The Memogate presents a moment of opportunity for the South Asian nation to set itself free from the clutches of cynical superpowers and special interests

Anything is possible in Pakistan, the land of infinite possibilities.  The Pakistanis have gotten so used to the setbacks and betrayals over the past six decades or so that nothing seems to shock or surprise them anymore.  The tsunami unleashed by the Memogate, however, is proving to be an exception.

Even as a stunned nation tries to make sense of the claim by Pakistani American Mansoor Ijaz that he delivered President Zardari’s SOS to Admiral Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in May seeking help against his own Army, it’s increasingly worried about its future.

The now infamous memo, purportedly put together on behalf of Zardari by Pakistan’s US ambassador Husain Haqqani, who has since been booted, sought US help in preempting a military takeover in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing.  As Ijaz, a powerbroker and fixer with ties to the CIA, explains in his FT piece, Zardari “needed an American fist on his army chief’s desk to end any misguided notions of a coup – and fast.”

In return, Washington was promised total cooperation and an upside down transformation of the land of the pure in the image of the master.  Suggesting the complicity of the Army in the sheltering of Bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and much else, the authors of the memo apparently offered to take out the top guns of the Army and bring about what academic eggheads love to call a ‘paradigm shift’ in Pakistan’s political and security priorities and goals.

The new strategic shift, if it had been successfully engineered, would have given a carte blanche to Uncle Sam to do what he pleased, including carry out more Abottabad-style assassinations, perpetuate drone terror, and even land American boots on Pakistani soil.  More interestingly, the memo offered to place “national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington” at its beck and call and wherever it wanted them placed.

The icing and cherry on the cake, of course, was the offer to bring Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons under a “more verifiable, and transparent regime.” In other words, turning over the control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets to the coalition of the willing. This is again something that was sure to gladden Washington as US hawks and Western pundits have long obsessed over the ‘danger’ of Pakistani nukes falling into the hands of terrorists.

No wonder then the Memogate has outraged the Pakistanis almost as much as the discovery of Sheikh Osama in the idyllic Abottabad.  The anti-American sentiment in the country is already high. And for all their protestations of innocence and attempts at passing the buck by the protagonists, it seems such an offer was indeed made to Washington.

Ijaz has since issued a pile of ‘evidence’ in support of his claim including transcripts of telephone conversations, BlackBerry messages and correspondence with Haqqani.  Remaining doubts have been cleared with Admiral Mullen himself confirming he did receive such a memo. The government finds itself in a jam worse than the one it found itself over Abottabad. Zardari has egg all over his face.

This is an extraordinary crisis in Pakistan’s less than ordinary history. It’s unlikely to resolve itself with the departure of the man who had been always seen as America’s man in Washington, rather than someone representing Pakistan.

What is fascinating to distant observers, though, is the fact that the whole debate on the issue has been focused on the question of authorship of the memo and why someone like Ijaz was used to seek the US help when direct communication lines were open with Washington. What are his motives in blowing the whistle now after acting as the go-between in this whole saga? If he is his master’s voice, what is it his masters hope to achieve with these disclosures? These questions will haunt Pakistan for some time to come.

But more important than these questions, methinks, is the content of the memo.  In a classic case of missing the forest for the trees, the whole emphasis has been on the medium, in this case Haqqani and Ijaz, rather than the message they carried.  There has been little discussion about the damning contents of the memo and the absurdity of an elected government plotting against the state and offering national sovereignty on a platter to a foreign power.

Haqqani’s departure was imminent. No tears will be shed for the man who has changed his political stripes faster than you could say the Memogate.  Let’s not forget though he was only a messenger, or stenographer as someone aptly put it.  What about those who dictated the message? Would such betrayal of national interest and honor be thinkable elsewhere? Given the mess Pakistan is already in, the Army and opposition may not like to upset the applecart just yet.  But would the people forgive and forget the perfidy of the political class? Only time will tell considering the ephemeral nature of public memory.

Be that as it may, this is a moment of reckoning for Pakistan and its irrepressible people.   The key to Pakistan’s continuing political instability and bankruptcy of its institutions is its overdependence and slavish reliance on foreign masters and allies.  The Pakistanis have in much of their history lived with the two A’s – the overambitious Army and an overbearing America. Imran Khan may be oversimplifying the issue when he blames US aid as the root cause of Pakistan’s ills.  But there’s something indeed there in the argument of the leader everyone seems to be eagerly awaiting.  As Allama Iqbal, the ideological father of Pakistan, according to some, would warn: “Aye tair-e-lahoti uss rizq se maut achi/jis rizq se aati hai parwaz mein kotahi.” (O bird soaring in the sky, death is better than feeding on the prey that fetters your flight!)

Isn’t it an irony that a nation imagined and inspired by Iqbal should end up as a client state of a corrupt and crumbling empire? Isn’t it about time Pakistan set itself free and made a fresh start in a new direction? If Pakistan is to rediscover itself as a proud nation respected by the world, it will have to stop living on borrowed glory.  Only those who stand on their own feet without any crutches earn respect for themselves. It’s true of both individuals and nations.

Pakistan needs to rediscover its independence of spirit.  Only a self-respecting nation can confront crimes and aggression against its people.  US drones kill innocent people on a daily basis, but you don’t hear a whimper from those in power.

With its potential and resources—and its people more than half of whom are young are its most precious asset—Pakistan deserves better than the current lot of self-serving politicians.  Imran Khan looks like a ray of hope but one man, however sincere, cannot change the system. The change will have to be all-embracing and universal.  Pakistan needs more of such leaders and they must emerge from within, not foisted from outside.  The popular anger and outrage that the Memogate has provoked should be channelized to build a new, truly free Pakistan.