ISLAMABAD — A judicial investigation has concluded Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S. did write a secret letter to American officials requesting their help in reining in the powerful army last year, a lawmaker and state media said Tuesday. The finding could lead to treason charges against the envoy.
The former envoy Husain Haqqani was a close aide to President Asif Ali Zardari and a member of his party. Zardari himself could be threatened if any evidence surfaces showing he ordered, or knew of, the memo.
Haqqani, who resigned from his post after the scandal broke and currently lives in America, has denied he wrote the memo and said the commission’s report was “political and one-sided.” Many independent observers have also concluded that the probe was politicized.
The commission was investigating politically explosive allegations that Haqqani sought U.S. assistance last year in warding off an alleged army coup in the aftermath of the U.S raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. The scandal pitted the weak civilian government against the army, and drew in other the feuding power brokers in Pakistan — the Supreme Court, the opposition and the media.
The dispute over the letter and other politically driven clashes between Pakistani state institutions, as well as an increasingly hostile relationship with Washington, have intensified strains on the shaky elected government as it struggles against Islamist militancy and economic stagnation. Some analysts have predicted events could end in a destabilizing stalemate, conditions that in the past have led to coups and other military interventions.
Allegations of collusion between Washington and Pakistani officials may also complicate American efforts to rebuild security cooperation with Pakistan, thrown into disarray in November by U.S. airstrikes that accidentally targeted Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border and killed 24 of them.
The United States wants Pakistan to resolve its political turmoil and focus on fighting militancy and helping in its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan. But anti-Americanism is rife in Pakistan, and few politicians are willing to publicly help Washington. Pakistan has yet to reopen supply lines for NATO and US troops that it blocked after the November airstrikes. On Monday, US officials said a negotiating team in Pakistan seeking to get the supply lines reopened was returning home, the latest sign of stalled relations between the two countries. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Pakistan, said his government wanted to see the supply lines reopened.
“Those lines of communication affect us as well,” he told reporters, but added it was an issue for Islamabad and Washington to resolve.
The commission called witnesses and sought telephone records from Haqqani, who did not appear before the probe. Many other Pakistani observers have been skeptical of the investigation. Haqqani’s chief accuser in the case was an American-Pakistani businessman with a history of making unsubstantiated allegations and who once appeared in a music video featuring naked female mud wrestlers.
The commission read out its finding in the Supreme Court. Opposition lawmaker Khwaja Asif, who was present, said it concluded Haqqani tried to undermine Pakistan’s constitution and was not “loyal to the state.” The court ordered Haqqani to appear before it after two weeks.
Retired Justice Nasira Javed said the commission was working on orders from the Supreme Court and criminal proceedings against Haqqani on treason charges could now begin.
The release of the findings came just hours before the Supreme Court heard testimony from a billionaire property developer who claimed that the son of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry accepted $3.5 million worth of shopping and foreign trips to influence judges at the court. The case is embarrassing for Chaudhry, and is seen by some as part of a campaign by supporters of Zardari’s government to tarnish his image. Chaudhry recently convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, an ally of Zardari, of contempt of court for not opening corruption charges against the president.
Alluding to that case, ex-envoy Haqqani said the “commission’s report has been released to distract attention from other more embarrassing developments.”
Supporters of Haqqani and the government accuse the Supreme Court and the army of working against Zardari and the political party he heads. His movement claims a long history of persecution by the army in Pakistan.