Ijaz’s credibility hits new low as issue fizzles out
By Our Correspondent
LAHORE: The principal instigator of the fast evaporating memo issue, Mansoor Ijaz, will be cross-examined before the memo commission on Thursday, but it is unlikely that he would be able to salvage his credibility that continues to erode on an almost daily basis. Most Pakistanis have tuned out on the memo saga while the international media stopped paying attention quite some time ago. The memo commission will still complete the process and send a report to the Supreme Court, but except Ijaz, whose oversized ego keeps him courting even negative media attention, no one really seems to care about the issue any more.
Soon after Ijaz’s testimony a few days ago, the New York Times wrote that “the theatrical scandal that gripped the political system just a few months ago appeared to be fizzling out.” According to the influential US newspaper, “although the scandal cost the job of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington whom Mr Ijaz accused of complicity in the memo, it failed to produce the promised fireworks that would damage the government.”
“After initially refusing to travel to Pakistan to testify, citing security concerns, Mr Ijaz finally gave evidence via video link from London this week. But he failed to produce hard evidence to back up his earlier allegations,” the New York Times reported. The newspaper also poked fun at Mansoor Ijaz’s fresh allegations about President Zardari having prior knowledge of the American Special Forces raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden and claims that Zardari had urged the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, not to scramble F-16 fighter jets against American military helicopters after they were detected in Pakistani airspace.
“If proven, the claims would devastate Mr Zardari’s career, given the strength of anti-American feeling in Pakistan,” the New York Times wrote. “Instead, they were received with a virtual national shrug.” The New York Times was not alone in expressing scepticism. Even the Pakistani newspaper that has most supported Ijaz, and was his newspaper of choice to ‘leak’ the text of BBM conversations with Haqqani when the controversy first started, recently acknowledged that the matter could not be decided summarily on the basis of Ijaz’s claims and Blackberry data. In an editorial, the newspaper (whose US-based editor is a personal friend of Ijaz) wrote, “Some of the allegations made by Ijaz are grave indeed; but there is a creeping doubt emerging that they may not be of as much substance as he would have us believe. So far he has not produced any incontrovertible evidence. What he describes as a receipt from Haqqani for the email he sent is a BBM message open to alternative explanations and interpretations. Ijaz is thought by some to be pursuing an agenda beyond just sharing a truth.”
Former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has now provided the memo commission with details of his telephone bills while his lawyers argue that the Blackberry messenger chats offered by Ijaz as evidence are inadmissible as they do not corroborate Ijaz’s claim that he sent the disputed memo to US Admiral Michael Mullen at Haqqani’s behest. In any case, the BBM messages are at best proof of contact, not a smoking gun about cooperation in sending the memo. Ijaz now has only his claim, substantiated by nothing except his own handwritten notes of a telephone conversation he says he had with Haqqani on May 9, 2011. That is hardly corroborative evidence.
Since the beginning of the hullabaloo that has consumed so much time and energy of the nation at a time when it has more significant and pressing issues at hand, thoughtful people have consistently questioned Mansoor Ijaz’s credibility. Ijaz has never been able to answer the first question that arose when he wrote the article in Financial Times on October 10, 2011, claiming that he had delivered a “secret memo” to Mullen after being asked to do so by “a senior Pakistani diplomat.” Why would a self-styled “citizen-diplomat” acting in concert with officials brag about a “secret” undertaking? Subsequently it was discovered that not only did Ijaz brag about his “secret” mission by writing about it, he gave details about it to the DG ISI, Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in a secret meeting in London on 22ndOctober.
This question alone was sufficient for many to recognise Ijaz’s penchant for publicity and self-aggrandisement, which has little to do with a public purpose or a citizen’s wish to serve his country, in this case the United States. Among the questions Ijaz has not answered are: If Ijaz did the right thing by writing and sending the disputed memo, what wrong was he blowing a whistle on by going public? If sending the memo was wrong, why is Ijaz not in any way responsible for that wrong as much as anyone else?
Ijaz’s article and the subsequent brouhaha in Pakistan, fuelled by the hardest line Jihadist elements within the deep state and political opponents of the democratic government, hardly served US interests. By joining hardliners in Pakistan in questioning the patriotism towards Pakistan of Pakistani officials, Mansoor Ijaz has hardly been a patriotic American. As for Ijaz’s claim that he only wanted to state the truth, his credibility was not reinforced by his totally unsubstantiated claims about Pakistani officials having prior knowledge about the US raid in Abbottabad on May 2. He first wrote about it in an article in Newsweek where he claimed that Ambassador Haqqani knew about the raid. When he testified, he focused only on President Zardari’s alleged prior knowledge. Either way, his claim of getting that “information” from four different intelligence services only elicits laughs from those who know the intelligence business. Bragging is usually not considered an exercise in seeking the truth.
