REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday established a judicial commission to investigate a memo allegedly drafted by the country’s civilian government that urged Washington to help rein in the country’s powerful military.
The high court’s decision raised the stakes in the so-called “Memogate” scandal that has exposed deep divisions between Pakistan’s civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and its powerful military. Experts have said the scandal could lead to Zardari’s ouster if it is shown that he engineered the memo.
The scandal hinges on accusations leveled by a Pakistani American businessman who claims he was asked by Husain Haqqani, then ambassador to the U.S., to pass on to U.S. officials in Washington a memo seeking the Obama administration’s assistance in thwarting a military takeover of Zardari’s government in the days after the May 2 U.S. commando raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the military city of Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The letter stated that, in return, Zardari’s government would eliminate a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups and give U.S. troops “a green light” to root out Afghan militants hiding out in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Haqqani was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, and later the Supreme Court took up the case. Haqqani denies any connection with the memo.
The government has opposed the high court’s role in the case, arguing that it is a political matter that should be looked into solely by the country’s parliament. Lawyers and opposition party leaders have contended that the case involves potential treason charges against the engineers of the memo, and therefore should be taken up by the court. The high court Friday gave the newly formed commission four weeks to finish its investigation.
“This is a black day,” Haqqani’s lawyer, Asma Jehangir, told Pakistani media outside the courthouse Friday. “Today we feel that the military authority is superior to the civilian authority. Today, the struggle for the transition to democracy has been blocked.”
The case has aggravated longstanding rifts between Zardari and the country’s military leaders, who regard him as ineffective and too closely aligned with Washington. Earlier this month, rumors surfaced that the military might orchestrate a coup to get rid of Zardari, but army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has dismissed talk of a possible takeover and stressed the military’s commitment to democratic governance.
Photo: Opposition leader Ishaq Dar, center, talks to reporters after a hearing on the memo scandal in Islamabad. Flanking Dar are colleagues Mehtab Abbasi, left, and Ghous Ali Shah. Credit: AFP/Getty Images