Don’t Talk With the Taliban – Husain Haqqani

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, is the author of the forthcoming book “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.”

WASHINGTON — THE United States is still planning to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, despite the fact that the group attacked the presidential palace and a C.I.A. office in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week. As was the case in the 1990s, negotiating with the Taliban now would be a grievous mistake.

Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The planned talks have been arranged through the good offices of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. At the urging of Pakistan’s military, the United States agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. Taliban officials immediately portrayed the American concession as a victory. They flew the Taliban flag, played the Taliban anthem and called their new workplace the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the name of the state they ran in the 1990s before being dislodged from power after 9/11. This was intentional. It reflected the Taliban’s view of the talks as the beginning of the restoration of their emirate.

There is no reason to believe — and no evidence — that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome.

Declassified State Department documents and secret cables made public by WikiLeaks show that in the 1990s, as now, Pakistan claimed it had contact with the Taliban but no control over them.

As the Taliban advanced in eastern Afghanistan in 1996, they took over several terrorist training camps run by various Pakistan-supported mujahedeen factions and Arab groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs adviser at the time, Abdul Jalil, told American officials that the “Arab” occupants of the camps had fled, and that Osama bin Laden’s precise location was unknown. Taliban interlocutors assured the United States that the “Taliban did not support terrorism in any form and would not provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.”

That was, of course, an outright lie. The C.I.A. concluded that the Taliban had closed down training camps run by their Afghan rivals but not the ones run by Bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups.

In October 1996, Mr. Jalil delivered a friendly diplomatic message from the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to American representatives, letting them know that “the Taliban think highly of the U.S., appreciated U.S. help during the jihad against the Soviets, and want good relations with the U.S.” This, too, turned out to be nothing but dissimulation. At one point, Pakistani officials even suggested that America “buy” Bin Laden from the Taliban.

Ironically, while American diplomats were interacting with Taliban officials, Western journalists traveling in Afghanistan often found evidence of large-scale terrorist training. An American Embassy cable in November 1996 spoke of an unnamed British journalist’s seeing “assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnians, Sudanese” as well as various Arabs training for global jihad in Afghan provinces adjacent to Pakistan.

Mullah Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban representative, told American officials in 1997 that Bin Laden’s expulsion was not a solution and urged them to recognize the legitimacy of Taliban rule “if the U.S. did not want every Afghan to become a Bin Laden.” By then, the Taliban had changed their story on Bin Laden. They admitted that he was their “guest” but insisted that they had “instructed him not to commit, support or plan any terrorist acts from Afghan soil.”

On Aug. 20, 1998, American missiles struck Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the embassies in Africa. Two days later, Mullah. Omar called the State Department and demanded President Bill Clinton’s resignation, asserting that the missile attack would spread Bin Laden’s anti-American message by uniting the fundamentalist Islamic world and would cause further terrorist attacks.

Fifteen years later, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors have hardly changed their arguments or their tendency to fudge facts. Americans may believe that talks offer an opportunity to end an expensive war that is no longer popular among Americans, but they shouldn’t forget the Taliban’s history of deception.

For the Taliban, direct dialogue with the United States is a source of international legitimacy and an opportunity to regroup. They are most likely playing for time while waiting for American troops to withdraw in 2014.

Everything about the talks in Qatar hints at déjà vu. America must enter these talks with a healthy does of skepticism, or not participate at all.

Afghan, Pakistan delegate spar at US-Islamic forum

Following is  a cross-blog post from Gulf Times

After decades of war in Afghanistan and its spillover into Pakistan, the level of mistrust between the two countries today is at an all-time high.

This became evident even during the high voltage plenary session ‘Transitions in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ that was held yesterday at the 10th US-Islamic World Forum ‘A Decade of Dialogue’.

Numerous tongue in cheek yet delightful exchanges occurred between Pakistan’s Husain Haqqani and Afghanistan’s Amrullah Saleh. Eventually, the forum proved that it was only through dialogue that one could bridge the gap between the two countries.

Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, who is also a professor at Boston University, explained Pakistan’s narrative of terrorism and Taliban by recalling how it spawned during General Zia’s regime in the 80s and how the same “strategic depth” argument was still being used by the security establishment in the country.

He said that President Asif Zardari and Pakistan Peoples Party government had to pay a heavy price for withdrawing itself from national security policies. He added that it remained to be seen whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would also leave matters relating to security and foreign policy to the security establishment in Pakistan.

