Earlier this week, in an essay that comprehensively debunked the so-called “memogate” controversy that has paralysed Pakistan and driven its already fragile civilian government to the brink of collapse, David Frum described the architect of the crisis, Mansoor Ijaz, as “a reckless fantasist motivated by childish vanity”.
Now Ijaz has responded with a rebuttal that vividly proves the case of those calling him a fraud.
Who is Ijaz and what has he done? He is an American businessman of Pakistani descent with an incurable addiction to self-elevating fantasies and a remarkable eye for opportunity – an expert at making hay when the sun has sunk. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he came forward with an astonishing claim: that the attacks happened only because the Clinton administration had snubbed his offer to have Osama bin Laden extradited from Sudan. Unsurprisingly, the 9/11 Commission found this claim to be a lie. In ordinary times, Ijaz would be confined to the fringes of political discourse. But in the fevered and uncertain atmosphere of the last decade, as the fringe appropriated the mainstream, Ijaz was among the multitude of clowns whose voices were amplified and legitimised by networks and newspapers.
Ijaz presented himself as a pro-Western secularist opposed to the Pakistani army’s interference in the country’s civilian affairs. He wanted the world to support civilian rule in Pakistan. He erupted with indignation when bin Laden was discovered in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad. The Generals, he argued, must be taught a lesson.
Then in October, after months of being outside the limelight, he decided to update the world on his recent exploits. In an op-ed in the Financial Times, he wrote that he had been plotting to subdue the Pakistani army. He alleged that a top ranking Pakistani diplomat had conscripted him in this grand scheme, and together they had crafted an extraordinary memo to Washington: if Barack Obama squeezed the Pakistani army, the civilian government would shut down state patronage of terrorism and offer the U.S. a free hand against militants inside Pakistan.
No one in the West accorded serious attention to Ijaz’s claims. Why would Pakistan’s ambassador seek the help of a character as utterly lacking in credibility as Ijaz to deliver a message that could be communicated securely through numerous other diplomatic channels? But in Pakistan, where a rightwing counterestablishment survives almost entirely on conspiracy theories, they lit a fuse. Televangelists and columnists clamoured for the “traitorous” Pakistani diplomat’s identity to be disclosed. The army seemed anxious to deal with the civilian who was said to have urged the Americans to curb their – the army’s – power. “Memogate” was born.
Then, inexplicably, Ijaz switched sides and joined the army. He named his “co-conspirator” as Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. Having sabotaged his stated cause, and fully aware of the danger in which he placed Haqqani, Ijaz met the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in London and volunteered “evidence” of Haqqani’s involvement in the “conspiracy”: emails, texts and Blackberry messages.
Today, Haqqani – an unyielding advocate of democracy in Pakistan – is out of a job and awaiting prosecution. Some members of Pakistan’s ruling elite would like to see him executed. His wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, faces threats to her life. Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has suffered a stroke and is in Dubai. In other words, the civilian establishment of Pakistan – the wing that Ijaz claims to support – is in meltdown. Pakistan’s military-intelligence mafia – whose machinery supports the Taliban in Afghanistan – is back in power, and keen to exact revenge for the humiliation inflicted on it by the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden.
Despite all this, Ijaz claims that his actions have helped democracy in Pakistan. Imagine John Wilkes Booth saying that his assassination of Lincoln was meant to promote emancipation – and you get a sense of what Ijaz is trying to sell. Far from supporting democracy, Ijaz’s actions have served to re-empower the most regressive elements within Pakistan’s security establishment. Pakistan’s most tireless champions of democracy and pluralism are in the line of fire because of Ijaz. To dismiss him as a vain or delusional braggart is to liberate him from personal moral responsibility for his actions.
This evening I had dinner with a friend from university who now hosts a popular current affairs show in Pakistan. When I mentioned Ijaz, this is what my friend, a pro-democracy secularist who has received numerous threats from his country’s religious reactionaries, said: “Throw the bastard in Guantanamo.”