The startling allegations leveled by Mansoor Ijaz have already claimed their first casualty. Meet the man who blew the whistle on Memogate.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]usawer Mansoor Ijaz has always been willful. It was a trait that worried his late father, Mujaddid, a Virginia Tech physics professor. So one summer afternoon in 1976 at their mountain-perched home in rural Shawsville, Virginia, he organized a sort of intervention for the oldest of his five children, with some hefty help. “Abdus, can you please explain to this young man that being so headstrong is not good?” The professor’s friend, Dr. Abdus Salam, sized up the young Ijaz and smiled. “Do you remember how headstrong we were at that age? That’s how we got to where we are,” Salam told his friend, “so let him be.”
For 15-year-old Ijaz, Salam wasn’t one of the world’s most important scientists but simply the genial uncle who would bring chocolates each time he visited. Salam would eventually become Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, but despite that achievement he would die an outsider, heartlessly disowned as a heretic by most Pakistanis deeply suspicious of his Ahmadi beliefs. But the trait that worried Ijaz’s father has served the son well—as Salam knew it would.
Ijaz, the thrice-married 50-year-old Wall Street millionaire and father of five, is based in New York City but clocks up hundreds of private-jet hours a year traveling to his pieds-à-terre in Europe. And unlike Salam, Ijaz is the ultimate Beltway insider, uninhibited by false humility. He has all the gregarious, bounteous self-assurance of a self-made man and a rolodex to envy. Ijaz’s BlackBerry has numbers for former U.S. vice president Al Gore, Sen. John Kerry, former Obama national security adviser James L. Jones, Husain Haqqani. But he should probably delete that last contact.
On Nov. 22, Haqqani resigned or, according to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s office, was asked to resign his post as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. This in the wake of Ijaz’s allegation that Haqqani, his former friend of over 10 years, was in fact the architect of the sensational confidential memorandum he had delivered to Adm. Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, just days after Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in Abbottabad.
Pakistan erupted in propaganda wars after Ijaz first suggested Haqqani’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy in an Oct. 10 op-ed for London’s Financial Times, “Time to Take on Pakistan’s Jihadist Spies.” The end of Haqqani’s diplomatic career was inevitable, and Sherry Rehman—a former journalist, Gilani cabinet member, and rights activist—will now succeed him. But in a country rent by anti-Army and anti-Zardari ardor, some hope while others fear that the political blood of Husain may not be enough.
“It is not congruent with the national interests of Pakistan to have a clever-by-half ambassador and a deficient-by-full president,” Ijaz told Newsweek. “OK, not everybody has to be a fucking rocket scientist in all of this but at least be honest to the people about what you’re doing and own up to your actions instead of covering them up.”
The memo is a startling read. Playing up fears of a coup in Pakistan, which Ijaz says he now knows to have been purposefully false, the document delivered to Admiral Mullen through former Obama administration official Jones on May 10 urges the Pentagon to convey “a strong, urgent and direct message” to Pakistan’s Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha “to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus.” The memo seeks U.S. assistance in forcing “wholesale changes” to Pakistan’s notoriously tenuous civil-military relations. Alluding to the civil war that led to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh, the memo describes the Army’s emasculation by Abbottabad as a “1971 moment.” It alleges the “complicity” of the military and the ISI in the bin Laden “matter” and claims the presence and patronage on Pakistani soil of several most-wanted terrorists, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The nonpaper seeks American pressure, and names, for setting up an independent commission to investigate bin Laden’s support structure in Pakistan. The findings, the memo promises, will be of “tangible value to the U.S. government and the American people” and will “identify with exacting detail those responsible” and lead—“it is certain”—to the “immediate termination of active service officers.” The memo is written on behalf of a “new national security team” that will be “inducted by the President of Pakistan with your support” and staffed with people “favorably viewed by Washington” who would provide the U.S. “carte blanche” to operate against terrorists within Pakistan.
The memo also commits this new national-security dream team to bringing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program under an “acceptable framework of discipline” and a “more verifiable, transparent regime.” It promises cooperation with India over the 2008 Mumbai attacks regardless of who may have been involved, and urges America demand the disbandment of the ISI’s “Section S,” which is “charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network, etc.”
