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Businessman testifies on claim Pakistan officials sought U.S. aid

Mansoor Ijaz reiterates his claim that the Pakistan envoy to the U.S. asked him to pass on memo allegedly approved by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari seeking help to avert any army coup.

February 23, 2012|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, seen here last year in London, has been mentioned in connection with the so-called Memogate scandal. A Pakistani American businessman says Pakistan's then-ambassador to the U.S. told him that Zardari had approved a communication seeking U.S. aid in the event of a Pakistani military coup.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, seen here last year in London, has… (Ben Stansall, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan —  

A Pakistani American businessman told a judicial panel Wednesday that Pakistani officials enlisted him last year to deliver a memo urging Washington to help rein in the country's powerful military, saying the idea was pushed by the nation's then-ambassador to the U.S. and endorsed by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mansoor Ijaz testified that during a phone call in the days after the May 2 killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid, a noticeably agitated Husain Haqqani, the ambassador at the time, said Zardari's government was "under enormous pressure" fromPakistan's military.

"The army wants to bring this government down," Ijaz told the panel that Haqqani had said.

Ijaz said Haqqani asked for his help in getting a message to Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that sought Washington's intervention in getting Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani "to stand down."

The scandal, dubbed "Memogate" by Pakistanis, has gripped the nation for months and widened rifts between Zardari's embattled civilian government and the country's military leadership, headed by Kayani. It also forced Haqqani to resign and has ramped up pressure on Zardari, who is also fighting a Supreme Court push to reopen corruption proceedings against him.

The Supreme Court in December established a commission to investigate the memo allegedly drafted by the civilian government. Some observers contend that it could lead to treason charges.

At the center of the scandal is Ijaz, who refused to fly to Pakistan to appear before the commission, saying he feared that the government might arrest him. Instead, he appeared before the three-judge panel through a videolink from the Pakistani Embassy in London.

Ijaz, citing cellphone records that verified he had a 16-minute phone call with Haqqani, testified that the two men spoke seven days after the raid that killed Bin Laden in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad. In the days after the raid, Pakistan's military and government were under intense public pressure over the unhindered flight ofU.S. military helicopters deep into the country's territory.

Ijaz told the panel that Haqqani said of the request for help from the U.S., "This is coming from the president," meaning Zardari. According to Ijaz, Haqqani told him Zardari's government was assembling a new national security team "that was similar to the way we do things in the U.S."

He said Haqqani spelled out several concessions that Zardari's government was willing to grant Washington if it agreed to prevent a military coup, including allowing U.S. special forces operations on Pakistani territory to track down top militant leaders, as well as the elimination of a wing of theInter-Services Intelligencespy agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups.

Ijaz said he took notes during the conversation. The contents of the alleged conversation could not be verified.

Though Mullen has acknowledged receiving an unsigned memo, he said he disregarded it because he did not deem it credible.

When the panel first convened, Haqqani denied any involvement in conceiving or drafting the memo. Authorities initially did not allow Haqqani to leave Pakistan, but later the Supreme Court lifted that ban and he has since left the country. Aides to Zardari, who has immunity from prosecution while in office, also have strongly denied Ijaz's allegations.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

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