Behind the “Memogate” affair that has embroiled Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States. and the civilian government he represents, there is a quixotic accuser named Mansoor Ijaz who seems like a character in a fanciful spy novel of his own design.
Ijaz is an American businessman of Pakistani descent who lives in high style on the French Riviera. He made money as an investor, but his fame has come as a writer of op-ed pieces and a sometime intermediary with Pakistani and American officials. He has alleged that Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador, encouraged him to write a memo to Adm. Mike Mullen last May urging tighter controls on the Pakistani military.
That charge has snared Haqqani and triggered a crisis pitting Pakistan’s civilian government against its military. But even if Ijaz’s allegation is true, it’s reasonable to ask: So what? Haqqani doesn’t appear, even from Ijaz’s evidence, to have done anything illegal — or even outside his job as diplomatic representative of the government.
Pakistan’s supreme court is scheduled to begin hearing the case on Tuesday. But before it gets too deep into the blizzard of alleged electronic messages between Ijaz and Haqqani, the court should ask whether the fundamentals of the case make sense — and whether it will prove an embarrassment to both the military and the civilian leadership.
A review of the evidence suggests there may be less to the case than all the noise would suggest. That’s the view of Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council and an authority on the Pakistani military, with which he has close contacts.
“This is now a sideshow that is taking on importance beyond the needs of the country,” Nawaz told me Sunday. “There is no evidence that the security of the state has been compromised. Husain Haqqani has already been removed from his post. Perhaps it would be best to close this matter and move on to more serious things.”
Let’s start with the memo itself. Ijaz outed the story in an Oct. 10, 2011, opinion piece in the Financial Times in which he said that on May 9, a “senior Pakistani diplomat” had had contacted him with an “urgent request” that he convey a message to Mullen urging the U.S. to back tighter controls on Pakistan’s military and intelligence. Ijaz later identified that diplomat as Haqqani, who denies that he was the instigator.
In any event, Ijaz wrote a memo making the argument — including a statement that a new “national security team” in Islamabad would abolish the notorious “S” wing of Pakistani intelligence, which maintains liaison with the Taliban and other jihadist groups. He then arranged for Jim Jones, the former national security adviser, to send the memo to Mullen.
Ijaz’s memo was a stronger statement of arguments he had made publicly back in May, in the Financial Times and a Washington Post blog, after the death of Osama bin Laden. “Taken advantage of properly by U.S. policymakers, exposed treachery [in bin Laden’s long residence in Pakistan] could usher in a new era of transparency in Pakistan’s internal affairs,” he wrote in the Post item.
Haqqani, as a representative of the civilian government, probably shared a similar feeling that Pakistani military and intelligence had been embarrassed by the fact that bin Laden had been living for years in Abbotabad. But he hardly needed Ijaz’s help in conveying his views to people like Mullen. He was in daily contact with top U.S. officials, trying to represent President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistani military had a representative of its own, a respected military attaché who could speak on the generals’ behalf.
Ijaz seems to have relished his role as a freelance adviser. His relationship with Jones, who passed the memo, is a case in point: They had met in 2006, and Jones, who was then NATO commander, had asked Ijaz to join a strategic advisers group and travel with him to Afghanistan. Later, Ijaz was asked to join the board of the Atlantic Council, where Jones is a former chairman. But his stint as a board member didn’t last long, nor did he make major donations to the group.
When a government official asked several years ago for a CIA check on Ijaz’s background in international matters, he is said to have received an “orange flag” — nothing that would rule out dealing with him, but a caution that he had a taste for publicity and sometimes talked more than he delivered.
One of the intriguing aspects of Ijaz’s role is whether, in his contacts with Mullen, he was in effect acting as a representative of Zardari. Jones said in an affidavit for the Pakistani court that Ijaz “mentioned that he has a message from the ‘highest authority’ in the Pakistan government.” And in his cover letter to Jones, accompanying the infamous memo, Ijaz wrote: “This document has the support of the President of Pakistan.” (The cover note, along with all the other documentation, has been submitted to the court in Pakistan.)
Which leads some critics of Ijaz to raise the question: If Ijaz was acting on Zardari’s behalf (or Haqqani’s, for that matter) should he have registered as an agent of a foreign government? That’s just one of the wrinkles in a story so colorful and unlikely that it would have been branded unrealistic if written as fiction.