A multi-millionaire American businessman at the center of a political crisis in Pakistan refused to travel to Islamabad Monday to testify before a Supreme Court commission, saying he feared for his personal safety.
Mansoor Ijaz, whose international travel has him dividing time between the US, Europe, and the Middle East, claims he helped Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, deliver a confidential memorandum on behalf of the government requesting US help to curtail the country’s military in exchange for a series of pro-US policies. Mr. Haqqani vehemently denies the claim, though he has since stepped down.
The affair, known as “Memo-gate," has led to a high-stakes Pakistan Supreme Court case that pits the historically powerful military, who back Mr. Ijaz’s claims, against a resurgent civilian government wrestling for constitutional supremacy.
A whistle blowing hero to some, a villain doing the military's dirty work to others, Ijaz is above all a mysterious anomaly. That a private citizen has been able to wield such influence over Pakistan’s internal affairs speaks, at the very least, to a political system at an early stage of maturity, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council.
“Pakistan has failed to set up institutional systems for analyzing and dealing with issues so often, you have freelancers who take it upon themselves to act as surrogates for the government,” he says, adding: “The matter only took a life of its own when [opposition leader] Nawaz Sharif filed the court petition. So it’s not so much Mr. Ijaz’s doing as much as Mr. Ijaz having the spotlight being thrust upon him by domestic squabbling within Pakistan.”
In an interview with the Monitor, Ijaz who has long lobbied through op-eds – including several in the Monitor – against Pakistan’s shadowy spy agencies including the ISI for their backing of religious militants, bristles at criticism. He says his actions have strengthened Pakistan’s democracy by helping to create a culture of transparency.
“Those people who argue that I helped the very forces I have fought against for decades cannot comprehend the nuance of difference in this day and time. I still am against the ISI interfering.... I am still against the military being an umbrella for the proliferation of extremism.”
"Husain Haqqani lied – that lie was of such a magnitude that even [US Gen.] Jim Jones was misled into making a false statement in his affidavit, and Admiral Mullen [former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was misled to falsely deny the memorandum existed."
An American childhood
A hedge-fund manager and venture capitalist by profession, Ijaz says his involvement in Pakistani affairs stems from his father’s dying wish that he help to change the ways in which America would interact with the Muslim world.
Ijaz was born in August 1961 in Tallahasse, Florida, the eldest son of Pakistani immigrants Mujaddid and Lubna Ijaz, both graduates of Florida State University’s nuclear physics program. His father worked on Pakistan’s nuclear program in some capacity and had ties to Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto before becoming a professor at Virginia Tech.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in nuclear physics from the University of Virginia, where he was a champion weightlifter, Ijaz went on to earn his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In Boston he also studied at Harvard Medical School in the Medical Physics program.
Ijaz stared working on Wall Street in 1986, then formed his own successful investment firm, Crescent Investment Management, which showed assets of more than $800 million in 1999.
But, he says, “As my assets grew, my thirst to do something else grew as well. I was no longer content with the penthouse apartments, fast cars, and jet-setting around the world.”
Between 1993 and 1996 Ijaz either gave personally or raised more than $1 million for President Clinton’s re-election campaign, about the same time, entering a select group who can claim “Friends of Bill” inner circle status – fulfilling his desire to become “a real voice at the political table,” with that connection, he says.
Friend of 'Bill' to Sudan negotiator
Ijaz had a friend who was developing oil fields in southern Sudan. The friend called him up one day to talk about an op-ed Ijaz had written on Pakistan’s government. Ijaz says his friend challenged him to do the same with his own government, and start with Sudan.
“What [my friend] said that got my attention was ‘If you think Benazir tells lies wait till you see what your government does.’ All of a sudden it gripped my head.
"This was a completely obscure reason for going. So I took it as a challenge.
"When I got there, I saw we were calling them a terrorist nation but they didn’t have capacity to fly a plane from one end to the other of the country.”
With the help of his connections there he was able to try and negotiate a deal between the Sudanese government and the US for the handover of intelligence data on the sprouting terror network of Osama bin Laden, who had only months earlier at the time been deported to Afghanistan.
