Pakistani ambassador to US caught in controversy

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2011 3:14 PM
Pakistani ambassador to US caught in controversy

The Pakistani government said Thursday that it has not decided whether to accept a resignation offer from its ambassador to the U.S. over a reported attempt to enlist Washington's help to rein in the country's military after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The government has summoned Ambassador Husain Haqqani to Islamabad to question him about any role he may have played in the growing controversy, which was first disclosed in an Oct. 10 column in the Financial Times, said Farhatullah Babar, a Pakistani presidential spokesman.

Mansoor Ijaz, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, said in the column that a senior Pakistani diplomat asked him on May 9 _ a week after U.S. commandos killed bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town _ to pass a message from President Asif Ali Zardari to the U.S. asking for help. Ijaz did not name the diplomat.

Zardari was reportedly worried that the U.S. raid had so humiliated his government, which did not know about it beforehand, that the military may stage a coup _ something that has happened repeatedly in Pakistan's history, said Ijaz.

The memo sent to Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer at the time, reportedly offered to curb support to Islamist militants from Pakistan's military intelligence service, the ISI, in exchange for American assistance, Ijaz said.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry has called the Financial Times column "a total fabrication."

But Mullen's spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, confirmed to Foreign Policy's website Wednesday that Mullen did receive the memo from Ijaz, but he did not find it credible and ignored it. "Adm. Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Mr. Ijaz," Kirby said.

Ijaz has a history of making claims to be well-connected with U.S. politicians. Under the Clinton administration, he said U.S. officials told him Sudan was willing to turn over then-fugitive Osama bin Laden, who was taking refuge there. Ijaz said Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger refused the deal because he was unwilling to do business with Sudan _ a claim derided by Republicans that Berger immediately denied.

Haqqani said Thursday that he did not write or deliver the memo, but offered his resignation to end the controversy.

"I do not want this non-issue of an insignificant memo written by a private individual and not considered credible by its lone recipient to undermine democracy," Haqqani told The Associated Press.

Haqqani is expected to travel to Islamabad in the next few days so that the government can determine who should be blamed for the incident, Babar said. He said the government has not received a formal letter of resignation from Haqqani, and talk of what would happen to him was "premature."

The controversy is said to have outraged the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, met with Pakistan's president in recent days, but the outcome of those discussions is unclear.

Haqqani's resignation would create more uncertainty in the already troubled relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. The bin Laden raid in the town of Abbottabad severely strained ties, as have U.S. drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's rugged tribal area along the Afghan border.

Suspected U.S. drones fired four missiles at a compound in the Razmak area of North Waziristan on Thursday, killing eight alleged militants and wounding two others in the third such strike in as many days, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Elsewhere in the tribal region, Pakistani security forces pounded militant hideouts in Orakzai and Kurram, killing 37 suspected militants, said government officials. The figures could not be independently verified because of the difficulty of reporting in the tribal region.

The U.S. has conducted around 200 drone strikes in recent years in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan.

The U.S. does not acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

Pakistani officials have criticized the strikes as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past and even let the drones take off from bases inside Pakistan.

That support has become strained as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated.


Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan; Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan; Lolita Baldor and Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.