ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s top court yesterday lifted a travel ban imposed on Husain Haqqani, the country’s former ambassador to the United States, during an investigation into a memo sent to Washington that had enraged the army and threatened to bring down the civilian government.
The decision was being viewed as a possible sign that authorities may be losing interest in the scandal, known as Memogate in the Pakistani media.
Haqqani, a former associate professor of international relations at Boston University, resigned as ambassador in November and returned to Islamabad to answer allegations that he was behind the memo. He has denied any link to it.
The unsigned note asked for Washington’s help in curbing the powers of the Pakistani army in exchange for security policies favorable to the United States.
The memo was sent to Washington after the May 2011 American operation that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan army town. It appeared to confirm the army’s worst fears that the country’s elected politicians were conspiring with Washington, a potent charge in a country where anti-Americanism runs deep.
The outrage, whipped up by right-wing, pro-army sections of the media, exposed the apparent fragility of the government in the face of generals who have ruled the country for much of its more-than-60-year existence and still run defense and foreign policy.
Haqqani said he now intends to travel to United States to join family there.
“Anywhere else, this matter would have been laid to rest long ago,’’ Haqqani said. “The memo had no impact on US policy and was consigned to the dustbin by its recipient.’’
The Supreme Court set up a commission to investigate the affair after opposition politicians petitioned for an inquest. Despite the fact he had not been charged with a crime, the commission had banned Haqqani from traveling.
Yesterday, it ruled that Haqqani - who has been living in the prime minister’s residence, reportedly worried about threats to his life - could travel. The court said Haqqani had to return to Pakistan if the commission required it. Haqqani said he would comply with the orders.
Up until a few weeks ago, there was speculation that the scandal could lead to the demise of President Asif Ali Zardari. But last week, the main accuser - a Pakistani-American businessman who claimed to have delivered the note to Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer at the time - said he could not come to Pakistan to testify, citing security fears.
That appears to have dealt a sharp blow to the case, even assuming the accuser, Mansoor Ijaz, had a “smoking gun’’ linking Haqqani and President Zardari to the memo. Many observers have since predicted that the probe is heading nowhere. Some media reports have speculated about a possible agreement between the army and the government to shelve the case.
Haqqani has won support from some US lawmakers and prodemocracy activists in Pakistan, who painted him as a victim of army meddling in the democratic process. Although he worked hard in Washington defending Pakistan - a challenging task over the past few years - prior to taking the job he was known as having an antiarmy line.
The scandal has transfixed Pakistan’s media and political class even as the country grapples with more existential threats like Islamist militancy and potential economic collapse.
Yesterday, a suicide bomber killed Haji Akhunzada, a leader of a militant group that has been fighting a rival outfit in northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border, police said.
Akhunzada was a senior figure in Ansarul Islam, which operates in the Khyber tribal region close to the Afghan border. He was reportedly killed along with his son-in-law while visiting his house close to the city of Peshawar.
Ansarul Islam is fighting with another militant group, Lashkar Islam, for control of the Khyber region, and dozens of people have been killed in the violence.
In a separate development yesterday, President Obama said US drone strikes on terrorism targets have been “very precise” and will remain a key part of the fight against terrorists. Drone strikes on targets inside Pakistan have increased friction between the United States and Pakistani authorities.