Memogate update: Haqqani threatens to sue Newsweek over new Ijaz claims

Memogate update: Haqqani threatens to sue Newsweek over new Ijaz claims

This weekend was full of developments in the U.S.-Pakistani scandal known as "Memogate," as former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani threatened to sue Newsweek magazine for publishing new and startling accusations leveled against him by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.

The Memogate scandal relates to a secret memo delivered to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which asked for U.S. government help to prevent a rumored takeover of the Pakistani government by Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. In exchange for U.S. help, the memo offered to reshape Pakistan’s national security leadership to place more power in the hands of the civilian government, and to reorient Pakistani foreign policy in line with U.S. interests.

Ijaz delivered the memo to former National Security Advisor Jim Jones on May 10 — only nine days after bin Laden was shot dead in the Pakistani military town of Abbotabad — who then passed it on to Mullen. Ijaz, who has a long and controversial record of back channel diplomacy, has accused Haqqani of being the author of the memo and the architect of the scheme it outlines. Haqqani resigned from his post amid the scandal, but adamantly denies being involved in the drafting or the delivery of the memo.

On Dec. 3, Ijaz published an op-ed in Newsweek that levels brand new charges against Haqqani and his boss, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari — namely, that the two were aware of the bin Laden raid in advance and allowed the U.S. military to violate Pakistani sovereignty by conducting the raid.

"In my opinion … Zardari and Haqqani both knew the U.S. was going to launch a stealth mission to eliminate bin Laden that would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. They may have even given advance consent after CIA operations on the ground in Pakistan pinpointed the Saudi fugitive’s location," Ijaz wrote. "The unilateral U.S. action, they might have surmised, would result in a nation blaming its armed forces and intelligence services for culpability in harboring bin Laden for so many years. They planned to use the Pakistani public’s hue and cry to force the resignations of Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and intelligence chief Gen. Shuja Pasha."

Ijaz pointed to the fact that Haqqani was in London when bin Laden was killed as evidence that Haqqani was working with Western powers to brief them on the raid and prepare for the aftermath. He also accused Haqqani of changing Blackberries three times to scrub the records of his involvement in the memo.

"Maybe he hoped that changing PINs would erase his damning conversations from my handset. Unfortunately for him, they remain preserved-now in a bank vault-in exactly their original form on my original device as he and I exchanged them," Ijaz wrote.

Haqqani, who is now banned from leaving Pakistan while his involvement in the Memogate scandal is investigated, wrote to Newsweek editor Tina Brown on Dec. 3 to demand a retraction of the latest Ijaz piece.

"In the strongest terms possible, I categorically reject as reckless, baseless and false the allegations levied against me by Mr Mansoor Ijaz about prior knowledge of US plans for a raid in Abbottabad in violation of Pakistani sovereignty to eliminate Osama bin Laden as well as his earlier charges about my role in a memo he wrote and sent to the US Chairman Joint Chiefs," Haqqani wrote in the letter, obtained by The Cable.

Haqqani said that although he boarded a plane for London on the evening of May 1, as Ijaz said, he never left Heathrow airport and cancelled a planned trip to Dubai and Islamabad when the news of the bin Laden killing broke and returned to Washington immediately.

"My British interlocutors would attest to the fact that I did not discuss any fears about domestic political developments in Pakistan and certainly did not talk about any hare brained scheme against the Pakistani military," Haqqani wrote. "Unless Newsweek retracts the article by Mr Ijaz, and his impugning of my patriotism and loyalty to Pakistan, I intend legal action to right the wrongs done to me by these outrageous allegations."

Meanwhile, Ijaz is doubling down on his original claims about Haqqani’s involvement in the memo. He appeared Sunday on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, where he railed against Section S of the ISI, which he accused of meddling in Pakistani domestic politics and supporting violent extremists in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. "It’s an organ of the state that nobody can control," Ijaz said.

Zakaria asked Ijaz why he had publicized the memo — a strategy that seems to be harming the civilian government’s credibility and helping the ISI gain power.

"If you ask me, we have strengthened Pakistan," Ijaz responded. "Maybe we haven’t strengthened the civilian side of Pakistan’s government. But there may have been a rot there that needs to be cleaned up. And if that rot is cleaned out, you might find a very strong Pakistan emanating out of this, in which the judiciary does what it’s supposed to, the military does what it’s supposed to."

Haqqani and Zardari’s involvement in Memogate is now being examined by a parliamentary committee and Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered its own inquiry, the details of which are set to be finalized this week. Ijaz told The Cable that he has handed over his Blackberry to be examined forensically in order to corroborate his claims that Haqqani was involved.

If Haqqani was involved, he certainly erred by trusting his secret mission to Ijaz, an irony Ijaz acknowledged in his Newsweek piece.

"Haqqani made just one critical mistake — seconding me into his scheme," Ijaz wrote.