x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Witness in memogate scandal refuses to testify in Pakistan

The chief witness in a secret memo scandal that threatens to bring down Asif Ali Zardari fears his safety in Pakistan and wants to testify in the US.

Akram Sheikh, a lawyer for Mansoor Ijaz announces outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad yesterday that his client, the chief witness in a secret memo scandal that threatens to bring down Pakistan's president, suspects the government has set a trap to prevent him from leaving.
Akram Sheikh, a lawyer for Mansoor Ijaz announces outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad yesterday that his client, the chief witness in a secret memo scandal that threatens to bring down Pakistan's president, suspects the government has set a trap to prevent him from leaving.

ISLAMABAD // The chief witness in a secret memo scandal that threatens to bring down the president will not travel to Pakistan to testify, claiming the government has set a trap to prevent him from leaving, his lawyer said yesterday.

Mansoor Ijaz offered to record his testimony and submit it to a Supreme Court commission that is investigating the scandal, said the lawyer Akram Sheikh. Mr Ijaz, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, was scheduled to travel to Pakistan to appear before the commission today but had bickered with the government over who would guarantee his safety.

Mr Ijaz has accused the Pakistani government of orchestrating a memo, which he delivered to the US last year, asking Washington to help stop a supposed military coup following the American raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The Pakistani government has denied any involvement.

The army was outraged by the memo and denied it ever intended to carry out a coup. It successfully pushed the Supreme Court to investigate against the wishes of the government, which said the matter was already being probed by the parliament.

Mr Ijaz has claimed the Supreme Court commission ordered the military to guarantee his security while in Pakistan, but the government has said the job was the responsibility of the interior ministry. The interior minister, Rehman Malik, has warned Mr Ijaz could be prevented from leaving the country if requested by the parliamentary committee probing the scandal.

"It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mansoor Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan," said Mr Sheikh, his lawyer.

Mr Ijaz has accused the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, of crafting the memo with the support of President Asif Ali Zardari. Both men have denied any connection to the memo, although Mr Haqqani resigned after the scandal. The Supreme Court has prevented the former envoy from leaving the country while it is investigating the scandal.

Some observers have questioned Mr Ijaz's credibility. Those questions increased last week after a music video surfaced in which Mr Ijaz acted as a commentator for a female wrestling match in which both women eventually ripped off their bikinis. Mr Ijaz claimed he did not know there would be nudity in the video.

One of the reasons the memo scandal has generated so much controversy is the rampant anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. The memo offered to replace Pakistan's national security leadership with people favourable to the US in return for help from Washington in stopping the supposed coup.

The US has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars over the past decade to help fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but relations have always been defined by a lack of trust.

The raid that killed bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town heightened mistrust between the two countries. Pakistan was outraged it was not told about the operation beforehand, and US officials questioned how bin Laden was able to live near Pakistan's equivalent of West Point for years.

The relationship deteriorated further at the end of last year when American air strikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border. Pakistan retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for Nato troops in Afghanistan and kicking the US out of a base used by American drones.