Zardari's Coup Fears

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Is yet another military coup imminent in Pakistan? The possibility was apparently seriously on the mind of the country’s president in May of this year, following the U.S. Special Forces operation that killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

Of course, no coup ended up taking place. But six months later, and the issue is again being discussed, after reports that President Asif Ali Zardari tried to reach out to the Obama administration in an effort to prevent Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani from staging a coup in the aftermath of the bin Laden operation.

And, according to Pakistani media accounts, the country’s envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani, may be stepping down after having already written to Zardari offering to resign in the wake of the controversy (Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is rumored as a possible replacement).  

The simmering tensions between the Pakistani military establishment, led by Kayani, and the political executive, headed by Zardari, have threatened to boil over in meetings the two have held on November 14 and 15.

But what is confusing in all this is the timing. The present political crisis has been triggered by an article in the Financial Times by Pakistani-American business tycoon Mansoor Ijaz. However, the article was published five weeks ago, so why all the fuss now?

Regardless, on October 10, Ijaz referred to a memo, apparently prepared shortly after bin Laden’s killing, mentioning the possibility of a coup. Ijaz claimed that the memo, intended for then-U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who in turn was to pass it on to Obama, was shown to him by a “senior Pakistani diplomat…close to President Zardari.” This “senior diplomat” is believed to be Haqqani, although he has denied the claim outright.

Regardless of why this is becoming an issue again a month after it was published, the developments have once again made India wary. India-Pakistan relations have recently appeared to be making progress, with the 17th SAARC summit in the Maldives last week being only the most recent demonstration of India-Pakistan bonhomie. Any upheaval in Pakistan’s domestic politics, though, seems bound to put the brakes on the India-Pakistan peace process.

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