If this memo was Haqqani’s brainchild, as Ijaz alleges, it is self-evident that these contents could never be relayed by him in his official capacity without raising red flags in leak-prone U.S. decision-making circles. And what civilian government, no matter how besieged or bumbling (or some of its officials, no matter how crafty or clumsy), could resist the temptation of capitalizing on post-Abbottabad tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. to finally put the generals in their place? Except that the memo doesn’t represent an article-of-faith problem for its alleged ideological architects, but an Article 6 problem. That’s the treason clause in Pakistan’s Constitution which, despite the clamor, is unlikely to be invoked.
Ijaz finds it improbable that he was the only opinion leader to be approached by Haqqani.
Far less radical but prescriptions similar to those in the Mullen memo were made around the same time in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “This is a time for action, to finally push [Pakistan] toward moderation and genuine democracy,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in his May 12 piece. “One Pakistani scholar, who preferred not to be named for fear of repercussions” explained the crestfallen Pakistan Army’s violation-of-sovereignty outbursts to Zakaria thus: “It’s like a person, caught in bed with another man’s wife, who is indignant that someone entered his house.”
Some could say that Haqqani, who taught at Boston University and authored a seminal critique of the military in his 2005 book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, fits the bill.
Zakaria also helps explain the frustration felt by democracy purists. “The military has also, once again, been able to cow the civilian government. According to Pakistani sources, the speech that Prime Minister Gilani gave at a recent news conference was drafted by the military. President Zardari continues to appease the military rather than confront the generals. Having come to power hoping to clip the military’s wings, Pakistan’s democratically elected government has been reduced to mouthing talking points written for it by the intelligence services.”
The piece implores Washington to push with urgency the constitution in Pakistan of a national commission headed by a Supreme Court justice and “not an Army apparatchik” to investigate Abbottabad and the involvement of “elements of the Pakistani state.” It also asks the U.S. to “develop a plan to go after the major untouched terror networks in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani faction, the Quetta Shura and Lashkar-e-Taiba,” and to either strictly implement the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill (the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009) which require Pakistan’s military being placed under real civilian control or cut off aid.
Burden of Biography
Haqqani, 55, is no stranger to controversy. One year after making ambassador, in 2009, he was accused of finagling and finessing the allegedly anti-Army provisions in Kerry-Lugar. He responded to the most strident accuser, The Nation, with a defamation notice. The English-language daily had called him “an American agent”—an odious, potentially fatal label that has somehow stuck. This year, during the Raymond Davis fiasco, he was falsely accused of doling out visas in the hundreds to CIA operatives like the dubious Davis. Never mind that the ISI, not Haqqani, cleared every single visa issued from Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington. And never mind that it was Haqqani, a former religious-right activist, who resolved the Davis crisis by suggesting application of the Shariah concept of diyat or “blood money.”
The accusations have taken their toll on Haqqani and his third wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, a well-regarded lawmaker and herself a former journalist. Ispahani is one of Zardari’s spokespersons, and her grandfather, who served as ambassador to the U.S., gifted Pakistan the D.C. property that has become the official residence for its envoys. On Nov. 18, Haqqani broke down on national television. “There is nothing more painful for a Pakistani than having people call him a traitor,” he told Geo News. “My mother is buried in a military graveyard, my father served in the Pakistan Army, my brother served in the Pakistan Army. My political views may be different from others but to accuse me of being a traitor because of that—that hurts.”
Biography is a burden for both Ijaz and Haqqani. Before his ambassadorship and before his teaching career, Haqqani was in the thick of politics—another job he was good at. During the 1990s Haqqani ran an election campaign for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who was once pro-Army, before defecting to the Pakistan Peoples Party and winning the confidence of Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. When Sharif returned to power he jailed Haqqani on made-up charges until Gen. Pervez Musharraf interceded. Haqqani left the country soon after.
A universal dinner party favorite for his wit and propensity to speak in sound bites, Haqqani has been accused of coming up with that highly damaging description of first husband Zardari’s alleged corruption, “Mr. 10 Percent,” during his time as a Sharif adviser. But the now center-right journalist Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami, who knows Haqqani, disputes this as untrue. Shami says Haqqani’s election campaign for Sharif was “in bad taste” but impressed Bhutto. It was Haqqani, he says, who trotted out the infamous 1990s letter forged to look like it had gone from Bhutto to Peter W. Galbraith, another Beltway insider and Bhutto’s friend from Harvard, calling on the U.S. to have India attack Pakistan in order to chasten the generals. “Whether he forged it or not is a matter of debate, but he was the one to release it to the media,” says Shami.