Haqqani said the reason why Pakistan security agencies prefer to talk to the Afghan Taliban was because they believed that President Karzai and his other officials don’t wield real power in Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan feared that just like in the 80s, US again would abandon it to deal on its own with various groups in Afghanistan after the foreign troops pull out in 2014 and believed, rightly or wrongly, that Afghan Taliban hold the key to stability.

When questioned by Bruce Riedel, Director, The Intelligence Project, about the expected retirement of Pakistan’s army chief General Kayani this fall, which some people in the US believed was an even more important development than the democratic transition that recently took place, Haqqani said the overemphasis on individuals rather than focusing on strengthening institutions in Pakistan by the United States would lead it nowhere.

Surprisingly, Haqqani said Pakistan’s stance that US drone attacks violated its sovereignty lacked substance, especially since the strikes were taking place in areas where they lacked writ.

He also said Pakistan should have thought about its sovereignty when Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden operated in the country.

Amrullah Saleh, Former director of National Directorate of Security Afghanistan, disagreed with Haqqani and said  Osama bin Laden (OBL) didn’t violate Pakistan’s sovereignty because he was welcomed by every powerful quarter in the country.

He also narrated his meeting with General Musharraf back in the days, when he supposedly told the Pakistani dictator that OBL was not in some cave, but in fact hiding in a settled area of Pakistan called Mansehra, which was very close to Abbottabad where OBL was eventually killed by the US forces. “Musharraf had become very emotional and told me that Pakistan was not some banana republic and that how dare some low-level Afghan intelligence official make a claim like that…however, later we were proved right.”

Saleh also questioned whether the Afghan war would end when the international forces pull out from Afghanistan in 2014. “The Afghan war is between democratic space backed by US and extremist groups, the Taliban and al Qaeda, backed by Pakistan…this war is not ending,” he said.

He said the Americans said they were tired after a decade of war, but why don’t they put themselves in Afghan shoes and see how they felt after suffering war for 35 years.

He said that everyday US and Nato forces claim to be killing a number of terrorists, but he said these meant nothing because such strikes targeted low level foot soldiers of the Taliban. “The only high level Taliban leader they managed to kill was Mullah Dadullah in 2007.”

He accused Pakistan of continuing to give safe havens and sanctuaries to all the current top leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda just like it allegedly did with OBL.

“Suppose there is a Taliban office in Doha. Just ask where do the Taliban negotiators from here go to pass on the messages they receive from here. They take flights to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore from Doha [to meet the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan],” he alleged.

Saleh said that although they would like the Taliban to eventually participate in the democratic process, the Taliban know that by participating in such a process, they’ll be rejected by the people and therefore, he predicted, the Taliban would carry on with militancy even when international forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

“The Taliban want to eventually be like Hezbollah in Lebanon, a state within a state,” he said.

About Iran’s links with Afghan Taliban, Saleh downplayed Iran’s influence on the Taliban. He said that Iran reestablished links with all groups in Afghanistan purely for opportunistic and strategic reasons.

Bruce Riedel likened the exchange between Haqqani and Saleh in broader terms as how politicians and intelligence officers views differed when they come across flowers. “When a politician sees flowers, he asks where is the wedding, while when the intelligence officer sees the same, he asks where is the funeral.”

Ambassador Martin S. Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Programme at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, said that the American people were tired after a decade of war, but at the same time didn’t want to disengage with the world.

He stated the irony that when the US intervenes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is reviled and rejected by the Islamic world. But when it chooses to not intervene directly in Syria, it is again reviled and rejected.

He restated President Obama’s policy that it was not at war with Islam.

The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World is being held in partnership with the State of Qatar that will carry on till June 11.

Earlier, HE Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Jabr Al-Thani, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs and the Chairman of Permanent Committee for Organizing Conferences, Qatar,  in his speech said that this year’s forum entitled ‘A Decade of Dialogue” marked the ten-year anniversary.

He said the Forum had become the premier platform for engagement by American leaders from government, business, and civil society with their counterparts from Muslim-majority countries around the world.

Further, he added that this year’s sessions would highlight the changing landscape in Pakistan and Afghanistan and its effect on internal and regional security; the challenges of democracy and development that have loomed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring;  the conflict in Syria and the spiraling effects of the conflict on the Middle East region and the roles played by the United States and other outside actors.,-pakistan-delegate-spar-at-us-islamic-forum

Chief Justice’s Bad Week Gets Worse

If Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was having a bad week when he found his son dragged before the Court and his own name dragged through the mud of media talk shows, things only got worse when he was handed a sealed envelope containing the report of the judicial commission formed to investigate the memogate scandal. The Justices appointed to the commission failed in a big and serious way. They stepped so far outside their authority that they poisoned any future proceedings, basically ensuring that Husain Haqqani could not possibly receive a fair trial in Pakistan. And the Chief Justice knows it.

