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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. 

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Still, Ijaz appears keen to continue his very public feud. Ijaz has repeatedly stated his sole motivation for talking to the media is to correct the record in light of denials of the memo’s existence by Pakistan’s government. Others aren’t so sure.

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“I think if there’s one thing that’s clear in this saga is that Mansoor Ijaz loves the limelight. He will do anything to remain in it,” says Cyril Almeida, a political columnist with leading  Pakistani English-daily Dawn.

A major Democratic contributor

Ijaz, who grew up in rural Virginia, is a self-described “citizen diplomat.” A major contributor to the Democratic party during the 1990s, he has previously claimed to have been involved in, among other things, negotiations between the governments of the US and Sudan for the extradition of Osama bin Laden in 1996, in which he claimed former President Clinton missed a chance to nab the terror chief. The 9/11 commission later found “no reliable evidence” to support the claim that such a deportation to the US was in the offing.

During the Iraq war, Ijaz strongly endorsed the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and in 2006 claimed that Iran had already acquired nuclear weapons. More recently, he has written strongly against Pakistan’s military establishment. In 2009, he wrote in a Monitor op-ed that if Pakistan fails to curb extremists, it would be appropriate if “America walks out and previews its contingency plan for securing Pakistan's nuclear weapons on the front page of The New York Times.”

“He’s been against Pakistan’s military and the ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] up until memo-gate. Why would someone who has campaigned for the ISI to be declared a terrorist organization accept an invitation to meet the ISI Chief in London?” says the diplomatic source, referring to a meeting between Gen. Shuja Pasha and Ijaz shortly after memo-gate broke, that was also reported in Newsweek Pakistan.

For Almeida, the columnist, the affair says more about the media environment in Pakistan, where a successful libel prosecution has not taken place since 1957, and the public’s hostility to the present government, than anything else.

“A man comes out and makes an allegation and suddenly people say ‘Now we know the truth about May 2,’” he says. “He’s coming out and his analysis is being treated as gospel-truth. It’s a joke, and the problem is here in the Pakistani media and they are not treating it as they should be.”

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