Mansoor Ijaz says he'll testify in Pakistan's Memogate scandal

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 12, 2012 

ISLAMABAD — The controversial American businessman at the center of the legal case that threatens to bring down the Pakistani government vowed Thursday to fly to Islamabad and tell the court the "unaltered truth" in the so-called Memogate scandal.

"I intend to speak truth to power loudly," Mansoor Ijaz told McClatchy by telephone from Switzerland, where the former Wall Street hedge fund manager spends some of his time.

As he prepared to fly to Pakistan, where he's due to testify next week, Ijaz said he'd bring records of phone calls and text message exchanges with the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington that would prove his allegations. Ijaz claims that the former envoy, Hussain Haqqani, used him as a go-between to communicate a message from Pakistan's civilian government to top American military officials, asking for support in reining in the powerful Pakistani military.

Ijaz's allegations reach all the way up to President Asif Ali Zardari, a U.S. ally, and could culminate in treason charges against Zardari or Haqqani. Critics, however, describe the charges as fantastical and a thinly veiled attempt by the military to chase the government from power through the courts, which also have clashed with Zardari and seized on the case.

Asma Jahangir, Haqqani's lawyer, said the outcome of the case would be "a defining moment for Pakistan" in determining the balance of power between an elected civilian government and the military that had dominated the country's history. She said the "establishment" — the military and its supporters — was determined to stop Zardari's ruling Pakistan People's Party from taking control of the upper house of parliament in the Senate elections due in March.

Amid the deepening crisis and speculation that he'd be forced into exile, Zardari left for Dubai on Thursday on what was described as a one-day private visit.

In the middle of it all is the tough-talking Ijaz, who was born to Pakistani parents in Tallahassee, Fla., grew up in rural Virginia and built himself into a vocal but enigmatic player in Washington on the strength of connections to the American security establishment. A frequent and often hawkish commentator in the American press and television, Ijaz in the past was a ferocious critic of Pakistan's military but has turned into its greatest weapon against Zardari's government.

"I am coming because it is important that there be no perception left about whether I feared telling the truth on the record, whether I feared the threats, whether I feared the government and its sharp-tongued ministers, whether I feared facing Haqqani and his legal team. I'm ready for all of them," Ijaz said.

Ijaz claims that last May, just after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Haqqani, who was a friend, dictated an explosive memo to him to deliver to the U.S. military leadership. Haqqani allegedly told Ijaz he was acting on the instructions of "the boss," which Ijaz took as a reference to Zardari. The anonymous missive offered to rein in the military — particularly its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency, which has ties to the Taliban and other jihadist groups that deeply worry Washington — in exchange for greater U.S. support for the civilian government.

Ijaz revealed the existence of the document in a newspaper article in October, causing an earthquake in Pakistani politics.

Ijaz knew former National Security Adviser James Jones well enough to persuade him to forward the memo to its intended recipient, the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen. Ijaz's business associates have included former CIA chief James Woolsey and retired Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, a former director of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.

The furor forced Haqqani to resign in November, even before the case was investigated. The courts have banned him from leaving the country.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was concerned about stability in Pakistan, where the political crisis has distracted attention from pressing economic problems and could jeopardize Pakistani cooperation in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

"It has been our position to stand strongly in favor of a democratically elected civilian government, which we continue to do," Clinton said.

Ijaz insisted that he'd come to Pakistan next week to testify, though he suggested that it might not be Monday, the day the court is expecting him. He also said he expected to testify in a closed-door session, although the court hasn't said whether it will allow that.

On May 3, the day after bin Laden was killed, Ijaz wrote that elements of the ISI had almost certainly acted as his "knowing baby sitter." Yet on Oct. 22, Ijaz secretly agreed to meet the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, at a hotel in London, where he shared the record of his alleged communications with Haqqani over the memo.

Ijaz told McClatchy that he met Pasha because he became concerned that he'd been tricked into breaking Pakistani or American law by passing on the memo.

"When I realized that there was something more going on here than met the eye — things that Haqqani did which made me realize this — that's when I decided the whole truth needed to be told with the same vigor that Haqqani was trying to hide it," he said. He didn't elaborate on what actions by Haqqani he was referring to.

To the government's fury, Pasha already has told the court that he's convinced by the "corroborative material" that Ijaz showed him.

Many analysts think that the army, reluctant to stage another coup four years after democracy was restored in Pakistan, is relying on the seemingly partisan courts to throw out the government. They argue that the memo's basis was absurd because it contained promises of curbing military authority, which the government clearly didn't have the power to carry out.

"A fanciful memo has become a make-or-break for the government, while what the army does hasn't attracted the court's attention," said Cyril Almeida, a prominent newspaper columnist in Pakistan. "It's not what the memo mooted, but who was mooting that is the issue."

Almeida said that under the previous army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the military entered into a secret deal with Washington to allow U.S drone aircraft to operate against suspected militants in Pakistani territory, an issue that the country's Supreme Court hasn't taken up.

Ijaz, who maintains that he's still a critic of the Pakistani military, went public with the memo in an Oct. 10 opinion article in the Financial Times. He said he decided to do so after hearing congressional testimony from Mullen, who called the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group with no connection to Hussain Haqqani, a "veritable arm" of the ISI.

"He was essentially saying that ISI was conducting a covert war against my country's interests," Ijaz said. "My piece in the (Financial Times) was the bookend to his testimony because it offered a policy prescription for how to deal with Pakistani military and intelligence shenanigans."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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For more coverage visit McClatchy's Afghanistan and Pakistan page.

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