Ex-Pakistan envoy to US denies memo link

January 9, 2012 - 9:31 AM
Pakistan

Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, center, salutes to media as he leaves after appearing before a judicial commission at the High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Pakistan's Supreme Court set up a judicial commission to investigate the secret memo scandal in response to a petition filed by group of opposition politicians. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's ex-envoy to the United States formally rejected allegations he was behind a memo sent to Washington that sought its help in preventing a purported army coup. He testified Monday before to a Supreme Court commission beginning its investigation into the affair.

The probe could add to pressure on the already shaky civilian government, especially if it states President Asif Ali Zardari knew about the memo. He, too, denies any connection with the memo.

The country is already struggling with urgent economic and security challenges.

On Monday government officials said Islamist militants killed 10 paramilitary soldiers they had been holding hostage since last month, the second time the insurgents have killed security force captives close to the Afghan border in a week.

The powerful army was outraged when news of the memo affair broke last year, and Haqqani resigned to try and limit the impact. The country's main opposition party petitioned the Supreme Court to probe the affair, and it ordered the inquiry.

Haqqani, who critics have said should be charged with treason over the affair, appeared confident as he arrived at a court building in the capital, flashing a salute to news photographers. His lawyer, Zahid Bokhari, said Haqqani swore under oath that he "didn't write the memo" or have any connection to it.

The memo was sent in May to U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

It asked for his help in stopping a supposed army coup after the humiliating, unilateral American raid last May that killed Osama bin Laden, in exchange for a raft of security polices likely to please Washington.

Right-wing, pro-army nationalists who have long accused Zardari of being too close to Washington have leaped onto the issue.

News of the memo first surfaced in October when Mansoor Ijaz, a U.S. businessman of Pakistani origin, wrote a column in London's Financial Times claiming Haqqani crafted the memo and asked him to send it. Ijaz also claimed the memo had Zardari's support.

The commission ordered the government to issue a visa to Ijaz so he could testify. The body has four weeks to complete its probe.

Alongside its internal political crisis, the grisly execution of the 10 paramilitary troops underlined Pakistan's security issues.

The bodies of the Frontier Corps soldiers were found in the Orakzai region near the Afghan border, said Naeem Khan, an official in Kohat town. Militants were not immediately available for comment.

Khan said the 10 were seized Dec. 24 in a militant raid on a security base in Orakzai.

The incident shows the brutality of the insurgency in the northwest at a time when some insurgent commanders claim the Pakistani government is entering into peace talks. The government and the army have denied any negotiations are under way.

Last week, insurgents from the Pakistani Taliban killed 15 members of the Frontier Constabulary, a police paramilitary unit. They put out a statement saying this was in revenge for an army operation that had killed a top Pakistani Taliban commander.

The Taliban have been fighting an insurgency in Pakistan since 2007 that has killed thousands of soldiers, police and Pakistani civilians. The militants are tied to al-Qaida, which also has leaders in the northwest and insurgents fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has launched operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest, but the militants have proven resilient. Critics accuse the army of going soft on some militants, who they see as allies in Afghanistan and potential proxies against arch-foe India.

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Associated Press write Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.