Ijaz says that offer, made in April 1997 by Sudan's military strongman, resulted in newly appointed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to send American diplomats back into Sudan in late September, a decision that was overturned by the White House. "It was one of the great foreign policy failures of our time," said Ijaz.
Ijaz’s claims over his role in Sudan were backed by Timothy Carney who served as US ambassador to Sudan from August 1995 to November 1997 in an op-ed written in the Washington Post. Ijaz provided the Monitor with what appeared to be copies of letters from senior political leader Hasan Turabi in Sudan to President Clinton to back his assertions.
According to numerous contemporary reports in the regional press including Gulf News and The Times of India, Ijaz was also a key negotiator in bringing about the 2000 cease-fire in Kashmir between Indian security forces and Pakistan-backed militants.
"The real architects of the dramatic but short-lived ceasefire between militants based in Pakistan and the Indian Government in Jammu and Kashmir in 2000 were Mansoor Ijaz and C.D. Sahay,[C.D Sahay was the former chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing],” wrote Neena Gopa, foreign editor of Gulf News in 2005.
Ijaz to dodge testimony?
At a hearing on Tuesday, the commission refused Ijaz's request to be deposed abroad and gave him one final opportunity to appear before the Supreme Court commission in Pakistan with revised security arrangements by Feb. 9. "My family, my business partners, and I will now reassess the revised commitments of the government made today and then determine our next steps," Mr. Ijaz told the Monitor.
Over the weekend, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Ijaz could be placed on an Exit Control List, preventing him from leaving the country.
"I have said from the outset that I would travel to Pakistan without hesitation as long as the security arrangements were impartial and adequate. I never asked for an army battalion, nor did I seek any special attention in securing my visit. This was all government hype. I simply wanted to ensure there would be no interference, political or otherwise, with the electronic data and other physical evidence in my hands, and that I would be allowed the right of safe passage to return to my family. Rehman Malik complicated that equation greatly during the last week; I will see how he and others charged with my security behave in the coming week and then we will make a final go-no-go decision," Ijaz says.
While it is now uncertain whether Ijaz will appear before the court or not, some of Pakistan’s political opposition leaders are now coming out to back him.
On Monday, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose popularity has soared in recent months, said if the government succeeds in preventing Ijaz from testifying, it would prove all his allegations to be true.
Rasul Baksh Rais, head of Political Science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, says, “I think Mansoor Ijaz is bold. He has courage, he has a sense of responsibility and a commitment to greater values like peace, stability, and democratic order.”
Adds Mr. Rais: “There are public intellectuals who speak their mind, but those who dominate the system are not committed to constitutional democracy.... Countries like Pakistan not only need internal awakening but sometimes rude awakening [from outside].”
Others are not as impressed.
In an editorial, Pakistan’s liberal Express Tribune Monday described Ijaz as “a publicity hound with a healthy sense of self-regard,” adding: “As a US citizen, Mr. Ijaz has every right to absent himself from Pakistani legal proceedings. But to continue making statements that will never face judicial scrutiny but place the government at risk is highly irresponsible at best.”
Ijaz himself is adamant that the government of Pakistan is placing roadblocks to prevent his testimony in order to save themselves from the embarrassment his “six new revelations,” which he won’t disclose, could bring.
“The current civilian leadership is not interested in a true liberal value system that is representative of the people's needs, wishes, aspirations, and hopes. They are only interested in the acquisition of power and the systematic looting of the national treasury,” he says, adding that the affair, “has allowed an activist judiciary to hold a wayward civilian government to account.... And that is good for the ordinary person just trying to survive day-to-day.”
But Ijaz’s criticism is not limited to the civilian leadership, with whom he has developed a high-level of personal animosity. Asked whether Pakistan’s traditionally pro-military judiciary should be doing more to probe his allegations that ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha met with Arab leaders to discuss the possibility of a coup, Ijaz responds: “You're damn right they ought to ask that question. If the Supreme Court is not willing to, you can be sure [I will].”
For Mr. Nawaz, the analyst, the bizarre and colorful affair has now become a distraction that the country can do without. “There are very serious issues that Pakistan faces – economic issues, the rolling over in debt, repayment of IMF loans, a need to adjust the economy. Those are the ones that the government needs to be spending time on rather than getting embroiled on this particular case.”