The Friday Times: Najam Sethi’s Editorial
Notwithstanding any last minute gasps, Memogate is about to expire. The key protagonists – army, opposition and judiciary – have extracted their pound of flesh and decided to apply closure.
The fact of a “memo” from Mansoor Ijaz to Admiral Mike Mullen via General Jim Jones has been established by the testimony of all three gentlemen. Equally, there is not much doubt about its content or about the fact that the Obama administration disregarded it without a second thought. What will never be “proved”, however, despite widespread perceptions, is its precise authorship or the exact motives of its sponsors.
Mr Ijaz’s case has shipwrecked on a rocky coastline. For starters, friend and foe alike have dented his credibility as a sole witness by successfully painting him as an ambitious publicity hound with a string of diplomatic failures behind him. His brash personality and aggressive demeanour have served him ill in Pakistan’s conservative milieu. Equally, the nature of his political views (anti-ISI, anti-Pak Army) and business associates (former CIA and Pentagon big-wigs) have hurt his cause because they are shot through with blatant contradictions. He is avowedly anti-ISI but passionate about helping the ISI in Memogate; he is a born and bred American patriot but is helping the anti-American Pakistan Army. These contradictory positions diminish the authenticity of Mr Ijaz’s evidence.
Is Mr Haqqani the sole alleged author or was the memo a brainchild of three high officials in the Zardari government? Did the DG ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha seek clearance from Arab governments for a coup against the Zardari regime as Ijaz’s credible Intel sources led him to believe or was the Pak army in the process of mounting a coup against the Zardari regime as allegedly claimed by Haqqani (implausible since the army was at its weakest in the immediate aftermath of May 2, 2011)? RIM Blackberry’s statement that it is unable to provide BBM data corroborating Ijaz’s record has also taken away a key plank of forensic evidence that might have helped to establish Mr Ijaz’s claim.
But the clinching factor is Mr Ijaz’s refusal to make himself available unconditionally in Pakistan to the judicial and parliamentary commissions of inquiry into Memogate despite constantly insisting that he will land up in Islamabad, “come what may, to confront power with truth”. Whatever his own concerns about his personal security in Pakistan while in the care of the provocative interior minister, Rehman Malik, most Pakistanis, as well as the three member commission, do not see this as a credible excuse. With the Supreme Court personally supervising all arrangements for his arrival, stay and departure expeditiously, Ijaz’s refusal to testify in Pakistan has blown a fatal hole in his case that has severely embarrassed his interlocutors in the army and judiciary. Why did he change his mind?
Clearly, the Pakistani military’s enthusiasm for nailing the Zardari government on Memogate has rapidly diminished in the wake of precipitous confrontations with government and nasty controversies in the media. Certainly, the last thing it wants is to prosecute a treason trial in which the key witness is increasingly portrayed and viewed as a controversial character. No less palatable is the prospect of seeing DGISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha grilled in the public dock by aggressive civilian lawyers harping on about the inexplicable sympathies of the ISI for a rabidly anti-ISI gent like Mr Ijaz. So the military has determined that Memogate was a case of some smoke without fire and is satisfied at scalping Mr Haqqani for his amateurish conspiracy.
The interest of the petitioner, Nawaz Sharif, was always limited to weakening the government by pitting it against the military and never to enable the military to declare victory against the “bloody civilians”. In fact he got cold feet when it seemed that the military might actually be provoked to launch a coup. At any rate, he too achieved part of his purpose by getting the besieged and nervous government to pledge a free and fair election under a neutral caretaker government later in the year.
Much the same may be said of the Supreme Court’s interest in Memogate. In exchange for letting go of Memogate, the court has positioned itself to extract an appropriate letter from the government to the Swiss authorities in the NRO case.
It is conceivable that Mr Ijaz is under pressure from his business associates to ditch Memogate asap. No multi-billion dollar fund manager can afford this sort of running negative publicity. The attitude of the US government and policy makers is also negative. Mr Ijaz is seen as having “betrayed” a diplomatic confidante. He also might have been reminded that under US law, lobbyists of foreign governments must register themselves, failing which they are liable to six months imprisonment and a fine. Mr Ijaz’s memo, by his own admission, falls squarely within the ambit of lobbying in this law.
Regardless of who is telling the truth or lying, Mr Haqqani and Mr Ijaz have both been scarred by this sorry episode.