Here’s what happened. In Constitution Petitions No.77 to 85 and 89 of 2011, the Supreme Court constituted a Commission with a very specific and narrow mandate:

…to ascertain the origin, authenticity and purpose of creating/drafting of Memo for delivering to Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen…

That’s it. Three findings of fact: The (1) origin, (2) authenticity, and (3) purpose of the memo. That’s all the Commission was formed and authorised to investigate. Now, it was never going to be an easy job. Unwinding the constantly changing story of Mansoor Ijaz – not to mention regularly changing the rules to accommodate his whims – was no small task. But when they sealed the envelope containing their report, these three Justices also sealed the fate of the entire controversy.

In their findings, the Justices wrote that “the Memorandum was authentic”, “Mr Haqqani was the originator”, and “Mr Haqqani…wanted to create a niche for himself making himself forever indispensable to the Americans…” This was the extent of their mandate, and should have been the extent of their findings. But the Justices couldn’t help themselves, and they went on…

…He lost sight of the fact that he is a Pakistani Citizen and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States of America, and therefore his loyalty could only be to Pakistan.

(3) Mr. Haqqani’s by offering his services as part of a proposed ‘national security team’ to a foreign government, voicing the ‘great fears’ that ‘Pakistan’s nuclear assets are now legitimate targets’ and thus seeking to bring ‘Pakistan’s nuclear assets under a more verifiable, transparent regime,’ stating that ISI maintains ‘relations to the Taliban’ and offering to ‘eliminate Section S of the ISI and to help ‘ pigeon – hole the forces lined up against your interests’ created fissures in the body politic and were acts of disloyalty to Pakistan, that contravened the Constitution of Pakistan.

That’s not an answer to any of the three questions the Commission was authorised to report on. It’s not even a finding of fact – it’s an application of the law. The Commission not only exceeded their authority, they usurped the authority of the Court by finding facts and then applying the law without filing charges or holding a proper trial.

The Commission later says that Husain Haqqani “has to answer about the findings so recorded by the Commission”, but because they have already pronounced him guilty of “acts of disloyalty to Pakistan, that contravened the Constitution”, how can he possibly answer? He has been convicted in absentia with no access to due process.

Whether or not the factual findings of the Commission are accurate, by casting judgment against Husain Haqqani absent any charges or trial, they have undermined the judicial process completely and ensured that any outcome will be forever tainted. If Haqqani is acquitted by the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice will be undermining the credibility of not one but three High Courts. If Haqqani is convicted, though, it will be stained with the appearance of a ‘Kangaroo Court’ that persecuted a man who found himself on the wrong-side of a powerful military intelligence agency for writing a book critical of their ties to religious militants.

As the Chief Justice desperately tries to convince the nation that he is presiding over a legitimate court of justice and not a political tribunal that protects its favourites while relentlessly hounding its enemies, he is handed a sealed envelope containing one of the greatest judicial mistakes the Court has seen since, perhaps, a Supreme Court Justice gave legitimacy to Gen. Musharraf’s military coup by giving his oath under the dictator’s 1999 Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO)…

Memo saga heads in different direction

Syed Yahya HussainyAlthough the anti-PPP publicists have renewed their claims about Mansoor Ijaz’s version of events about the memo saga looking very believable, the ruling party remains confident that this will be just another example of over-enthusiastic PPP haters celebrating the government’s difficulties while using the shoulder of the judiciary.

“Already, what started out as an issue expected to bring down the Zardari government has been reduced to a ‘get Husain Haqqani’ campaign,” said one observer.

Instead of the facts about writing of the memo, the conduct of Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, and the memo commission’s insistence that he return to Pakistan instead of being allowed to record his statement by videoconference have now become the main topics of discussion.

Mansoor Ijaz has so far not handed over his BlackBerry handset for forensic examination, Haqqani’s illness has given him an additional reason besides personal security concerns to say he cannot return to Pakistan right now. And the issue of equal treatment for the two witnesses before the commission has yet to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Even the claim by anti-PPP hardliners that Haqqani’s missing BlackBerry handsets could pose a national security threat indirectly supports Haqqani’s position that his handsets could not be handed over even if found.

