Islamabad, June 12 — A controversial judicial commission has ruled that Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States secretly approached the Obama administration last year requesting help to stave off a possible military coup.
After five months of politically charged hearings that centered on the former diplomat, Husain Haqqani, the commission submitted its findings to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The court then issued an order for Mr. Haqqani, to return to Pakistan from the United States, where he is teaching at Boston University. Legal experts said Mr. Haqqani could face treason charges.
The commission’s findings, in what has become known here as the “Memogate” scandal, are likely to reignite long-running tensions between Pakistan’s top civilian leaders and army generals that only last January led to rumors of a possible military coup. And it is certain to lead to more trouble for President Asif Ali Zardari, who is seen as close to Mr. Haqqani. Mr. Zardari is already engaged in several legal battles of his own with the court and stands accused of ultimately approving the supposed covert approach to the Obama administration.
State media said the commission had determined that Mr. Haqqani was responsible for a secret memo sent in May 2011 to Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, seeking American help to avert a possible military takeover in Pakistan.
In the unsigned document, Mr. Haqqani is accused of offering to help make Pakistan’s military leadership more amenable to American priorities in return for President Obama’s assistance in preventing a coup.
Mr. Haqqani, who resigned his post in November, did not testify before the commission. Speaking by phone from the United States, he rejected the commission’s findings as “political and one-sided.”
“I am being hounded for the perception that I was pro-American,” he said. “The inquiry commission is not a court, and those claiming it has determined guilt or innocence are wrong.”
The accusations, which infuriated Pakistan’s military leadership, stemmed from an article published in the Financial Times last October by Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin who claims to have the delivered the unsigned memo to the Pentagon on Mr. Haqqani’s instructions.
Mr. Ijaz’s claims led to Mr. Haqqani’s resignation. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who was then head of the Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, sent affidavits to the Supreme Court expressing alarm at the accusations. Weeks later, following a petition from the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, the Supreme Court established a three-judge panel to investigate the claims.
The initial hearings, in January, were framed by intense intrigue outside the courtroom. The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, accused General Kayani and General Pasha of acting “illegally” and “unconstitutionally.” The army hit back with a trenchant statement warning that Mr. Gilani’s words could have “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences” — prompting fevered speculation of a military coup.
Those tensions eventually calmed after a series of meetings between General Kayani and President Zardari, and the Memogate hearings gradually receded from the media spotlight as other crises took prominence.
As the commission hearings dragged on for months, they offered little clarity on either the authorship of the memo or the motivations behind the episode.
Mr. Ijaz refused to come to Pakistan to testify before the commission, citing security threats, instead testifying by video link from London. Controversy briefly flared after it emerged that he had participated in a music video that featured topless women.
Ultimately, though, Mr. Ijaz failed to produce definitive proof in public to back his claims. And Mr. Haqqani did not appear before the commission at all. He insisted that, like Mr. Ijaz, he should be allowed to testify via video link from abroad. But the judges refused his request.
As the hearings wore on, criticism grew in the Pakistani press, where many commentators said the commission was pursuing an openly partisan political agenda that would have been better dealt with in Parliament.
“The memo controversy was artificially manufactured and based on dubious evidence — basically one man’s accusations,” the newspaper Dawn wrote in April. It said that Mr. Ijaz’s accusations had “created a mountain out of a molehill.” Others accused the court of taking a side in long-bubbling arguments between the country’s top generals, politicians and elements of the news media.
The inquiry has become one of several controversies involving the Supreme Court this year. The court has endeared itself to some Pakistanis by taking a robust approach to human rights abuses committed by the military. It has also clashed with the government by pursuing a corruption case that led to Mr. Gilani’s conviction on contempt charges.
Mr. Haqqani said on Tuesday that the commission’s findings were intended to distract attention from recent corruption accusations against the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Mr. Haqqani also offered a veiled attack on the judiciary, which historically has sided with Pakistan’s generals rather than its civilian leaders, saying that he “refuses to let his patriotism be judged by those who had endorsed martial law regimes and had even given the right to military dictators to amend the Constitution.”
Salman Masood contributed reporting