But allegations are cheap, especially in Pakistan where challenging hearsay is heresy. The fact is that Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, trusted Haqqani. In her posthumously released Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, she appreciates Haqqani for his “vital role in providing guidance and criticism, especially invaluable on the theocratic foundations of Islam and the history of Pakistan—a loyal friend whose counsel … will always be cherished.”
The Prince and the Pasha
Ijaz received a call from the ISI just days after the publication of his Financial Times piece. Would he be willing to corroborate his allegations against the “senior Pakistani diplomat” behind the Mullen memo to an official of the same intel agency he described in the piece as a “cancer” on the Pakistani State and a threat to the world? Although sympathetic to the Zardari-led government, Ijaz’s column also called the civilian government “incompetent and toothless.”
On the evening of Oct. 22, Ijaz met the ISI chief in London for four hours. The one-on-one meeting took place in General Pasha’s £715-a-night one-bedroom suite at the InterContinental London Park Lane, a hotel favored by Pakistani generals on official visits. A plainclothes Pakistani stood guard outside. General Pasha, attired in a business suit, was “calm,” asked a series of pointed questions and kept scribbling as Ijaz backed up his claims against Haqqani.
Haqqani broke down on national television. ‘There is nothing more painful for a Pakistani than having people call him a traitor,’ he said.
Ijaz often swapped notes with Haqqani via BlackBerry Messenger. He claims Haqqani communicated with him using two devices—one with the PIN No. 2326A31D was used by Haqqani, he says, between May 9 and 12, and another, with the PIN No. 287EF1E9, later in June. Ijaz has released portions of his alleged chats with Haqqani to the press. Interior minister Rehman Malik only hurt Haqqani’s cause when he confirmed that Ijaz and Haqqani had been in contact, despite the former envoy’s claims to the contrary. “This is communication through SMS by two individuals,” said Malik. “One is an American national and the second is our ambassador.”
There was no small talk between Ijaz and General Pasha that evening, but in order to establish his credentials Ijaz did give the spy chief a rundown of his life—his weightlifting wins as a U-Va. student, his academic honors at MIT and Harvard, his foray into the world of high finance, his friendship and falling out with former U.S. president Clinton, his one-time ambition to run for the U.S. Senate.
They sat facing each other across a table piled with printouts, documents, and Ijaz’s laptop. As Ijaz walked him through the cache of alleged evidence, General Pasha could no longer maintain his sangfroid. He grimaced and looked shocked at times, but managed to not give away how he intended to proceed with the information he had been provided.
But he did proceed. His boss, General Kayani, met with Zardari twice in two days to discuss Memogate. Facing pressure from his own Corps Commanders, the Army chief is said to have asked Zardari to act against Haqqani and at least two federal ministers who are believed to have assisted Haqqani in his alleged efforts to slander their institution, says a former official source whose accounts have proven accurate in the past.
Turn of the Screw
In the days between Admiral Mullen’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in September—in which he said the “[Jalaluddin] Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency”—and the publication of his October op-ed, Ijaz says an exhausted Haqqani sounded him out on another matter.
“He was ready to call it quits,” claims Ijaz, who urged the ambassador to “hang in there.”
But what made Ijaz go rogue? Ijaz says he wrote the op-ed in reaction to the “harsh treatment” of Admiral Mullen by Pakistan’s media after his Senate testimony. “I opened the piece with the brief anecdote of what had been done in May to highlight the tangible actions that had been taken to deal with the growing interference and threat posed by extremist segments of the military and intelligence communities in Pakistan,” says Ijaz. Haqqani, he claims, wasn’t happy about the piece and texted Ijaz minutes after it was posted online: “Your FT op-ed is a disaster.” Ijaz claims Haqqani followed up with a phone call seeking to know if there was another “senior Pakistani diplomat” in Ijaz’s orbit who could be used to throw off the scent. This angered Ijaz.
It didn’t help when, on Oct. 28, Pakistan’s Foreign Office tried to put out the ensuing media fires, dismissing Ijaz’s account as “a total fabrication.” It said: “The idea of employing a private individual to convey a message to a foreign government, circumventing established official channels of communication, defies belief. The insinuations and assertions in the fictitious story are devoid of any credence and are emphatically rejected.”