PPP supporters say that even after the subdued appearance of former ISI chief Lt General (r) Ahmed Shuja Pasha before the memo commission and the critical remarks by commission members about Haqqani, there is just not enough evidence to substantiate the story that is believed by few people other than those who have persisted with supporting Mansoor Ijaz’s stupendous claims.

The memo saga started unfolding in October last year, with some forces making it a high stakes game for the government. It slowed down in the middle and now towards its conclusion seems set to witness another twist with stakes rising for the other side and possibly Haqqani, government supporters say.

Haqqani has now thrown the ball in the court of the highest esteem, asking it to provide him equal treatment when it comes to deposing before the memo commission and facilitate him to do so through a video link from London or Washington. Sources say this move has the backing of the top PPP leadership, which wants to create a new issue that can be used in its long-running battle with the judiciary.

While on the face of it, the memo commission is asking questions about Haqqani’s alleged non-compliance with its orders, it has to be prepared for questions that might be asked about its impartiality, especially at the international level. The memo commission was tasked by the Supreme Court to collect evidence and it gave the facility of recording statement by video link to Mansoor Ijaz on grounds that his life would be threatened by travelling to Pakistan.

Now Haqqani has taken the same position, asking the Supreme Court to consider threats to his life equally seriously to the threats claimed by Mansoor Ijaz, a US national.

The Supreme Court will most likely hear Haqqani’s petition when his lawyer Asma Jahangir returns on April 16 from her travels abroad. Until then, the memo commission will most likely continue to push Haqqani’s lawyers to ask him to appear before the commission and demand other actions from Haqqani. The former ambassador, however, will seek protection of the age-old principle that the onus of proving guilt lies with the accusers and if guilt has not been proved and no legal criminal proceedings initiated against Haqqani, the memo commission’s findings have little significance except to generate media headlines.

In any case, legal experts point out that the commission is a fact-finding probe and not a court conducting a trial. Its job is to find out what may have happened and not to ascribe guilt or innocence as no FIR has been registered, no charges have been filed and it is not even clear if any law has been violated by anyone. After PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s emotional speech on his grandfather’s death anniversary reminding everyone that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death as a result of a wrong decision by the judiciary, the PPP is willing to engage in a legal-political battle with the judges of the superior courts.

It is in that background that Haqqani had written a letter to the chief justice, which has been kept confidential, though the court said that such letters should not be directly written to the court.

At the beginning of the memo case, a letter by a Pakistani-Canadian had been turned into a petition by the court. The ruling party plans on highlighting every incident where the judiciary’s attitude towards the PPP is different from that towards other parties, sources say.

Haqqani’s lawyers assert that the media trial against him even without any charges being filed or proof being put on record has created an extremely hostile environment for him in Pakistan. Hostility towards the former ambassador can be found among extremist groups as well as in the ranks of the state machinery, which would be expected to protect him. The then ISI DG, they say, rushed to judgement based on only one meeting with Mansoor Ijaz showing how vulnerable Haqqani might be upon immediate return to Pakistan.

Even during his statement, General Pasha did not go beyond reiterating what he had already said in his affidavit before the Supreme Court in January.

He offered no evidence independent of Mansoor Ijaz’s claims, which he says he believed.

He agreed with Haqqani’s lawyer during cross-examination that Mansoor Ijaz was anti-Pakistan and anti-ISI. While some may find comfort in Pasha appearing before the commission as a sign of the case building up against Haqqani, his statement added little to the claims of Mansoor Ijaz in terms of proving anything.

According to Haqqani’s lawyers, the memo commission has a huge issue at hand, which cannot be dealt with by making remarks about Haqqani’s refusal to appear in person or raising questions about his health. Contrary to the perceptions built up over the months, Mansoor Ijaz’s statement that was seen as the key to the whole issue had proved very weak and uncorroborated in terms of the law of evidence.

Mansoor Ijaz admitted that he had no email or BBM message from Haqqani regarding the memo and his entire claim rests on linking BBM messages to telephone conversations. In his own written statement, Haqqani has given a totally different account of the same phone calls, which he says were just a small part of hundreds of phone calls he made in May 2011.

General Pasha said in his cross-examination that while Mansoor Ijaz showed him BBM screen shots, he refused to hand over to him any evidence.

Several of Mansoor Ijaz’s statements before the commission have been challenged by people not directly connected to the memo affair, raising questions about whether memogate’s star witness has a habit of exaggerating and manipulating communication.

Former US president Bush’s adviser, David Frum, wrote an article in Newsweek and The Daily Beast saying Mansoor Ijaz had “lied” before the commission about sending him a legal notice over his criticism against the American businessman of Pakistani origin.

