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Envoy resignation offer ups political pressure on Pakistan's Zardari

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari addresses the annual World Future Energy summit in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi on January 17, 2011. Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's main opposition party on Thursday intensified pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari in the wake of a growing controversy surrounding Husain Haqqani, the country's ambassador to Washington, who offered to resign on Wednesday.

The build up to Haqqani's decision began on October 10, when Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, wrote in the Financial Times that an unnamed Pakistani diplomat had asked him to help compose a message to be transmitted through an unidentified conduit, from Zardari to Admiral Mike Mullen, who was serving as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.

According to Ijaz, Zardari sought U.S. support to block any attempt by his army generals to stage a coup in the week after U.S. Navy SEALS tracked and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan's northern city of Abbottabad.

Though Pakistan's army responded to the U.S. raid with a great deal of anger after it was revealed that neither the civilian nor military leaders had advanced U.S. information of the coming raid, senior generals subsequently told CBS News on background that seizing power was never considered as an option. While the identity of the Pakistani diplomat cited by Ijaz has never been confirmed, Haqqani is suspected by many politicians in his native country as the diplomat who approached Ijaz.

Pakistan's U.S. ambassador offers resignation

The issue has snowballed in Pakistan - a key U.S. ally in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan - into a bigger controversy. Analysts have warned that Haqqani's departure will still leave lingering questions over the extent of Zardari's own knowledge of the affair.

"I personally think the resignation of Husain Haqqani will not be enough to resolve this matter," said Siddique-ul-Farooq, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). "The real culprit must be punished. This is a very, very serious matter for the state of Pakistan because the memo compromised the security of a key institution of Pakistan."

Analysts warned, the controversy may undermine the relations between Zardari and Pakistan's army generals led by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army's chief of staff, just at a time when the country needs to be united to combat a considerable security challenge thrown up by Taliban militants.

"I think the element of trust between president Zardari and the army will suffer as we go forward" warned Hasan Askari Rizvi, a notable Pakistani commentator. "I can see the army keeping a closer watch on president Zardari as they will continue to suspect his moves".

Western diplomats who closely track Pakistan's domestic political trends cautioned that the controversy unleashed in the wake of Ijaz's claim will continue to fuel anti-Zardari popular sentiment.

"I don't believe, this controversy alone will bring down the president, but I can see how this problem will hang over his head" said a Western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "President Zardari's opponents will keep on using this case to bring him in more disrepute. People will make this issue look like a case where Zardari tried to stab the army in the back and asked the U.S. for support."

The controversy has triggered at a time when Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) faces new domestic political challenges in a country where anti-U.S. sentiment remains strong.

Imran Khan, Pakistan's cricket star-turned-politician, in recent weeks has gathered rapidly growing popular support for his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), or Pakistan Justice Movement political party, in the newest challenge to the PPP. Khan's main political theme includes a strong anti-U.S. message which frequently denounces the CIA's use of unmanned drone aircrafts to track and kill suspected militants in the country's border region along Afghanistan.

"As Zardari looses ground and others who are no friends of the U.S. gain ground, the U.S. will have to closely observe Pakistan's political trends. This will be very important for the way the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will work in future" concluded the diplomat who spoke to CBS News.