Soon after Ijaz started the memo charade, a senior Pakistani columnist asked, “Mansoor Ijaz says the contents of the memo were dictated to him by Husain Haqqani in the course of an 11-minute phone call during which some discussion also took place. Whether a nearly 1,000-word memo could be composed even by a professional stenographer in 10 or 11 minutes is something worth finding out. Then Mansoor Ijaz does not disclose the reasons for accepting Husain Haqqani’s dictation. There was no master-servant relationship between them. Why did he choose to become a collaborator? ” Those questions also still remain unanswered.
Notwithstanding his repeating his claim about Haqqani’s role and then showing phone bills and BBM messages, Ijaz has had other blows delivered to his credibility. The person to whom he communicated the memo, retired US National Security Adviser General James Jones, has said in a sworn affidavit that he believes Ijaz wrote memo and that Haqqani had nothing to do with it. General Jones said that he had known Mansoor Ijaz since 2006 and was contacted by him a few days prior to May 9. Ijaz claims he was first contacted by Haqqani on that date.
General Jones said he was informed by Ijaz that he had a message from the top leadership of Pakistan and that he wanted to send it to Admiral Mike Mullen. Jones added categorically that Ijaz never used the name of Haqqani during their conversation and that he informed Ijaz that he could not pass on a verbal message. He claims that in his opinion Haqqani had no knowledge about the memo. On May 9, Jones said he received an email from Ijaz, and he thought the memo was written by Ijaz himself. According to Jones, the type of language used in the memo was similar to how Ijaz would speak.
Ironically, Ijaz endorsed General Jones’ version of events himself when he let it slip during testimony that he wrote the memo and sent it to Jones. “It was me who initially drafted the memo following my telephonic conversation with Mr Haqqani which lasted for a couple of minutes,” he told the memo commission. He tried to save his position by adding that the content of the memo was based on his telephone conversation with Haqqani though that does not conform to the claim he made in his email to Jones on 9 th-10th May. In that email, he had claimed that three senior Pakistani former officials with ties to the military intelligence apparatus had drafted the memo.
Ijaz’s answer to General Jones was the same as his response to Husain Haqqani. He called the former US National Security Adviser a liar, giving rise to the question whether Ijaz suffered from some psychological disorder that made him have an exaggerated view of himself and consider everyone except himself a liar. The claims about the memo aside, any suggestion that Mansoor Ijaz should be considered a serious player in international politics took a major hit when a blogger in the United States discovered a video titled ‘Stupidisco, featuring nude women’s wrestling and Mansoor Ijaz acting the role of ringside commentator. The video had been made in 2004 and was put on youtube, resulting in comments all over the world.
Throughout the memo saga, Mansoor Ijaz has claimed to be “ultra-wealthy” and has been referred to by his dwindling Pakistani media supporters as a “tycoon” or even a “billionaire.” But it turns out that he failed to pay back $1.4 million to a San Marino Bank, which filed suit against him in 2010 alleging fraud. Ijaz cleverly accepted his liability to avoid a court judgement on the fraud charges but has still not paid the bank its $1.4 million.
Peter Kurshan, attorney for Banca Sammarinese di Ivestimento (BSI), which made says his client “still stands by all the allegations made in the verified complaint” submitted to the New York State Supreme Court in 2010 and that the allegations of fraud were “provable.” BSI is looking for Ijaz’s assets that it can go after to satisfy its claim, backed by a court order, but no assets are so far visible. Apparently, there are other cases involving Ijaz’s debts in the US that have yet to find their way into print.
In any case, Mansoor Ijaz’s consolidated financial statement submitted in 2007 shows his net assets standing at $15 million, mostly in shares of his own privately held companies that have never paid taxes, done any business or published annual reports. Having $15 million is a long way from being a billionaire but when even that sum is doubtful because the claimed asset is deemed worthless by banks then Mansoor Ijaz’s financial reputation is surely as bad as his political standing.
Over the last few months, Mansoor Ijaz has been denigrated in the media, by US officials as well as respected foreign policy scholars and public figures. It is unlikely that any official in any country will ever trust him after seeing the way he has tried to bring down the reputations of respected officials like General Jones and Ambassador Haqqani. Ijaz can also no longer hope to keep his financial dealings out of the media, while getting his political opeds published, creating an illusion of political influence.
With his credibility in tatters, Mansoor Ijaz is probably looking forward to a finding by the memo commission that at least acknowledges that he did not lie about the memo, which he would then spin as vindication. His hopes in this respect have been built up by General Pasha’s willingness to believe him and the overall negative predisposition of the superior judiciary towards the Zardari government. But it is highly unlikely that the claims of a man who says he maintains relations with intelligence services in two dozen countries, who was stupid enough to act in a video titled ‘Stupidisco’ and who has yet to find a way to pay back the Banca Sammarinese di Ivestimento (BSI) or respond to its charges of fraud will regain his lost credibility just by repeating (and occasionally changing) his claims about an ill-conceived memo.