Memogate closes

February 24, 2019

Now that the chief justice of Pakistan has ordered the closing of the case, what did we gain out of this seven year long legal battle?

Memogate closes

The notorious Memogate saga eventually reached its logical conclusion after being dragged for more than seven years. Throughout this tumultuous period, the scandal had the ingredients to become an Oscar winning political thriller. The script had all the drama, intrigue, suspense, lies, conspiracies and yet it failed because of the fictitious treatment.

In fact, the case had already jumped the shark a few weeks after its hard launch. The issue began when the controversial US businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, wrote an obscure article in the Financial Times in 2011, in which he quoted sections of the supposed memo claiming that the message was on behest of the PPP government to seek American assistance to avert a possible military takeover in Pakistan after Osama bin Laden was killed.

Ijaz said he delivered the message to the head of the US military, Admiral Michael Mullen, through a retired US official. Weeks later, Ijaz alleged that the memo was dictated by a senior Pakistani diplomat.

The Pakistani nation was told about it first by the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan, during a public rally in Lahore. Khan also named Husain Haqqani as the main culprit though Ijaz had not then named Haqqani. The media went into frenzy, suggesting that treason had been committed by the civilian government by conspiring against the military and the ISI.

It later turned out that the DG ISI, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, had already travelled to London to meet with Ijaz to collect any supposed evidence.

However, Nawaz Sharif took the lead when he walked into the Supreme Court as the petitioner, wearing a black coat, to demand an inquiry, hoping that treason charges against Husain Haqqani will eventually lead to the toppling of the PPP government led by Asif Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Haqqani vehemently rejected all allegations, saying he did not need an intermediary to communicate with the Americans since he enjoyed the reputation of being an influential and widely connected foreign diplomat. He flew to Islamabad to defend the charges, where he not only resigned from the post but remained under virtual house arrest at the Prime Minister’s House for several weeks.

Pakistan’s overly active Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry intervened on grounds of threat to national security and cited the then army chief’s concern, not law, in the decision to set up an inquiry commission.

The Commission added fuel to fire by splashing vague and one-sided details of the case all over media. It did not record Haqqani’s statement but at the same time allowed the accuser, Mansoor Ijaz, to give a statement by video link.

Once Haqqani was allowed to leave Pakistan by the Supreme Court, his lawyer Asma Jahangir saw no reason for him to return and appear before the Commission and instead demanded an equal treatment with the accuser.

The Commission insisted on Haqqani’s personal appearance and its one-sided report endorsed Ijaz’s charges and accused Haqqani of disloyalty to the state.

Asma Jahangir’s objections to the report submitted by the Commission exposed the Commission’s own bias, partiality and even its merits and mandate. In her two submissions to the SC, she pointed out legal flaws in how the Commission was formed. She argued that the Commission was not authorised to test the petitioner’s morality on hearsay and subjectively, but to ascertain the origin, authenticity and purpose of creating/drafting of Memo.

Jahangir questioned the Commission’s conclusion that "Mr. Mansoor Ijaz is to be believed" and was ‘a credible witness’ because of "several contradictions" in his testimony. Ijaz had claimed to be "involved with several intelligence agencies of the world while being an ordinary citizen of the United States."

"Amongst several contradictions in the testimony of Mr. Mansoor Ijaz," Asma observed, "one is particularly glaring when he on the one hand claims that [Haqqani] has immense influence on the US administration and on the other claims that the petitioner needed a go-between to transmit a memo that Mr. Ijaz admits he himself drafted and sent to General James Jones."

She then quoted the relevant portions of the cross-examination of Ijaz by Haqqani’s lawyer before the Inquiry Commission:

"Q. Can you produce any document, email, SMS or BBM which would show that Mr. Haqqani had asked you to write the Memorandum?

A. The only document which I can produce is exhibit W4-1 which was my hand written notes that I took down when Mr. Haqqani telephoned me."

Thus, effectively, the Commission ruled against Haqqani on the basis of Ijaz’s verbal allegation supported by only his own handwritten notes.

In a ten-page and some twenty points’ long response to the Supreme Court, Asma Jahangir also stated, "the Commission has also conveniently glossed over the evidence of Mr. Mansoor Ijaz where he categorically admits that he drafted and sent the memo. His assertions that it had the backing of a few other people should have encouraged the Commission to at least record the evidence of General (R) Jahangir Karamat and General (R) Mahmood Durrani."

The then CJ, Iftikhar Chaudhry, ignored Asma’s legal points and insisted on Haqqani’s physical attendance. Interestingly, at least four chief judges after Iftikhar Chaudhry did not even set a hearing date, until CJ Saqib Nisar reopened the case last year and made it all about Haqqani’s return once again.

Saqib Nisar issued his arrest orders and directed the FIA to contact Interpol to force Haqqani’s return to Pakistan. Interpol refused to act, clarifying that the case was of political nature. FIRs were registered against Haqqani for the first time, seven years after his resignation.

The new Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khosa, has now determined that the grounds of national security for the Supreme Court involvement in the case were flimsy and thus closed the case. The FIRs registered last year can be pursued by the government but are unlikely to have any effect on Haqqani’s life as they no longer have imprimatur of the Supreme Court.

"I did not write the memo. I was unjustly accused," Husain Haqqani said to this scribe after the Court’s decision made into headlines. "I am relieved. The Apex Court’s sanction for unjust persecution is over, though the persecution by state might still continue," he said, adding that he will visit Pakistan when it’s no longer a bastion of deep state tyranny and jihadi terrorism.

Haqqani, like many others, believe that the real target of this case was the civilian government of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. In the end, Memogate was a sad reflection of the clear civil-military divide after the OBL raid.

Memogate closes