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ISI chief in a sticky situation over memogate scam

December 22, 2011 21:52 IST

Accused of conspiring against President Zardari, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is now in a fix. If he refutes the allegation by naming whistleblower Mansoor Ijaz, it would put a huge question mark over the credibility of his own statement in the scam. Amir Mir reports from Islamabad.

The high-profile Director General of Pakistan's premier intelligence agency – Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha's belated rebuttal, denying that he had toured some Arab countries after the May 2, 2011, Abbottabad raid to discuss a military coup against President Asif Ali Zardari, seems to have put him in a tight corner. The allegation that Pasha has refuted was levelled by none other than his own source - Mansoor Ijaz - as reported by a UK daily, The Independent, on December 13.

The British daily's report has quoted the controversial American businessman Mansoor Ijaz as saying that before the memogate scam was unearthed, ISI chief Lt Gen Pasha had toured Arab states friendly to Pakistan, seeking their approval to evict President Asif Zardari from the presidency.

However, the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the Pakistan Army, took eight days to rebuff the report, especially after Engineer Jameel Ahmed approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan and sought Shuja Pasha's removal and a subsequent court martial under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, pleading that the ISI chief had lost the right to remain in service for conspiring against an elected government.

Jameel has pointed out in his petition that media reports about Pasha have neither been denied by the ISPR nor by himself. In the 'Benazir Bhutto versus President of Pakistan' case (PLD 1998 SC 388), the SC had decided that "facts given in newspapers, having not been denied, would be considered undisputed fact", Engineer Jamil has maintained in his petition.

Jameel's petition was based on The Independent report which quoted Mansoor Ijaz, the whistleblower behind the memogate scam, as having said, "Their (US intelligence agencies) information was that Lt Pasha had travelled to Arab countries to talk about what the necessary line of action would be in the event they had to remove Asif Zardari from power..."

However, the press release issued by the ISPR on December 21 stated: "It is clarified that director general, ISI, did not meet any Arab leader between May 1 and 9 as alleged. His other visits to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE only, prior to or after this period, were part of routine intelligence sharing activity, during which he interacted with his counterparts only".

The ISPR clarification added: "An article was published in daily The Independent on 13 December 2011, in which Omar Waraich has made false assertions regarding DG ISI's visits to Arab countries. It has been said that the DG ISI met senior Arab leaders and asked permission for a military coup in Pakistan. The story has been published without verification at any level and a legal notice is being served to the newspaper to retract the story and apologise".

Significantly, the ISPR denial came following remarks by Asma Jahangir, counsel for Haqqani, during proceedings of the memogate scam in the apex court on December 19 said that Pasha should have resigned immediately after the May 2 raid, much as Hussain Haqqani did after the United States confirmed the existence of Mansoor Ijaz's memo.

According to Mansoor, Haqqani only began plotting against the military after the latter considered removing President Zardari. Interestingly, ISPR clarification denied 'false assertions' by Omar Warraich, but it was conspicuously silent on what Mansoor Ijaz had said in his interview with Warraich whose quotes were reproduced in the blog posting. Omar Warraich is a senior Pakistani journalist based in Islamabad covering Pakistan for TIME Magazine and The Independent.

In his interview with Omar Warraich, Mansoor had claimed that a senior intelligence source had told him that his information was that Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had travelled to a few Arab countries to talk about what would be necessary to do in the event they had to remove Zardari from power. Mansoor Ijaz had made a similar claim during his BlackBerry message exchange with Husain Haqqani, which has already been placed before the Supreme Court by Mansoor.

Despite repeated attempts, ISPR director general Major General Athar Abbas did not respond to a query, asking "Why didn't the ISPR's contradiction of December 19, 2011 mention Mansoor Ijaz who was the actual sources of The Independent story, accusing Lt Gen Pasha of conspiring against President Zardari. Also, why did Lt Gen Pasha decide to serve a legal notice on the British newspaper alone instead of proceeding against the sources of the allegation – Mansoor Ijaz?"

In fact, the dilemma with Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is that if he refutes the allegation (of conspiring against President Zardari) by naming Mansoor Ijaz, it would put a huge question mark over the credibility of his own statement in the scam which has been submitted with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and is primarily based on claims made and evidence provided by Mansoor Ijaz.

In his reply to the apex court, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha has stated that Mansoor Ijaz had enough corroborative material to prove his version of the memo scam. "Mansoor Ijaz should be summoned to appear before the honourable court as he alone holds the real evidence as claimed by him. He has already, on a number of occasions, indicated his willingness to do so, through the print and electronic media," said Pasha. The ISI chief has given an insight into how he got in touch with Mansoor Ijaz through an unnamed source and that the meeting was set up in London on October 22 following the publication of Ijaz's article in the Financial Times.

In its reply to the apex court, the federation has also taken up Mansoor Ijaz's allegation in the British daily against Lt Gen Pasha. As things stand, there are two pieces of evidence in the memogate scam that have already been placed before the Supreme Court – the first is against Hussain Haqqani, which has been investigated by the ISI chief and was found to be genuine by him, while the other one is against the ISI chief himself that has not yet been investigated by the federal government. And both the pieces of evidence have been provided by the same person – Mansoor Ijaz.

In the first case, the alleged culprit, Hussain Haqqani has already been compelled to resign, while in the second case, the accused, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is still in office, amidst calls by parliamentarians for his dismissal on charges of misconduct. The rhetoric against Pasha has increased in recent days. "If Husain Haqqani could resign based on mere allegations, why shouldn't Pasha", said Awami National Party MNA Bushra Gohar on the floor of the national assembly. The call was subsequently supported in principle by Leader of the Opposition in national assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Asma Jahangir.

Speaking to the media after the memogate case hearing on December 19, Asma said she did not understand why the DG ISI felt the need to travel abroad in order to investigate the matter. Asma said that she was baffled by Shuja Pasha's meeting with Mansoor Ijaz. "I don't understand his interest in the memogate scam. Even otherwise, let me ask under whose authority did he travel abroad to see Mansoor Ijaz?"

Asma is set to raise all these questions before the court of law. In his reply to the apex court, Mansoor has stated that Pasha told him that he was meeting him with the knowledge of the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Appointed as DG ISI in October 2008, Lt Gen Pasha is set to retire as the ISI chief on March 18, 2012, after being given two consecutive extensions in 2009 and 2010.

Amir Mir in Islamabad