Promising fool-proof security to controversial American businessman Mansoor Ijaz when he arrives in Pakistan to testify before a judicial commission on the memo scandal, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Saturday said even the army can be called if needed.
His remarks came even as Ijaz's lawyer Akram Sheikh said he would ask his client to reconsider his plans to visit Pakistan if the government failed to deploy at least a battalion of soldiers to protect Ijaz.
Malik said the interior ministry will follow the directives of the attorney general, the recommendations of the judicial commission and law of the land while providing protection to Ijaz. Ijaz, who made public the alleged memo that triggered a storm in Pakistan's political circles, failed to make a scheduled appearance before the Supreme Court-appointed commission on Monday.
The panel has summoned him in person on January 24. The Pakistani-American businessman was issued a visa by the Pakistani mission in London this week but doubts persist about appearance before the commission that is investigating the alleged memo that sought US help to stave off a feared coup in Pakistan last year.
Malik made it clear that the Inter Services Intelligence could not be involved in protecting Ijaz as it is "not a security force".
A meeting between the defence secretary, interior secretary and attorney general would to decide the security arrangements for Ijaz and the attorney general would have the final say in the matter, he said while interacting with reporters here this afternoon.
However, responding to a query, Malik said that he will follow the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on national security if it directs him to put Ijaz's name on the exit control list as had happened in the past.
"I cannot disobey the directives of the parliamentary committee," he said.
The interior ministry's exit control list contains the names of persons barred from travelling out of Pakistan. Malik said Pakistan People's Party leader Raja Riaz wanted to question Ijaz about his alleged involvement in the ouster of the government of slain premier Benazir Bhutto and his articles criticising the Pakistan army and ISI.
Meanwhile, Ijaz's lawyer Sheikh contended the judicial commission had directed authorities to provide an army battalion to guard Ijaz but the government had nominated a deputy inspector general of police as the focal person for his security.
He said he had raised the issue with the attorney general and the army chief. Zahid Bokhari, the lawyer of former envoy to the US Husain Haqqani, who was forced to resign over the memo issue, dismissed Sheikh's claims and said Ijaz was acting like a spoilt child and setting new conditions every day for coming to Pakistan.
He contended that Ijaz was delaying his trip to Pakistan as he had no evidence to back up his claims about the memo. "So much hype is being created over this person who caused infighting among state institutions. He is a foreigner who wrote against the army and ISI and yet he is being welcomed like a prince," Bokhari said.
Meanwhile, the US embassy reacted to Ijaz's claim that he had been assured of special security by the State Department by saying that the businessman would be treated like a common US national and will be entitled to the same facilities as other Americans in Pakistan.
US has made no assurances to Ijaz about his security while in Pakistan, the US embassy's spokesman said.