ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A judicial panel has concluded that Pakistan’s former top diplomat to the United States drafted a highly controversial memo last year seeking Washington’s help in reining in his country’s military, a finding that could lead to charges of treason against the envoy.
The special panel’s findings, released Tuesday, also could have serious ramifications for President Asif Ali Zardari if it later can be shown that then-Ambassador Husain Haqqani acted on instructions of the Pakistani leader. Though the report did not accuse Zardari of engineering the memo, the Pakistani American businessman at the center of the scandal claimed in testimony that Haqqani was operating with the president’s approval.
Zardari and his party are nearing the end of their five-year term and face an electorate deeply frustrated with the government’s failure to tackle crucial issues, such as daily power shortfalls and an ailing economy. He also is widely seen as subservient to Washington’s demands, and any evidence linking him to the so-called “Memogate” scandal could heighten his vulnerability in upcoming elections.
The panel’s findings are not a conviction. However, Pakistani courts could rely on them to forge treason charges against Haqqani. Legal experts have said secretly enlisting a foreign power to intervene in Pakistan’s military affairs could be construed as treasonous.
After the panel presented its findings to the Supreme Court, the high court ordered Haqqani to appear before justices in two weeks.
In its findings, the panel stated that Haqqani “wanted to create a niche for himself, making himself forever indispensable to the Americans. 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.”
His actions, the panel concluded, “contravened the constitution of Pakistan.”
Whether Haqqani will comply with the court’s order and return to Pakistan remains unknown. After resigning his post, he made an initial appearance before the judicial panel to deny the charges levied against him, and then departed for the U.S. On the social network site Twitter, Haqqani posted his reaction to the panel’s findings, calling them “one-sided.”
At the center of the scandal is Mansoor Ijaz, an American citizen of Pakistani descent, who claimed he was asked by Haqqani to convey to the U.S. government a letter seeking America’s help in preventing a military takeover of Zardari’s administration in the days following the May 2 U.S. commando raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the military city of Abbottabad.
The scandal widened rifts between Zardari’s government and the country’s powerful military leadership, headed by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.
Many Pakistani observers have questioned the case built against Haqqani. No documented proof was ever produced to support the allegations, which rested mostly on Ijaz accounts of phone calls with Haqqani.
Photo: Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, gives a salute to media as he leaves after appearing before a judicial commission at a high court in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Jan. 9. Credit: Anjum Naveed, File / Associated Press.