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Commentary: Precursor to Pakistani coup?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Jan. 20, 2012 at 6:43 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The prime minister stood before the Supreme Court and explained that "while he accepted the majesty of the law and the majesty of the supreme court," he couldn't arrest the president of the country on charges of bribery as he enjoys "immunity under the constitution."

Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani had answered the Supreme Court's summons only to avoid being held in contempt himself.

Only in Pakistan.

A lawless nuclear power of 185 million people, most of them dirt poor, racked by secular and religious terrorists who attack each other's mosques, Pakistan is arguably the most dangerous country in the world.

Yet respect for the Pakistani Constitution at the highest level is unblemished -- except when the army stages a coup and seizes power as it has done four times in 65 years.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the late Benazir Bhutto's husband, served 11 years in prison on charges of corruption for which irrefutable evidence was never provided. He has lived in the Presidential Palace in Islamabad but the amnesty law that protected him from the Supreme Court was rescinded two years ago.

Pakistan has lived under military rule for half of its existence as an independent state (33 years). The army has lost three wars against India. And rumors are rife the army is getting ready to launch yet another coup, arrest Zardari, dismiss Gilani's government, and use its influence to help bring the Afghan war to a quick conclusion.

The army feels humiliated, first by the U.S. Navy SEAL raid last May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden in his secret lair a short walk from Pakistan's prestigious military academy, then again when "friendly NATO fire" killed 26 Pakistani soldiers by mistake last November.

The army's first reaction was to close down the CIA's drone-launching operation at Shamsi Air Base, then the two routes NATO uses for 30 percent of its Afghan resupply needs.

Thousands of tanker trucks were suddenly stranded bumper-to-bumper as they drove up sharply curved mountain roads. And there they remained for nine weeks until the Pakistanis decided to lift the embargo.

Inadvertently humiliated, Pakistani army morale, took a drubbing. The high command's main concern was India, not Afghanistan. As part of the new, friendly post-9/11 policy vis-a-vis the United States, Pakistan redeployed 117,000 troops from the main Indian front to the mountainous tribal areas on the Afghan border. They took heavy casualties but never considered themselves at war with Taliban.

Taliban -- religious student soldiers at the outset -- was the brainchild of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence service.

The much-respected Pakistani army regards the national interest and public morality as its own special space. Their contempt for Pakistan's current crop of civilian leaders is barely concealed.

The generals also believe they've been taken for a 10-year ride by the U.S. Seldom, they explain privately, are Pakistani needs taken into account. U.S. military aid was interrupted tit-for-tat after NATO resupply lines to the Afghan theater were closed.

The Pakistan army knows there is no end to the Afghan war unless its top generals work closely with the United States and NATO in the field. But the objectives vary widely. ISI is convinced that its Taliban protege will get the better of the Afghan army, if only because the U.S. and NATO contingents aren't staying beyond the end of 2014. And negotiations with Taliban will be dragged out, as they were in Vietnam.

Once again, Congress has the clock and Taliban has the time.

Complicating the political scenario is the "memogate" affair.

The military target was Husain Haqqani, arguably the most effective Pakistani ambassador in the United States in two generations. Brilliant, erudite, cultured, popular among journalists, all doors to the highest levels of the Obama administration always open, as they are for British, German, French and Japanese ambassadors.

Suddenly, from one day to the next, Haqqani became persona non grata in his own country.

A week after the raid that killed bin Laden, a Pakistani American, Mansoor Ijaz, occasional Fox News commentator, wrote an op-ed published in the Financial Times in which he claimed Haqqani gave him a letter to give to U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the retiring chief of the Joint Chiefs, warning about a Pakistani army coup in the works and asking for his help to stop it.

The request, explained Ijaz, came from Zardari himself, via Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Ijaz gave the memo to retired U.S. Marines Gen. James L. Jones, the former national security adviser, to give to Mullen.

Jones said he had given it to Mullen who didn't regard it as important. He was soon to retire from the service.

All Haqqani had to do to reach Mullen was pick up the phone. Why would he go through Ijaz, known as a self-promoter on TV networks here and abroad? And why would he commit anything that sensitive, if true, to the written word?

Clearly, nothing held up. But that's clearly what the army topsiders needed to spring a trap on the civilian leadership of Zardari and Gilani.

Haqqani, summoned to Pakistan, stripped of his ambassadorship in Washington, sought refuge in Gilani's official mansion. His life is in danger. The army is insisting the palpably fraudulent "memogate" story is true. Not known however, are Ijaz's links to the Pakistani high command -- or ISI.

The plotters, whoever they are, have opened a clear channel for the army to seize power -- for the fifth time in 65 years -- and arrest Zardari and Gilani. And stage a show trial. Haqqani's friends fear this may end up with capital punishment, much the way President Zia ul-Haq organized the overthrow, in a coup codenamed "Fair Play," along with the trial and execution n 1977 of Prime Minister Al Bhutto, Benazir's father and the same man who had promoted Zia to four-star army chief.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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