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Pakistani Ambassador To U.S. Resigns Amid Memo Controversy

Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani
Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani
Pakistan's ambassador to Washington has resigned from his post amid speculation that he was involved in a request for U.S. help to control his country's powerful military.

A Pakistani diplomat familiar with the situation confirmed to RFE/RL on November 17 that Ambassador Husain Haqqani offered to step down in a letter sent to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

His resignation was accepted in Islamabad on November 22 after he was questioned by army and intelligence officials.

He had been summoned home over the weekend after a memo was made public last week by Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, who claimed to have received it from Haqqani and, following Haqqani's instructions, passed it on to Admiral Michael Mullen, then the top U.S. military officer.

The memo, allegedly sent soon after the U.S. raid that killed former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan compound in early May, asks Mullen for a "direct intervention" to prevent a military takeover of the country.

The memo accuses army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani of plotting to bring down the civilian government in Islamabad, which was perceived as weakened in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid.

Many Pakistanis considered the raid a humiliating violation of their sovereignty by U.S. forces.

In return for Washington's help, the memo promises to aid in installing a "new security team" in Islamabad that would be friendly to the United States.

Ijaz, the businessman who went public with the memo in a contribution to the "Financial Times" on November 10, claimed that Haqqani assured him that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had personally approved it.

The Pakistani government initially denied the existence of the memo, as did Mullen's spokesman. Later, however, the spokesman said Mullen had received it but considered it unreliable and ignored it.

Haqqani, 55, has denied any involvement in the incident but offered to resign "to bring to an end the current controversy and allow the democratic government, for which I have worked very hard, to move on."

In a November 22 statement quoted by Western media outlets, Haqqani described the scandal, which the media in Pakistan has dubbed "memogate," as "an artificial crisis over an insignificant memo written by a self-centered businessman."

He later wrote in a Twitter message, "I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry [and] intolerance. [I] will focus energies on that."

A statement from the office of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said an investigation would be conducted "at an appropriate level" and "carried out fairly, objectively and without bias."

It remains unclear whether Haqqani's resignation will be effective in minimizing damage to Pakistan's civilian government.

The scandal is likely to stoke longstanding tensions between the civilian government and the army, which has ruled the country for most of its history. The country's recent history has been marked by a number of military coups.

The scandal also threatens to engulf President Zardari himself, who is now facing questions over whether he knew about the memo, which pro-army media outlets have described as treasonous.

In Washington, the White House described the incident as "an internal issue" for Pakistan, but praised the outgoing ambassador as "a very close partner."

Haqqani, a former journalist and adviser to three Pakistani prime ministers, was well-regarded by the Obama administration. He remained outspoken about the importance of continuing U.S. engagement in his country when relations between Washington and Islamabad hit a historic low in the wake of the bin Laden raid.

On November 22, U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters: "We've appreciated the work we've done with [Haqqani], but at the same time, we're certain that we'll be able to work with whomever the next Pakistani ambassador is."

Islamabad's new envoy to the U.S. has not yet been named.

written by Richard Solash based on RFE/RL and additional agency reporting
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