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Post-Osama killing, Zardari feared coup by army chief

October 12, 2011 13:16 IST

A week after the covert United States raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, President Asif Ali Zardari sought to reach out to the Obama administration to ask it to stop army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani from staging a coup, a Pakistan-American businessman has said.

In an opinion piece in the Financial Times, US-based businessman Mansoor Ijaz wrote that a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned him with an urgent request early on May 9, exactly a week after the raid against bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

"Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's President, needed to communicate a message to White House national security officials that would bypass Pakistan's military and intelligence channels. The embarrassment of bin Laden being found on Pakistani soil had humiliated Zardari's weak civilian government to such an extent that the President feared a military takeover was imminent," Ijaz wrote.

"He needed an American fist on his army chief's desk to end any misguided notions of a coup - and fast," he wrote.

The Pakistani diplomat told Ijaz that the civilian government's "preferred channel to receive Zardari's message was Admiral Mike Mullen", who was then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mullen "was a time-tested friend of Pakistan and could convey the necessary message with force not only to President Barack Obama, but also to Gen Kayani", Ijaz wrote.

This was followed by "a flurry of phone calls and emails over two days" that led to the drafting of a memorandum with a critical offer from the Pakistani President to the Obama administration: "The new (US) national security team will eliminate Section S of the Inter-Services Intelligence charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network, etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan."

Ijaz contended that this memo was delivered to Mullen at 2 pm on May 10.

A meeting between Mullen and Pakistani national security officials took place the next day at the White House.

"Pakistan's military and intelligence chiefs, it seems, neither heeded the warning, nor acted on the admiral's advice," Ijaz wrote.

Subsequently, Mullen, in his farewell testimony to a US Senate committee, said he had "credible intelligence" that a bombing on September 11 that wounded 77 foreign troops in Afghanistan and an attack on the US embassy in Kabul on September 13 were done "with ISI support."

"Essentially he was indicting Pakistan's intelligence services for carrying out a covert war against the US – perhaps in retaliation for the raid on bin Laden's compound, perhaps out of strategic national interest to put Taliban forces back in power in Afghanistan so that Pakistan would once again have the 'strategic depth' its paranoid security policies against India always envisioned," Ijaz wrote.

The businessman contended that Kayani and his troops "were demoralised by the embarrassing ease with which US special forces had violated Pakistani sovereignty" in the raid against bin Laden.

The Inter-Services Intelligence was "charged by virtually the entire international community with complicity in hiding bin Laden for almost six years. Both camps were looking for a scapegoat; Zardari was their most convenient target," he said.

He wrote that questions about the ISI's role in Pakistan had "intensified in recent months" and the "finger of responsibility in many otherwise inexplicable attacks has often pointed to a shadowy outfit of ISI dubbed 'S-Wing', which is said to be dedicated to promoting the dubious agenda of a narrow group of nationalists who believe only they can protect Pakistan's territorial integrity".

The time had come for the US State department to declare the S Wing a sponsor of terrorism under the designation of "foreign governmental organisations", Ijaz contended.

"Plans by the Obama administration to blacklist the Haqqani network are toothless and will have no material impact on the group's military support and intelligence logistics; it is S-Wing that allegedly provides all of this in the first place. It no longer matters whether ISI is wilfully blind, complicit or incompetent in the attacks its S-Wing is carrying out. S-Wing must be stopped," he wrote.

Rezaul H Laskar Islamabad