- By Josh Rogin
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.
The Cable has obtained the document at the center of the "memo-gate" controversy, sent allegedly from the highest echelons of Pakistani’s civilian leadership to Adm. Michael Mullen in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The memo offered to reshape Pakistan’s national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamic radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy — and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.
The Cable confirmed that the memo is authentic and that it was received by Mullen. The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani — the rumored author of the memo — has offered to resign over what has become a full-fledged scandal in Islamabad. The Cable spoke this evening to the man at the center of the controversy and the conduit of the memo, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.
"Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the Army to succumb to wholesale changes," reads the memo, sent to Mullen via an unidentified U.S. interlocutor by Ijaz. "If civilians are forced from power, Pakistan becomes a sanctuary for UBL’s [Osama bin Laden’s] legacy and potentially the platform for far more rapid spread of al Qaeda’s brand of fanaticism and terror. A unique window of opportunity exists for the civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates due to their complicity in the UBL matter."
The memo — delivered just 9 days after the killing of bin Laden — requests Mullen’s help "in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and [Inter-Services Intelligence chief] Gen [Ahmad Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus."
"Should you be willing to do so, Washington’s political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that, while weak at the top echelon in terms of strategic direction and implementation (even though mandated by domestic political forces), in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington, each of whom have long and historical ties to the US military, political and intelligence communities," the memo states.
The memo offers a six-point plan for how Pakistan’s national security leadership would be altered in favor of U.S. interests. President Asif Ali Zardari would start a formal "independent" inquiry to investigate the harboring of bin Laden and take suggestions from Washington on who would conduct that inquiry. The memo promised this inquiry would identify and punish the Pakistani officials responsible for harboring bin Laden.
The memo pledges that Pakistan would then hand over top al Qaeda and Taliban officials residing in Pakistan, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, or give U.S. military forces a "green light" to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil, with the support of Islamabad. "This commitment has the backing of the top echelon on the civilian side of our house," the memo states.
The memo also promises a new Pakistani national security leadership that would bring transparency and "discipline" to Pakistan’s nuclear program, cut ties with Section S of the ISI, which is "charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network" and other rogue elements, and work with the Indian government to punish the perpetrators of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Ijaz, who has a long and controversial record of acting as an unofficial messenger for the Pakistani and U.S. governments, has claimed repeatedly that the memo came from a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari and was given to Mullen through a U.S. interlocutor close to the then-serving Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Today, in an exclusive interview with The Cable, Ijaz alleged that Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was not only the author of the memo, but the "architect" of the entire plan to overthrow Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership, and was seeking U.S. help.
"Haqqani believed he and the president (Zardari) could redraft the architectural blueprint of how Pakistan should be governed in the future — with civilians in command of the armed forces and intelligence services and the memorandum’s content was geared in that direction," Ijaz said.
Over the past month, the rumors of the memo and its contents have ballooned into a huge political crisis in Pakistan. Islamabad’s military leadership has pressed Zardari to start a full inquiry and the president has summoned Haqqani to the capital to explain himself. Haqqani offered to resign from his post on Wednesday, and told The Cable that he will travel to Pakistan on Friday.
On Wednesday, The Cable first reported that Mullen confirmed the existence of the secret memo delivered to him through an intermediary from Ijaz on May 10. On Nov. 8, Mullen’s former spokesman Capt. John Kirby told The Cable that Mullen had no recollection of receiving the memo, but a week later, Kirby confirmed that Mullen had searched his records and discovered that he had indeed received the Ijaz memo — but that he gave it no credibility and never acted on it.
Ijaz said Haqqani’s proposal, as detailed in the memo and in a series of Blackberry Messenger conversations between Ijaz and Haqqani, included the establishment of a "new national security team" in which the ambassador would be National Security Advisor of Pakistan. An official with the initials "JK" would be the new foreign minister and an official with the initials "NB" would assume a new civilian post in charge of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies.
Ijaz read out several alleged Blackberry Messenger conversations he alleges he had with Haqqani while planning the scheme and drafting the memo. The Cable was unable to verify the veracity of these conversations; as read out by Ijaz, they paint a picture of him and Haqqani devising a coded language worthy of a spy movie to discuss the memo while under possible surveillance.
