, Pakistani and American—which is allowed under Pakistani law.

But this isn’t just about the U.S. The judges are also unhappy with a government that is widely viewed as corrupt. Last month, for instance, in its detailed judgment against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Supreme Court employed poetry to urge the people of Pakistan to rise up against the government.

Critics say the commission issued its report to distract the public from other matters. Indeed, the report was released to the public on Tuesday, the same day that a corruption scandal about the chief justice's son erupted. (The judge's son, 32-year-old businessman Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry, has denied ever receiving bribes to influence his father's court.)

“Those who endorsed military dictators and allowed them to amend the Constitution at will cannot judge my—or anyone else’s—patriotism,” Haqqani said, referring to chief justice Chaudhry’s swearing an oath of allegiance in 2000 to then-Army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

“People who have a pluralistic, modern, tolerant, and liberal view of Pakistan are being marginalized by hardliners in the judiciary, which is giving rulings on the basis of ideology and not on the basis of law.”

The commission judges have an equally strong opinion of Haqqani. In the report, they say that the former ambassador wanted to make himself “forever indispensable to the Americans,” that he “lost sight of the fact that he is a Pakistani citizen and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States of America, and therefore his loyalty could only be to Pakistan,” that his “acts of disloyalty to Pakistan” created “fissures in the body politic,” and that he “beseech[ed] a foreign government to, with impunity, meddle in and run our affairs.” They scoff at Haqqani’s concerns about his security and his statements that he has always had Pakistan’s best interests at heart. Haqqani, the judges write: “continuously played the inveterate patriot card” even though his “extreme views” on Pakistan, its military, and its intelligence services are plainly known.

Significantly, while the commission’s report clears Zardari of any involvement in Memogate—helping to contain the risk of a much wider political crisis—it does take issue with the government’s decision to appoint Haqqani in the first place. “Despite having no obvious ties to Pakistan [Haqqani] was appointed to the extremely sensitive” post, it states.

The commission’s findings also validate the Pakistani Army’s position on Memogate. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and the then ISI chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha filed statements in court last December saying that the memo is real—contradicting and embarrassing the government which maintains that it is not.

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The opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which took the matter to court, is also pleased.

“Due process was followed,” said the party's spokesman, Sen. Pervaiz Rashid. “We can’t give someone permission to be in cahoots with any foreign or local agency.”

Ijaz, the businessman who kicked up the Memogate saga, also feels vindicated.

“The findings confirm what I said was the truth from day one of this investigation,” he said.

“The people of Pakistan should be proud of their justices [and] their men in uniform who stood their ground in defending the country against those who would compromise its security.”

In his press statement, Ijaz, who has previously criticized the Pakistan Army and the ISI, specifically thanked Pasha, the former spy chief, for his “courage” and “sacrifices” as well as the three commission members for their “stamina” and “intellects.”

Haqqani says the commission came to the investigation with a predetermined mind and gave preferential treatment to Ijaz, who did not come to Pakistan despite court summons.

“Most of the proceedings have been virtually run by him, even the so-called forensics experts were chosen by the commission based on Mansoor Ijaz’s recommendations,” said Haqqani. “We have reason to believe he was privy to this report before it was released.”

Even though a trial court can overturn the commission’s findings, entrenched anti-American sentiment, public antipathy toward Haqqani and his party’s government, and the fact that three judges came to these conclusions against him, relegates that possibility to the realm of the theoretical.

“How independent a trial court judge will be after this report remains to be seen,” said Salman Akram Raja, a lawyer who won a landmark judgment against the government in 2009.

“It’s a big problem what the court is doing with the setting up of these investigating commissions. It’s a sensitive thing to talk about, but that’s the truth of it.”

But Haqqani, who was jailed in 1999 by the last Muslim League government and who now faces the likelihood of a treason trial on top of the media trial he has already endured, remains optimistic. He has resumed teaching international relations at Boston University.