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Pakistan's top envoy to the U.S. summoned back to Islamabad

November 17, 2011 | 12:13 pm

Husain Haqqani and Richard Holbrooke
REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. this week was summoned back to Islamabad to explain his role in a purported attempt to get Washington's help in reining in the country’s powerful military.

The envoy, Husain Haqqani, faces questioning in a controversy involving a Pakistani American businessman’s claim that the businessman passed along a memo from President Asif Ali Zardari seeking Washington’s assistance in fending off a possible government overthrow by Pakistan’s military.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, claimed in a newspaper column Oct. 10 that he delivered the memo to then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen at the request of an unnamed senior Pakistani diplomat. The request reportedly came after the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The country’s top civilian leaders have dismissed Ijaz’s assertions as outlandish, and Haqqani has adamantly denied any involvement in the alleged memo. Nevertheless, Haqqani has offered to resign  to defuse the controversy, which could severely worsen tensions between Zardari’s government and the military, led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Zardari has not indicated whether he would accept Haqqani’s resignation. In a statement issued late last month, Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua called the allegations “a total fabrication.…The insinuations and assertions in the fictitious story are devoid of any credence and are emphatically rejected.”

In  the column in Britain’s Financial Times,  Ijaz said a senior Pakistani diplomat had called him a week after U.S. commandos killed Bin Laden in May in the military city of Abbottabad, where the Al Qaeda leader had been hiding for more than five years.  Ijaz wrote that the diplomat told him that the Bin Laden raid had deeply embarrassed the government, and that Zardari was concerned the military could make him a scapegoat and stage a takeover.

Ijaz wrote that Zardari “needed an American fist on his army chief’s desk to end any misguided notions of a coup — and fast.”

The Foreign Policy website quoted Mullen’s spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, as saying Mullen initially did not remember the memo, but later was able to track it down. “He did not find it credible at all and took no note of it,” Kirby said.


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Photo: Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, left, talks with U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke in Islamabad, Pakistan, in a July 19, 2010 file photo. Holbrooke died in December 2010. Credit: B.K. Bangash / Associated Press