Haqqani’s lawyers say that the commission also has to decide if it can rely on the testimony of a witness who made some laughable claims during the proceedings. Many of such claims even the commission had to reject as unverified and unreliable. Take for example the transcripts of communication between US helicopters and Pakistani ATC on May 2, 2011, as well as claimed communication between two high offices in Pakistan. General Pasha effectively supported Haqqani’s written statement when he said that there was no likelihood of a coup in May 2011, contrary to the claims of Mansoor Ijaz.

It is also now becoming apparent that the commission might not go ahead with the idea of expensive forensics examination of Mansoor Ijaz’s BlackBerry handset. The head of the commission commented at one hearing that forensics examination is not required at this stage. Sources say most experts in London approached by the commission’s secretary expressed inability to verify the data as suggested by Mansoor Ijaz and widely believed by his supporters.

This is the reason that the commission is once again relying on putting pressure on Haqqani to voluntarily write to Research in Motion (RIM) to secure verification of Mansoor Ijaz’s data.

A valid question that arises from this demand is how anyone can order someone to do something that is meant to be voluntary and would RIM treat as voluntary a letter that is written under orders.

The memo commission had started its proceedings by targeting BlackBerry manufacturers, RIM, to provide it with data.

Mansoor Ijaz and his lawyer had claimed that RIM could provide all the records but it was discovered later that RIM does not maintain records of communications beyond three months. It seems on the issue of forensics too, the presumptions of those who wanted to hang Haqqani, and even President Asif Zardari, on the basis of examination of BlackBerry handsets are discovering that it might not be easy to prove Mansoor Ijaz’s claims through forensics either.

Meanwhile, Haqqani has submitted complete and unedited detailed itemised telephone bills for both his BlackBerry handsets for the entire year of 2011.

Lawyers say, these records prove his assertion that Mansoor Ijaz was a “peripheral” acquaintance and not a friend. For example, in May 2011, Haqqani’s phone bills show 875 incoming and outgoing phone calls on his two telephone numbers, only four of which are to or from Mansoor Ijaz’s number.

Similarly, there are 1,321 text and data items on the bills for May 2011, when Ijaz says he sent the disputed memo, and his number represents a miniscule part of these exchanges.

From the PPP’s point of view, Haqqani is just the right person to create negative perceptions about the judiciary at the international level. The former ambassador is widely supported in the US and western countries even though he has been criticised at home. The Supreme Court’s decision to bar him from travelling abroad was criticised by Haqqani’s international supporters, including the International Commission of Jurists.

Even if Haqqani fails to get the Supreme Court to support his request for recording statement by video link, the PPP leadership will be able to exploit this in creating negative perceptions about the judiciary internationally, sources claim.

On the face of it, Haqqani has simply sought legal redress by approaching the Supreme Court. The opportunity for him to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court was provided by the memo commission. In its proceedings on March 18, when Haqqani was present in London and had requested that his statement be recorded there and then, the commission had taken a position that it was the Supreme Court that had bound Haqqani to be present in Islamabad, and that the commission did not have the competence to undo that.

Thus the commission opened the gate for seeking further interpretation of the Supreme Court order of January 30, 2012. Haqqani might gain most by closing the chapter of memogate even if it entails coming to Pakistan and recording his statement. But the PPP leadership is relishing the opportunity of showing how its opponents rushed to judgement and involved the judiciary in the matter. The memo commission’s adverse remarks about Haqqani, his supporters say, will only benefit him in proving that the commission was predisposed negatively towards him.

Ironically, it is now the PPP leaders who want memogate to drag on so that there are more and more negative international comments about the judiciary and alleged violations of Haqqani’s rights are made an international issue to embarrass the party’s opponents.

This piece was published in Daily Times on 11 April 2012.

Memo commission goes on wild goose chase

Syed Yahya HussainyDespite glaring contradictions and absurdities in the testimony of Mansoor Ijaz, the man who instigated the memo issue, the judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the Supreme Court continues to take him seriously. The international media has stopped even covering the memo issue and within the Pakistani media only an English language newspaper edited by a US-based friend of Mansoor Ijaz reports on him as if he were a serious witness.

Starting off with claims of delivering an unsigned memo under instructions of former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, the testimony of Mansoor Ijaz ended with claims of intelligence services from four countries – whom he is unwilling to name – confirming to him that there was a serious threat of a military coup in Pakistan after the May 2, 2011 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The commission did not ask the obvious question:

Why would intelligence agencies from four countries report to Mansoor Ijaz? What is he, M from James Bond movies?

