Trusting the Untrustable

The rumours that the PPP-led coalition government might not survive till March 2012 spread after Abbottabad Operation but President Asif Ali Zardari was not worried. He didn't see any “extra-constitutional” threat to his government because he thought there is no reason for the Army to take over. He recently told his friends that the political government and Army leaders have no differences over issues relating to foreign policy and security but even then some diehard critics say the countdown has begun.

The rumours spread fast after the publication of an article in the Financial Times by Mansoor Ejaz who claimed President Zardari had sent a secret memo to the White House through Admiral Mike Mullen immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden in the Abbottabad operation on May 2. President Zardari allegedly informed the US officials that his government was under threat from the Army and the US must stop General Kayani from taking over. According to the article President Zardari also promised to make some major changes in the Army and ISI leadership.

Many opposition politicians raised questions about the alleged secret memo when this article was published but the Presidency remained silent. Many friends and colleagues advised President Zardari to issue a contradiction but he said: “let them spread the dirt for some days; we must know who is friend and who is foe?” Farhatullah Babar, the presidential spokesman, informally contradicted Mansoor Ejaz’s claim but he was not ready to say anything on the record. One intelligence agency informed the government that this “memo controversy” was part of an international conspiracy to create differences between political and military leadership of Pakistan.

In the meantime US secretary of state Hillary Clinton during her recent visit met a group of journalists in Islamabad. One of our colleagues Mazhar Abbas asked her about the secret memo but she neither contradicted nor confirmed. Her careful response was a bombshell for many in the government. More articles with more speculations started appearing in the Pakistani media. Rumourmongers confused many seasoned politicians. One federal minister from a coalition party decided to speak against his own government in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. That was when the Foreign Office decided to issue a formal contradiction. Next day the President’s spokesperson also broke his silence on the issue and said that “Mansoor Ejaz’s allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual whom recognition and credibility has eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories”.

Farhatullah Babar further said: “why would the President of Pakistan choose a private person of questionable credentials to carry a letter to US officials? Since when Mansoor has become a courier of messages of the President of Pakistan?” He recalled that 16 years ago during the visit of late Benazir Bhutto to US Mansoor Ejaz wanted to see her. Farhatullah Babar was press secretary to the PM at that time. He mentioned the name of Mansoor to Benazir Bhutto and she said: “Mansoor is not to be trusted”. Late Benazir Bhutto advised her Press Secretary to “stay away from Mansoor Ejaz” but he never mentioned these words in his denial issued on October 29.

Mansoor Ejaz also issued a statement in response in which he said: “I have the facts, all the facts. Every word I say or write is backed with hard evidence and proof. Challenging me on that would be a grave mistake” since “the evidence is crystal clear”. Background interviews with well-informed officials in Islamabad and conversations with top Pakistani diplomats in Washington and London revealed some more information.

This is not the first time Mansoor Ejaz has created a problem for the PPP government. He did so in 1995 when tried to meet Benazir Bhutto through Zafar Hilali who was then working with the prime minister. He informed Hilali that Yusuf Haroon was hatching a conspiracy against the government with the help of some Army officials. Hilali asked him to write all these things in black and white. Mansoor Ejaz wrote a letter to Benazir Bhutto on June 29, 1995 claiming that the then Director General of Military Intelligence Ali Quli Khan was hatching a conspiracy to overthrow her government with the help of Yusuf Haroon. He offered his services for lobbying in the US Congress. He also proposed that Pakistan must recognise Israel and US will write off all its foreign debt. Benazir Bhutto spoke to Army chief General Abdul Waheed Kakar and informed him about the allegations made by Mansoor Ejaz against General Ali Quli Khan. Kakar initiated an inquiry but nothing was proved. After some weeks Ali Quli Khan reported to Kakar about a coup plan made by some hardliners and arrested many officers including a Major General. A few months later Benazir Bhutto visited New York to address the UN General Assembly. This writer was part of the delegation as a journalist. Mansoor Ejaz tried to meet Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari. She not only refused to meet him she even advised the journalists accompanying her “never to meet this person”.

Mansoor Ejaz claims he persuaded US Vice President Al Gore to say that a military coup against democratic government will not be accepted. Al Gore said this in a reception organised by a Pakistani-American Rashid Chaudhry in Washington. Rashid Chaudhry has requested Benazir Bhutto not to send the former ambassador to that reception but someone more trust-worthy. She sent Wajid Shamsul Hasan. Mansoor Ejaz met Wajid Shamsul Hasan but the latter told Benazir Bhutto “we must not trust him”. Mansoor Ejaz tried to become a lobbyist for Pakistan but the then Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Maleeha Lodhi, raised many questions about his credibility and then Mansoor Ejaz started writing articles against Benazir Bhutto in the Wall Street Journal. Benazir Bhutto said privately many times in those days that he was a double agent working for Israel and also for some people in the ISI.

