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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PAKISTAN ENVOY SACKED

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States resigned Tuesday in a widening scandal over a secret letter to a top U.S. military official, fears of a military coup in Pakistan and accusations between the diplomat and a businessman who claims they plotted to deliver the message to the Pentagon.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's envoy in Washington since 2008, used a Twitter message to announce that Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani accepted his resignation.

Meanwhile, Farahnaz Ispahani, the ambassador's wife and a member of the Pakistan parliament, threatened to file a libel suit against Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman who accused Mr. Haqqani of recruiting him to deliver the letter to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement in September.

Mr. Ijaz says the letter was written by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was seeking Adm. Mullen's public support if he fired the chiefs of the Pakistani army and intelligence service who were suspected of plotting to overthrow the civilian government.

He claims Mr. Haqqani asked him to serve as a secret messenger so the Pakistani government could deny any official role in the scheme if the plot were exposed and created more tensions between the elected government and the military.

Rumors of an army coup swept political circles in Pakistan after U.S. Navy commandos killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a Pakistani military garrison town north of the capital, Islamabad. Some U.S. critics cited the presence of the world's most wanted terrorist on Pakistani soil as proof that top military or intelligence officials were sheltering terrorists.

In the letter to Adm. Mullen nine days after the death of bin Laden, Mr. Zardari referred to a "dangerous devolution of the ground situation in Islamabad where no control appears to be in place," according to a report Tuesday in Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper.

He warned that Pakistan could "become a sanctuary for Osama bin Laden's legacy and potentially the platform for more rapid spread of al Qaeda's brand of fanaticism and terror," the Express Tribune added.

In one Twitter message Tuesday, Mr. Haqqani said he requested Mr. Gilani accept his resignation. In another message, he added that he will work as a private citizen to build a "new Pakistan free of bigotry and intolerance."

Mr. Haqqani denied any role in the letter to Adm. Mullen and accused Mr. Ijaz of attempting to create conflict between the Zardari government and the military.

"His entire harangue is aimed at pitting the civil and military administrations against each other and sowing the seeds of discord," he told India's NDTV.

In a separate interview with the New Delhi television station, Mr. Ijaz turned on Mr. Haqqani for denying recruiting him to act as a back-channel messenger to Adm. Mullen.

"Husain Haqqani is lying. It's just as simple as that," Mr. Ijaz said.

Mr. Ijaz, an investment banker and media commentator on South Asian issues, said he recruited a former U.S. official to deliver the letter to Adm. Mullen. He revealed the plot behind the letter in a column last month in the London-based Financial Times.

NO TURKEY IN SYRIA

U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford was looking forward to returning to Syria to celebrate Thanksgiving with his staff at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, but the State Department this week delayed his departure from Washington.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland explained that the ongoing unrest in Syria makes it too dangerous for Mr. Ford to return.

The ambassador, who had denounced Syrian President Bashar Assad for killing unarmed protesters, was recalled to Washington last month because of threats against his life.

"Our issue here is to ensure that when he goes back, not only is he safe ... but also that he can be effective in getting out and meeting with people," Ms. Nuland said.

Mr. Ford had said he wanted to be back in Syria in time for turkey dinner with his staff, but Ms. Nuland said he "will now be eating the turkey in the United States."

&bull Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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