For example, when Ijaz asked Haqqani to consider adding access by U.S. investigators to bin Laden’s wives to the offer, the wives were referred to as "the three stooges," Ijaz said. Haqqani would use the words "my friend" or "boss" to refer to Zardari. "There was an orchestration to cover our tracks even at that moment because there was always a possibility this could get out," Ijaz said.
Once the memo was final, Ijaz said he approached three U.S. interlocutors, all of whom had served at the highest levels of the U.S. government. One of them was a current serving official, one was a former military official, and one was a former civilian government official, Ijaz said.
"All three of them expressed skepticism about the offers that were being made. Frankly, when you read it, you will see that these offers are sort of a sellout of Pakistan to the United States," Ijaz said.
Ijaz said the text of the memo proves Haqqani’s involvement because it is full of detailed Pakistani government information that a mere businessman would never have had access to. Ijaz said, however, that he can’t confirm whether Zardari had any direct knowledge of the memo or the promises contained therein. All the assurances that Zardari was involved and approved of the memo came from Haqqani, he said.
"I believe, with what we know today, that the president probably gave him a blanket power of attorney to conduct the stealth operation and never wanted to know the details, which he left to Haqqani happily," Ijaz said.
But why would Haqqani, who has extensive connections throughout the U.S. government, need to pass the memo through Ijaz? Haqqani and Zardari needed plausible deniability, said Ijaz, in case the issue blew up into a scandal.
And it has.
"Haqqani was likely the sole architect of the back-channel intervention and needed a plausibly deniable go-between to make it work. I fit that bill perfectly because he knew the Pakistanis, who have been assassinating my character and diminishing my person for decades, would have at me with glee if things went wrong … if a leak occurred purposefully or accidentally," Ijaz said.
Why did Ijaz decide to reveal the existence of the memo in the first place, as he did in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, especially if he really is a secret go-between? Ijaz said it was his effort to defend Mullen from attacks in the Pakistani press after Mullen sharply criticized the ISI and its links to the Haqqani network in his harshly worded closing congressional testimony on Sept. 22.
"I felt very strongly about how Adm. Mullen was mistreated by the Pakistani press after he had testified in Congress and shed light on the harsh truth about Pakistan’s intelligence service brinkmanship," Ijaz said. "So I felt it was necessary to set the record straight."
The whole story is mired in the web of relationships and dealings both Haqqani and Ijaz have had over the years in their roles as members of the Pakistani elite in Washington. Ijaz had considered Haqqani a friend and Haqqani had even spoken at one of the charity events Ijaz organized.
Ijaz said he respects Haqqani, believes his motives are patriotic, and sees him as a needed presence in the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
"Haqqani has had a reputation since he became ambassador as being more of America’s ambassador to Pakistan than Pakistan’s Ambassador to America, but that’s an unfair charge," Ijaz said. "He is someone who is trying to help people there understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is."
"In that sense, he’s done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz said. "I still consider him a friend."
In a long statement given to The Cable over e-mail today, Haqqani flatly denied all of Ijaz’s allegations:
I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz’s claims and assertions. I did not write or deliver the memo he describes not did I authorize anyone including Mr Ijaz to do so.
I was in London and stayed at the Park Lane Intercontinental on the date in May mentioned in one of the alleged conversations but I was there to meet senior British govt officials, including Sir David Richards Chief Of General Staff and Mr Tobias Ellwood then parliamentary Secretary for Defense. These officials will confirm that threat of a coup was not on my mind at the time, the state of US-Pakistan relations was.
I fail to understand why Mr Ijaz claims on the one hand to have helped the civilian government by delivering his memo and on the other insists on trying to destroy democracy by driving a wedge between elected civilians and the military in Pakistan with his persistent claims. It is bizarre to say the least.
Mr Ijaz, whom I have known and communicated with off and on for ten years, once said to me he was richer and smarter than me so I should pay attention to him. Clearly he does not think about the consequences of his actions.
He may be the only so-called secret emissary in the world who likes so much publicity. He has yet to explain why, if all he says is correct, he wrote his Oct 10 oped and himself deliberately blew the cover off his own secret memo and mission.