‘Memogate', the fresh controversy that has enmeshed the democratic government in Pakistan, is yet another round in the strained relations between the civilian dispensation and the military. As before, the Pakistan Army has come out on top. The crisis was set off when a dubious Pakistani-American businessman claimed he had carried a memo from President Asif Ali Zardari to Admiral Mike Mullen, who was then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking for U.S. help to prevent a military takeover in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad. Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, is said to be the person who drafted and handed over the memo to the businessman. If true, why the businessman entrusted with a top secret mission should have chosen to go public with it, of all places, in a write-up inFinancial Times, itself raises many questions. That President Zardari and Mr. Haqqani should have thought a coup was in the air after the May 1 fiasco for the Pakistan Army is no less intriguing: in retrospect, there has been no worse moment for the Pakistan Army in recent times, and no better time for the civilian government vis-à-vis the military. The real story behind this episode may not come out for quite a while. But its immediate fallout is likely to be the replacement of Mr. Haqqani. The Pakistan Army sees him as an irritant in its relations with the U.S. He was blamed for clauses in the Kerry-Lugar legislation that made U.S. aid to Pakistan conditional on the Pakistan Army's good behaviour. He is also blamed for not being combative enough with Washington and for compromising national sovereignty in bilateral dealings. His likely departure will be a political loss for President Zardari. The military will no doubt have a say in appointing Mr. Haqqani's successor.
That this controversy has erupted around the same time as the rise of the former cricketing hero, Imran Khan, in Pakistan's political firmament may be no more than a coincidence. It is believed that one reason why the Pakistan Army has not acted against the Pakistan People's Party government despite its extremely frayed relations with President Zardari is that this would mean putting its institutional weight behind Nawaz Sharif, whom it distrusts even more (the feeling being mutual). Although it is premature to talk of an Army-backed caretaker government under Mr. Imran Khan, at the very least the cricket superstar is now counted among the available alternatives. Throw into this Admiral Mullen's confirmation of receipt of the controversial memo, thus compromising the PPP government, and one can see that ‘Memogate' is much more than the sum of its parts. None of this is good news for democracy in Pakistan.