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U.S.-Pakistan ties in decline

The scary decline of relations between the United States and Pakistan the world's most dangerous nuclear-armed country -- is illustrated by the perilous plight of one man. Husain Haqqani was, until recently, the savvy and energetic Pakistani ambassador to Washington, dubbed by Bloomberg "the hardest-working man in D.C." His job was thankless: trying to maintain ties between two countries that deeply distrust each other.

Pakistan's military disliked Haqqani because of his long-standing opposition to its ties with Islamist groups. He was also regarded as too "pro-American." But the generals apparently recognized that only someone like Haqqani could ease tensions with Washington and keep the U.S. aid flowing.

So they let him keep working to prevent U.S.-Pakistani ties from breaking. Until now.

Haqqani has resigned and returned home. He's accused by the military and the media -- no formal charges -- of drafting an unsigned memo asking Washington in May to help block a military coup in Pakistan. In return, Pakistan's civilian government supposedly would have cracked down on its military and ISI intelligence agency.

Haqqani could be charged with treason. But the "Memogate" affair is so bizarre, one has to ask whether it's merely a pretext for the Pakistani military to unseat the civilian government and rupture ties with the United States.

The more details that emerge about this alleged scandal, the more fishy it looks. A Pakistani American businessman named Mansoor Ijaz passed the memo to President Obama's former national security adviser, Jim Jones, in May; Jones gave it to Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ijaz ignited the firestorm by writing about the memo in the Financial Times in October. He says he was following Haqqani's instructions to convey a message from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari; he claims he has text messages that back up his story. But the tale is full of holes.

Haqqani denies he had anything to do with the memo. Jones denies Ijaz ever mentioned Haqqani. And Mullen says he paid the unsigned document no attention. But even putting all that aside, the story makes no sense. The memo was passed just after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, which left the Pakistani military weakened and unlikely to try a coup. Most telling, the well-connected Haqqani had no need to use an unreliable cutout to deliver messages. Which brings us to the central weakness of the story: the credibility of Mansoor Ijaz.

Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, has detailed a long list of sensational claims by Ijaz to Fox News, CNN and British newspapers that were baseless. Example: Ijaz told Fox in 2003 that "unimpeachable eyewitness sources" placed bin Laden in Iran; later he admitted this was in error.

This month Ijaz claimed, in a Newsweek interview, that the United States told Haqqani and Zardari in advance about the raid on bin Laden. Given the intense secrecy in which this raid was held, such a claim is ludicrous. It undercuts everything else Ijaz has said.

Husain Haqqani was no traitor; he understood the need to prevent a U.S. rupture with Pakistan. His forced resignation could bring that rupture closer. By blindly pursuing Memogate, Pakistan's military leaders are boxing themselves into a situation that is as dangerous for their country as it is for America. Is that what the generals really want?