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A US citizen stirs up Pakistani 'memo-gate'

Mansoor Ijaz, a 'citizen diplomat,' alleges Pakistani leaders knew of the Osama bin Laden raid ahead of time. The media frenzy in Pakistan over 'memo-gate' highlights the fragility of the government. 

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / December 4, 2011

Pakistani former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif leaves the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan on Thursday. A Pakistani parliamentarian says the Supreme Court has barred the country's former envoy to the US from leaving, while a commission investigates his role in a memo scandal that led to his resignation. Former Ambassador Husain Haqqani has been accused of crafting a memo asking the US for help in reining in Pakistan's military, following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

B.K.Bangash/AP

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Islamabad, Pakistan

A private American citizen has accused Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and a former top diplomat of being aware in advance of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

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The affair has injected fresh fuel to a scandal dubbed “memo-gate” by the Pakistani media, which has imperiled the US-backed civilian government and has been compared by the country’s supreme court to the Watergate scandal.

The spectacular – and unproven – allegations come from Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin who calls himself a “citizen diplomat.” The traction he has gotten in Pakistan’s discourse highlights the fragility of the current government and the familiar possibility that elections could be short-circuited by backroom intrigues.

On Saturday, Mr. Ijaz wrote in Newsweek: “In my opinion … Zardari and [Husain] Haqqani [Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US], both knew the US was going to launch a stealth mission to eliminate bin Laden that would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty,” adding that the civilian government planned to use the resulting outrage to force out the country’s top general and spy chief.

In an earlier op-ed written in the Financial Times in October, Ijaz had alleged that a “senior Pakistani diplomat” – whom he later named as Mr. Haqqani – had worked with him to seek US help in preventing a military coup inside Pakistan in exchange for a series of key pro-US promises by the Pakistani government. Haqqani denied the allegations, which forced him out of his job and placed him before a top-level government probe. Haqqani’s movements have also been restrained by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

On Friday, Pakistan’s main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, petitioned the Supreme Court to summon President Zardari, spy chief Gen. Shuja Pasha, and Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, as well as Haqqani.

Creating a political crisis?

Some Pakistan observers are raising questions about Ijaz and why he has turned against the very institution he claims to have supported over the years through his journalism and contacts in the US government.

A highly placed diplomatic source has now hit back, telling the Monitor: “Some elements are now keeping this story alive. Ijaz and his backers want to create a political crisis.”

On Saturday, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told reporters: “There is no truth to the reports that Ambassador Haqqani or President Zardari had advance knowledge of the May 2 Abbottabad operation,” while Haqqani himself has threatened to sue for libel.

Given the secrecy surrounding the operation, security analysts deem such intelligence-sharing highly unlikely.  That hasn’t prevented Pakistan’s media, increasingly hostile to President Zardari, from giving the allegations blanket coverage.

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