Only two aspects of the secret memorandum, now publicly available, can be regarded as factual: the memo was written, although its authorship is yet to be established beyond doubt; and it was received by Admiral Mike Mullen as officially acknowledged by his former spokesman, John Kirby. The memo essentially seeks the support of the US in achieving civilian control over the military and cleansing it of elements that support the Al Qaeda and its affiliates. That foreign intervention was sought to reconfigure the security apparatus on the one hand and the civil-military relationship on the other is of course a matter of grave concern. Yet key questions related with the memo require investigation if only to mitigate the heightened anxiety of Pakistan’s citizens regarding the state of the country: (a) Who authorized the initiative of approaching the US government for such wide ranging intervention into Pakistan’s state structure through channels that lie beyond the formal institutional framework of inter-state relations? (b) What factors made the contention between the civilian government and the security apparatus reach a critical point whereby such a desperate and dangerous initiative was deemed necessary? (c) The acute tension between the civilian government and the military implied by the resort to foreign help can paralyze democratic governance. How can the tension presumably preceding the political adventure and its aftermath, be resolved to restore stability within the state structure?
The fact that such a memorandum was written and communicated to a foreign country shows ignorance of the basic fact that the source of legitimacy of any policy change in Pakistan and indeed its independence is the people of Pakistan. It also shows that the contention between various factions of the power structure may have reached a point where it constrains effective governance and threatens the democratic edifice.
Addressing these questions is necessary for Pakistan’s evolution to democracy. Nevertheless the text of the memorandum has a sub-text which has implications for an understanding of the dynamics of institutional instability in Pakistan. Let us examine the sub-text.
An analysis of Pakistan’s political history indicates incongruence between the formal and actual institutional structure of state power. Thus, while the military is supposed to be subordinate to elected civilian authority under the Constitution, yet it has a pre-eminent position in governance. Policy making as well as political change are largely shaped by the dialectic of the power struggle between civilian and military factions of the power structure. The memorandum argues that the “tug of war between military and civilian sectors” was enhanced following the Abbottabad raid by US Special Forces. This observation suggests that the civil-military contention in governance had reached a point “…where no central control appears to be in place”.
The intelligence apparatus during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by the very nature of its enterprise, acquired operational autonomy with respect to its component elements. The organizational structure, ideological orientation and strategic perspective inherited from the earlier period, therefore influenced organizational behavior in the period after 9/11 when Pakistan’s military establishment was pitted against the very militant groups which it had earlier nurtured.
The memo claims that following the restructuring of the security apparatus with “Washington’s direct intervention”, there would be “an independent inquiry into the allegations that Pakistan harbored and offered assistance to UBL and other senior Al Qaeda operatives”. The sub-text of this observation is that there is a possibility that elements within the security establishment may have been complicit, rather than incompetent in handling Osama Bin Laden and others. While this is a logical possibility the memo proposes a dangerous path by failing to understand that any “inquiry into the allegations” would have no credibility either within the military establishment or amongst the people of Pakistan if such an inquiry followed US intervention.
The memo proposes that Pakistan’s nuclear assets would be brought under a “…more verifiable, transparent regime”, and cooperation with India undertaken on the issue of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. While such initiatives would be possible if taken by a representative government of a sovereign Pakistan, they would be rejected as treason when undertaken following US intervention into Pakistan.