The next day, the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar issued a yet more vigorous denial, deriding Ijaz as a fantasist. “Ijaz’s allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual, whom recognition and credibility have eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories. Why would the president of Pakistan choose a private person of questionable credentials to carry a letter to U.S. officials? It is rather surprising that responsible media outlets gave so much attention to Mansoor’s allegation without questioning the veracity of his claims.”
Ijaz’s claims can seem a little O.T.T. Among other things, he takes credit for Musharraf’s Agra visit, for blowing the whistle on the A. Q. Khan network, and for negotiating a ceasefire in Kashmir. But the personal, political, and financial documents and data that Ijaz provided exclusively to Newsweek establish his involvement in these and several other citizen-diplomatic initiatives as well as his proximity to power.
Ijaz’s headstrong nature can rub some people the wrong way. In 2003’s Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror, Richard Miniter writes: “Some of Clinton’s national security aides now revile Ijaz as a Walter Mitty living out a personal fantasy; they cannot bring themselves to admit that he was good at getting foreign leaders to offer new proposals.” As a donor to the Democratic Party, Ijaz had become a Friend of Bill. They fell out after Ijaz went public with Clinton’s dropping the ball on bin Laden.
And not everyone in Pakistan agrees with the government’s uncharitable assessment of Ijaz and his utility. “It is unfortunate and unfair to question Mr. Ijaz’s credibility,” says Sartaj Aziz, vice chancellor of Beaconhouse University and a former minister in the Sharif government. “Being an American citizen of Pakistani origin, he has been quite instrumental and useful in acting as an interlocutor between Pakistani and American officials,” he told Newsweek. Aziz credits Ijaz for the passage in the U.S. Congress of the Brown Amendment, which allowed Pakistan to circumvent the earlier Pressler Amendment and receive American military hardware.
For the government in Islamabad, Memogate was a nonevent—until Admiral Mullen stepped in, and Ijaz stepped up his campaign.
On Nov. 8, Mullen’s spokesman said the retired admiral had no knowledge of the May memo. Ijaz believes this denial was orchestrated by Haqqani in order to save his job and flat-line a story that simply wouldn’t go away. He responded by issuing a huffy, lengthy press release defending his own credibility, and making public the text of alleged BlackBerry and phone conversations he had had with Haqqani on the memo and subsequent op-ed. Mullen, whom Ijaz has never claimed to personally know, retracted his denial on Nov. 16. Memogate was real.
“After becoming aware of the press interest in this memo, [Mullen] felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told Newsweek on email, explaining the revision of Mullen’s account. “He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it.”
For Ijaz, it had gotten personal. The day after Mullen’s memory-jog, he went public with Haqqani’s name in the Financial Times. “Had the Foreign Office’s denial and the Presidency’s denial and all these orchestrations of denials not taken place, there would not have been a need for me to come out and correct the record as forcefully as I did,” says Ijaz.
President Zardari’s spokesman derided Ijaz as a fantasist: ‘Ijaz’s allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual, whom recognition and credibility have eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories.’
Sharing his account of Memogate as zealously as Ijaz has isn’t a simple matter of proving himself right or anyone else wrong. There’s business to protect. Part of Ijaz’s impressive list of political contacts has been built on the foundation of his financial success and in order to preserve it. He has had former U.S. government officials on the boards of his companies, some of which provide services and technology to the U.S. military. He could not afford to have the Pakistani caricature of him going unchallenged.
He also feels lied to. He now believes that post-Abbottabad there was never any threat to Pakistan’s civilian government from the Army. “If I had known this before Ambassador Haqqani approached me I would never have had the memo relayed,” he says.
In Ijaz’s view, the memo further frayed U.S.-Pakistan relations and deepened the Pentagon-Pindi divide. He alleges that Haqqani made a victory call to him after an afternoon meeting on May 11 between Pakistani and American officials. “He was almost gleeful that Admiral Mullen had agreed to take certain actions in line with what was asked of him in the memo and that it would all remain within the normal course of interagency dealings,” claims Ijaz.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Kirby told Newsweek that no action flowed from memo: “Neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Admiral Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with General Kayani and the Pakistani government.”
