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Witch-hunt against democracy in Pakistan

Pakistani diplomat accused over memo claims he is victim of witch-hunt

Husain Haqqani says he fears for his life as hearing begins into allegations he sent memo to US official warning of military coup

By Saeed Shah in Islamabad

The former Pakistani diplomat at the centre of a scandal threatening to bring down the government in Islamabad says he has become embroiled in a “witch-hunt” against democracy in Pakistan.

A judicial commission on Monday began investigating allegations that could lead to treason charges against Husain Haqqani, who resigned as ambassador to Washington following claims he was behind an anonymous memo asking for US support to stave off a military coup in Pakistan.

The case has again drawn battle lines between the civilian government and the military in Pakistan, where the generals have ruled for half its existence. Haqqani, who denies knowledge of the memo, was a key adviser to President Asif Ali Zardari.

Haqqani was summoned to Pakistan in November and has, in effect, been under house arrest since, with his travel abroad banned. He is staying at the heavily guarded official residence of the prime minister in Islamabad, afraid that religious extremists or military agents will kill him if he ventures out. He said he was there for his “personal safety and security“. Last year, militants assassinated two senior officials of the ruling Pakistan Peoples party.

“Some people want to have the right to judge the patriotism of civilians. Some have joined the witch-hunt to keep democracy weak or even get rid of it if they can,” said Haqqani, speaking to the Guardian in a worn-looking sitting room where he receives few visitors.

In Washington, where Haqqani served for nearly four years, he was lauded as one of the best-connected diplomats in town, a smooth-talking, hyperactive defender of Pakistan on American television screens and in the corridors of the US capital. He is credited by some with keeping aid money flowing and relations with the US alive as the alliance between the two countries foundered in recent years over charges that Pakistan was playing a “double-game” by secretly supporting the Taliban.

In Pakistan, however, Haqqani was persistently vilified by the military establishment and the country’s press, painted as an American stooge and a too-clever-by-half strategist for the unpopular Zardari. Many in Pakistan believe it is the president who is the real target of the “memogate” furore, although he insisted over the weekend that he was not going to quit.

Pakistan’s armed forces, used to controlling the relationship with the US, deeply resented Haqqani’s contacts and level of access in Washington. Democracy was restored in Pakistan in 2008, but the government has been shaky, with simmering tension with the military. Haqqani had advocated closer ties to the US and was a strong critic of the army’s role in politics and its policy of supporting jihadist groups, laid out in his 2005 book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military.

“I am being targeted for my views and beliefs on civil-military relations and US-Pakistan ties, not because I did anything wrong,” said Haqqani.

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