Pakistan spy chief intervenes in memo scandal

  • Sun Nov 20th, 2011 3:24pm
  • News

By Sebastian Abbot Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s powerful army intelligence chief personally intervened to check details surrounding a secret memo asking Washington to rein in Pakistan’s military following the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the man who made the memo public said Sunday.

Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, flew to London to meet with Mansoor Ijaz on Oct. 22, less than two weeks after the U.S. businessman of Pakistani origin disclosed the existence of the memo in a Financial Times column.

A senior ISI official said he had no knowledge of the meeting but did not deny it occurred. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have authorization to talk to reporters.

Pasha’s reported involvement shows how seriously the army is taking the scandal, which could cost Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. his job and also threatens to engulf the country’s president.

Ijaz has claimed that the ambassador, Husain Haqqani, orchestrated the memo and assured him that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had approved it. Both have denied the allegations, although Haqqani has offered his resignation to end the scandal.

The ambassador returned home Sunday to answer questions about the memo, which Ijaz sent in May to Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military commander at the time. He said he sent it through an intermediary a week after a covert U.S. raid killed bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town.

The memo, which has been published in the media and does not include an author’s name, has shocked many Pakistanis because it offered to replace Pakistan’s national security hierarchy with people favorable to Washington in exchange for help.

Pakistan’s main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, lashed out Sunday at Zardari’s alleged connection to the memo.

“Mr. Zardari, you are compromising the country’s sovereignty, you are putting the nation’s self-respect on sale,” said Sharif. “This is not acceptable at any cost.”

The memo also promised to curb alleged ISI support for Islamist militants like the Taliban that the intelligence agency has denied exists.

Ijaz said he provided ISI chief Pasha with Blackberry and computer records pertaining to the memo when the two met in London.

“I brought everything to the table, and he went through all of it,” Ijaz told The Associated Press. “He then took with him what he needed for his internal investigation to be complete.”

The controversy has exacerbated tensions between Pakistan’s shaky civilian government and its powerful army generals. Though Pakistan has a civilian president, the military retains vast political and economic power. It has ruled Pakistan, directly or indirectly, for much of the country’s six-decade existence and has fiercely resisted attempts by civilian leaders to curb its role.

The memo has fueled politically toxic charges from critics that the government is colluding with the U.S. against the interests of the country and its army. Though Washington pumps huge amounts of aid into the country, the U.S. is highly unpopular here. The affair has been whipped up by critics of the government and those close to the military establishment, which doesn’t trust Haqqani.

The memo accuses Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani of plotting to bring down the government in the aftermath of bin Laden’s assassination on May 2. It asks Mullen for his “direct intervention” with Kayani to stop this.

The bin Laden raid sparked outrage at the U.S. because the Pakistani government was not told about it beforehand. It also generated unusual domestic criticism of the Pakistani military because it was not able to stop U.S. commandos from sneaking into the country.

Some analysts have questioned Ijaz’s credibility and suggested the affair is a conspiracy cooked up by the military to embarrass the government or remove Haqqani. They have pointed out that the fear of a coup is strange, since the military was in an unfavorable position at the time.

Ijaz has a history of making claims to be well connected with U.S. politicians. Under the Clinton administration, he said American officials told him Sudan was willing to turn over then-fugitive bin Laden, who was taking refuge there. Ijaz said Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger rejected the deal because he was unwilling to do business with Sudan — a claim that Berger denied.

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Associated Press Zarar Khan contributed to this report.