By the time U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—who had celebrated her birthday in 1999 at Ijaz’s Manhattan home—came to Pakistan in October, the kinks in AmPak had been ironed out after months of tension. Clinton disowned the admiral’s Senate statement and, quoting General Kayani, said both countries were now “90 to 95 percent on the same page.”
Most outside observers view Pakistan’s Army and the ISI warily because of their undeserved (and self-propagated) reputation as omnipresent and omnipotent. The military and its agencies can sometimes inspire irrational and overblown fear.
Take the recent Bloomberg Businessweek piece on Memogate. “Like many people who know Haqqani,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg, “I feared that he would be met at the airport by a Benigno Aquino-type arrival ceremony.” Aquino, an opposition leader of the Philippines, was gunned down on the Manila International Airport tarmac after he returned from self-exile in 1983. Haqqani is an able and likeable man, but he is no Aquino; and Pakistan can be a cruel and punishing life, but it is not Marcos’s Philippines. The report suggests an elaborate ISI plot, of exactly the sort the lumbering agency is incapable of ever executing, to get Haqqani, and Zardari. But, it states, “Haqqani had no intention to go quietly. ‘Someone’s game plan was to scare me and my president into submission without a fight.’”
After everything that he now knows, does Ijaz still subscribe to the prescriptions contained in the Mullen memo? Even if he is angered and vexed by the alleged official cover-up, can he still appreciate the ambition to recalibrate the often precarious civil-military balance in Pakistan?
“You have a civilian government with some very intelligent people who may be attempting to achieve an objective that may not be achievable, and that is to get the civilian institutions to control the activities and the behavior of the ISI and the military,” says Ijaz. “That all works if you have a Mandela-type figure at the top of your government on the civilian side, but it all falls apart if you have a Zardari-type figure.”
America’s patience “for the misdeeds and machinations of Pakistan’s political leaders” has run out, says Ijaz. “We do not need the aggravation of further manipulation at the hands of Islamabad’s disingenuous rulers—or disingenuous U.S. bureaucrats who hide the sins of foreign diplomats so they can get any sliver of America’s agenda executed.”
Ijaz doesn’t doubt Zardari’s, or Haqqani’s, patriotism. He maintains that when he was asked to forward the memo, Haqqani allegedly claimed to have the “boss’s approval” to do so. Now, some six months later, Ijaz says he doesn’t know whether the president—or anyone else in Pakistan “other than Haqqani”—had any knowledge of the memo before it was delivered to Mullen.
It is his impression that the alleged Memogate cover-up has cost Islamabad credibility in Washington. “The frustration on the American side is fervid,” he says. “There is this acceptance now in America that the ambition of the civilian government to get control of the security establishment is never going to become a reality so they might as well deal with the Army, especially to bring some semblance of resolution to Afghanistan.” Ijaz is also concerned about what he calls a “cabal” operating within the Pakistani government which will “stop at nothing to misinform people in America.”
Sharif’s opposition party, PMLN, sees all incumbent civilian and military leaders as one big cabal. True to form, it has filed a petition with the Supreme Court demanding answers from everyone involved, including Generals Kayani and Pasha, hoping that Memogate becomes Zardari’s Watergate and Kayani’s Waterloo. Neither is likely.
Most outside observers view Pakistan’s Army and the ISI warily because of their undeserved (and self-propagated) reputation as omnipresent and omnipotent. The military and its agencies can sometimes inspire irrational and overblown fear.
Ijaz plans to arrive in Pakistan soon. But this is no victory lap. He says he’s coming only to establish that he’s ready to face anyone and cooperate with any inquiry. Does Ijaz have any political aspirations for himself here? “I have a comfortable life in the U.S. and zero interest in Pakistan’s politics,” he says. “What I did, I did as a favor for my friend, Mr. Haqqani.”
Mujaddid Ijaz died of cancer in 1992 and left each of his five children a separate message recorded on his deathbed. It took Mansoor Ijaz nine months to bring himself to finally watch the videocassette. “No matter what pond we threw you in, you learned how to swim,” Ijaz’s dying father said. “The brain God gifted you with will do no good to this world if you do not learn compassion for the ones who cannot help themselves. Go and help the people of Pakistan.” Ijaz believes his latest involvement with Pakistan does just that.
With Jahanzeb Aslam, Benazir Shah, and Abid Hussain. From our Dec. 2, 2011, issue.