A new diplomat will take over one of the hardest jobs in Washington. It's the job of representing Pakistan to the United States at a time of poisonous relations between the two countries.


The post goes to Sherry Rehman. She is a lawmaker who lately faced threats to her life in Pakistan for her stance in favor of basic human rights. Now she replaces an ambassador who lost his job in a tangled episode.

INSKEEP: Hussein Haqqani was accused of involvement in writing a memo to the U.S. military. It asked for help in fending off the power of Pakistan's own army. Haqqani said he didn't draft that memo, but he was happy to give up his job. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The scandal that has consumed Pakistan over the past few weeks has been dubbed Memogate, and it pulls in officials from the highest offices in both Islamabad and Washington. The controversy centers around a memo that was sent to Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May. The note, according to some reports, written on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari, and asks the U.S. to help prevent a military coup. In return, according to the memo, Pakistan's civilian government made a wide range of promises that would be detrimental to the country's military and intelligence networks. The memo only came to light after a Pakistani businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, wrote about it in the Financial Times. Ijaz said Ambassador Haqqani had asked him to have the letter delivered to Mullen. Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says it's a complicated plot that seems almost surreal.

DANIEL MARKEY: I guess it's one of those things where you wouldn't believe it if you hadn't seen it written somewhere. And you might not believe if it weren't Pakistan. You've seen these kind of crazy crises come and go.

NORTHAM: A spokesman for Mullen said the admiral did see the unsigned letter but essentially ignored it because he didn't consider it credible. The Pakistani media continued to run with the story, and the pressure built on both Haqqani and President Zardari. Haqqani is close to Zardari, but is also known as a critic of Pakistan's powerful military. He told NPR he did not write or deliver the memo, but he offered his resignation to help end the controversy. Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Haqqani didn't have much choice.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Once this whole idea that he was involved with the elected head of Pakistan, and what appeared to be going to the United States to bypass the Pakistani military, made it extremely difficult for him to stay and if he had stayed would have raised more and more questions about was this part of some plot between the president of Pakistan and the United States.

NORTHAM: Still, Cordesman says Pakistan will be losing a strong voice in Washington with Haqqani's departure.

CORDESMAN: He was somebody who made very articulate cases for Pakistan's position. What's not clear is a future ambassador who is more politically acceptable in Pakistan, is going to be able to do anything as good a job in communicating between Pakistan and the United States.

NORTHAM: Haqqani's departure may give President Zardari a bit of breathing room, but it's unlikely to quell the uproar over Memogate, says the Council on Foreign Relations' Markey. He says the scandal is just part of a much larger problem in Pakistan - the struggle between the civilian and military leadership.

MARKEY: The centerpiece of the crisis is the question about whether the military or civilians really run the country. And you know, most analysts have concluded that in fact the military calls the shots in Pakistan. Even though you have an elected president and parliament, that when push comes to shove, the military really decides how Pakistan's foreign policy and in fact a lot of its domestic politics will be decided.

NORTHAM: Pakistan's military has ruled the country for more than half its 64-year existence and has either pushed out or seized power from several civilian governments. Markey says that could be what's developing now. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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