On the surface, Memogate came as much a surprise to the government of Pakistan as that of the US. However, the shift in US policy towards Afghanistan was bound to have a climax and a casualty. The human tendency is to zoom in to the situation, and try to ascertain the nitty-gritty, while overlooking the importance of zooming out. The resignation of Ambassador Husain Haqqani has come at a crucial juncture of the Afghan War, as the political approach begins to gain momentum. In addition, Pakistan also recently replaced Shah Mehmood Qureshi with Hina Rabbani Khar as foreign minister, over another controversial issue, Raymond Davis. Personnel changes and the types of individuals selected to lead, tell a lot about the shape of change.
As organizations change their strategic direction, replacement and transfer of senior leadership usually accompany such moves. Appointing of inexperienced younger personalities at the higher echelons, as oppose to older and well-weathered ones, conveys a certain meaning. On the other hand, rotation from one important portfolio to the other signifies confidence in the person’s leadership and management. Many a times, a complete outsider is brought in to reengineer an organization and to break with well-embedded cultural traits and entrenched interests.
Leadership Changes in the US
In this context, recently General Petraeus moved from being the commander of Afghan forces to become the director of CIA, while Leon Panetta become the Secretary of Defense. The reasons why US made those rotations, most likely have to do with providing continuity of experience within the US policymaking structures, as it relates to the unusual affairs of AfPak specifically and the Middle East broadly. These two individuals have had the cross training in the defense and intelligence arena that US considers vital for officials dealing with national security. Additionally; they also posses the political acumen needed to harness congressional support.
Obama’s national security team has recently been plagued by resignations and replacements (Gen Stanley McChrystal), which often depicts deeper issues with the policy itself. When the differences amongst senior members become irreconcilable, it’s customary to bring in a new set of eyes, to deal with the challenge at hand and to provide a fresh impetus.
Ultimately, the policy shifts towards the opinions of those advisors who are able garner the support of the President. The tussle between the State, Defense and the Intelligence Community officials, to impress their views on President’s policy on Afghanistan, had been continuing in Washington for a while. This was frequently interpreted as the confusion brewing in Washington. As Obama’s policy emphasis shifted towards a political solution, the role and influence of State Department had to increase, which the defense and the intelligence bureaucracies have in the past overshadowed.
The tipping point must have been Admiral Mullen suddenly declaring the Haqqani network as a ‘veritable arm’ of the ISI. Just a few days earlier, he had met with Gen Kayani in Spain. The usually quiet General subsequently commented that the relations between US and Pakistan were improving.
To suggest that the US government did not take the memorandum seriously, irrespective of who engineered it, does not hold up against how events actually unfolded during the concerned time frame. The US did act on it, by exerting maximum pressure on Pakistan’s establishment, but when it did not buckle under the accusations of complicity with the extremists, as hypothesized, the US switched its approach by sending Hillary Clinton to Pakistan. The next bet for hardliners would have been risking some real fireworks.
Leadership Changes in Pakistan
This was the climactic moment as the US shifted its policy and Ambassador Husain Haqqani was the causality of this change in direction. His intellect, contacts and access within the influential US circles were assets that any government would like to have in its arsenal. However, his political views became a liability, especially when one considers the context of the present US-Pakistan tensions over Afghanistan.
Moreover, the drone attacks, the Raymond Davis incident, the Osama Operation have all blurred the lines as to where the nation’s sovereignty starts and where it ends. Moreover, while the government is complicit with the US in many respects, it wants to prove otherwise to the public. In this atmosphere, it’s easy for agents of the government to slip and cross the red lines.
To deal with the next phase of Afghan war, Pakistan may now have a different objective, reflected by its recent appointments. It wants personalities that serve mainly as messengers. Their inexperience makes them dependent by default, and this could only mean concentration of power somewhere else.
In the think tank community and official circles of Washington DC, the former ambassador was considered an institution unto himself, and this meant he took the liberty to not only make many decisions independently but had the clout to influence US decision makers.
Although the Americans considered the ambassador’s insight useful, his political perspective could have been seen as an impediment towards the shift in US policy. The reality remains that in Pakistan, the army exerts influence, and it was unrealistic to attack the very institution whose help the US needs to get done in Afghanistan. However, this is not to suggest that all is set and done yet.
In the corridors of the world capital, and for that matter in any organization, power is acquired and dispensed in many different forms. And, it does not only come from the position one holds. It frequently results from the access and ears one has. Senior leaders are offered jobs on the basis on the size of their Rolodex and their ability to influence. In Washington DC, power players from different reaches of the world, try to sell their contacts and demonstrate how they can be of use for the superpower and this is where the role of Mansoor Ijaz fits.
As history shows, the running of a global empire is not a clean cut business, it involves both the official and unofficial channels, use of soft and hard power, there is often a hit and miss situation, and for every climax, there is also a casualty.