In October 1996 the Pakistan Embassy in Washington accused Mansoor Ejaz of writing against the PPP government because he was denied 15 million dollars he had demanded to deliver votes in the US House of Representatives in support of the Brown Amendment. The embassy also said that Mansoor Ejaz had been pushing the PPP government to recognise Israel and he himself visited Israel on several occasions, once on the invitation of Jerusalem’s mayor. The embassy mentioned that he was given ‘humanitarian of the year’ award by a major Jewish organisation “for establishing clinics and schools in Belgium and in many parts of the Eastern Europe for the Jewish communities. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN Ahmad Kamal was close to Mansoor Ejaz but then Foreign Secretary Najmudin Sheikh addressed a press conference against him and declared his articles “vindictive and without credibility”.

After the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government by President Farooq Leghari in November 1996 Mansoor Ejaz became very close to some ministers of the Nawaz Sharif government, which was installed in 1997. He even claimed to act as a middleman between US and Sudan and then between Pakistan and India in 2000 on behalf of US President Bill Clinton. He visited the Indian Army headquarters in Srinagar and then came to Islamabad for a meeting with the ISI officials who ignored him but one day he was able to informally meet General Pervez Musharraf through his mother. He entered in Army House to meet Musharraf’s mother but succeeded in having a brief chitchat with the military dictator. Musharraf at that time was diplomatically isolated ruler but he too never trusted Mansoor Ejaz due to his close links with some PML-N leaders. After meeting Musharraf he met Hizbul Mujahedeen chief Syed Salahudin in Islamabad through a Jamat-e-Islami leader and tried to deliver him an alleged letter from US President Bill Clinton but the Kashmiri militant leader never accepted that letter. Mansoor tried to give an impression to both Islamabad and Delhi that he was an unofficial negotiator of President Clinton. When the Indian government approached Washington about the credentials of Mansoor Ejaz some senior Clinton administration officials clarified publicly that Mansoor Ejaz was not given any mandate to act as a negotiator in the Kashmir dispute.

After 9/11 Mansoor Ejaz tried to interact with both CIA and Taliban. He sent messages to Taliban through a retired ISI official and offered his services for mediation between Taliban and the US but his efforts never materialised because Taliban were not ready to hand over Osama bin Laden to US. After the change of command in the ISI the new DG ISI General Ehsanul Haq denied him access to all the government circles. He tried to become partner of a newspaper owner but failed. He remained silent for many years and then wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 28, 2007 in which he said: “I knew Benazir Bhutto well. I am often blamed by her supporters for having helped bring her government down in 1996 by exposing her hypocrisy and corruption in two Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces”. His words raise the question that how can President Asif Ali Zardari trust him and why would he send a secret memo through a person who wrote against him and his wife many times? It is obvious now that President Zardari neither met him recently nor spoke to him on telephone. Mansoor Ejaz is claiming that one top diplomat was instrumental in the making of the alleged memo and he can prove that whatever he wrote in the memo was approved by the top diplomat.

PTI Chief Imran Khan claimed in the Lahore rally that it was Pakistan Ambassador in US Hussain Haqqani who gave this memo to Mansoor Ejaz. Hussain Haqqani denies that. He says that when he can talk to Admiral Mike Mullen directly why would he use a person like Mansoor Ejaz to send a secret memo? Some government sources suspected that maybe Mansoor Ejaz had spoken to Ambassador Haqqani on phone after the May 2 incident and recorded his conversation with him but he cannot present that recording as evidence because it is an offence under the US law. These sources accuse the PML-N of being part of the conspiracy because some PML-N leaders enjoy friendly relations with Mansoor Ejaz sine late 90’s.

Sources close to Mansoor Ejaz claim that the PPP government is inviting big trouble by denying the memo. They say Mansoor Ejaz is an American citizen and he would not like to be involved in Pakistani politics but he is ready to produce the evidence in any Pakistani court of law if required. Mansoor Ejaz is playing with the fourth Pakistani government in the last 16 years. It seems that someone tried to play with someone through Mansoor Ejaz but this clever person has created a big trouble for a small-time power player. President Zardari may not lose anything in this whole controversy but Mansoor Ejaz is capable of destroying the credibility of the diplomat who spoke to him on phone or sent him some email.

One PPP insider claimed that Mansoor Ejaz has special hatred for PPP. He belongs to a sect that was declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani Parliament when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the prime minister. That is why he has always tried to punish PPP through his conspiracies. The insider claimed that President Zardari has no problem with General Kayani. President Zardari wrote an article in Washington Post on May 3, 2011 and defended his intelligence agencies by saying “a decade of cooperation and partnership between the US and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden and we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an Al Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day”.

After five months President Zardari again wrote in Washington Post on October 1 and said: “must we fight alone in our region all those that others now seek to embrace? And how long can we degrade our capacity by fighting an enemy that the might of NATO’s global coalition has failed to eliminate?” PPP sources insisted that Mansoor Ejaz tried to create differences between army and the president and also tried to create misunderstanding between Pakistan and US but he has miserably failed. The PPP leaders play down the delay in contradicting the alleged secret memo from President Zardari to President Obama. But this delay was not a mistake but a blunder, which forced many in Pakistan to believe that the secret memo was true.