The commission was created as a fact-finding body, not as a court trying anyone for a crime. It cannot, therefore, be content with allowing witnesses to make statements and be cross-examined by counsel of various petitioners who brought the case to the Supreme Court or respondents who were named in the original petition. It should get into ascertaining the facts itself. But so far Mansoor Ijaz, who is testifying from London because he lives at an unidentified address in Europe, has been allowed to get away with giving his family’s address in the United States (2236 Archer Road, Shawsville, Virginia 24073) as his address even though he has not lived there for years.

With characteristic flair and flamboyance, Mansoor Ijaz claimed that he had access to transcripts of conversations between President Zardari and General Kayani right after the bin Laden raid. He also had an email, once again from someone whom he cannot name, about the conversation between Pakistan’s Air Traffic Control and the US helicopters undertaking the raid in Abbottabad to get Osama bin Laden. He won’t tell us how he got these “documents” and the “documents” have no markings to indicate their origin or authorship. Now all we need is another petition before the Supreme Court and another commission to delve into the origin, authenticity and purpose of all the anonymous documents produced by Mansoor Ijaz.

The Washington Post not long ago described Mansoor Ijaz as the “Quixotic character in a spy novel that he had written himself.” His testimony proves that description as apt. Interestingly, the non-descript email address used by Mansoor Ijaz to send the draft of the memo to Husain Haqqani, by his own claim, was Talk about wanting to be a spy, just like the movies. No wonder Haqqani did not take the email seriously or didn’t bother reading or replying to it.

During cross-examination, Mansoor Ijaz spoke about how ISI Director General Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha travelled to several countries, trying to secure support for a military coup. If he knew that from May and believed it, how does Ijaz square that with his willingness to trust Pasha in October with details of his May mission of delivering a memo on behalf of the civilians he wanted saved from the coup? General Pasha must also be regretting meeting Ijaz and giving him credence but that is another subject altogether.

Mansoor Ijaz makes a big deal of the fact that he has submitted his BlackBerry handsets and phone bills to the commission while Husain Haqqani has not. The commission’s head appears fascinated by this technical data. But the phone bills only confirm who called whom and at what time for what duration. How can this piece of ‘evidence’ shed any light on what was said during those telephone conversations?

The newspaper that still wants Ijaz’s testimony to somehow bring the elected government down claimed recently that the telephone bills submitted by Ijaz ‘confirmed’ that US General James Jones, who forwarded Ijaz’s memo and is the only former US official with whom Ijaz was directly in contact about his memo, lied when he claimed Ijaz had spoken to him a few days before May 9, 2011 – the day Ijaz first spoke to Haqqani. In fact, that is not the case. Ijaz’s telephone bills confirm he spoke to General Jones on May 9 but there is no way of confirming if the two spoke earlier as well or not. Ijaz could have called Jones from another phone number just as he says Haqqani called him from an “unidentified phone number” once. No one’s life revolves just around their BlackBerry or a single phone line.

Ijaz admits that he stopped using the particular BlackBerry set he used to communicate with Haqqani in May on July 4, 2011. This should point to changing of handsets being normal, just as Haqqani changed his BlackBerry sets later in the year. But for Ijaz, the man who deals with two dozen intelligence agencies around the world, his changing handsets is normal while someone else doing the same amounts to attempting to conceal evidence. What evidence? The well laid out story linking telephone conversations whose content cannot be proved with BlackBerry messages that make no mention of the memo or its subject. In fact, the only BBM messages that talk about the coup went from Ijaz to Haqqani by Ijaz’s own account.

In his statement before the commission, Mansoor Ijaz claimed that he never told Haqqani that he was transmitting the message he claims originated from Haqqani through General Jones. According to Ijaz, he “made modifications to the body text of the email to ensure that nothing could be traced to General Jones. This was done so that Haqqani does not find out who I was writing to and who was my contact.” Talk about acting out spy fantasies.

But the man he was protecting even from Haqqani according to his claim came out denying Ijaz’s account. If General Jones is or was closer to Haqqani than Ijaz, what was the need for the whole cloak and dagger operation in the first place? Other than Mansoor Ijaz’s vain desire to be part of something important and to be a character in his own spy novel?

Another interesting part of Mansoor Ijaz’s testimony is where he says of his contact with Haqqani after May. “On June 3, 2011 an article written by me was published in the weekly magazine Newsweek which is owned by the organisation The Daily Beast. Upon publication of the said article Haqqani contacted me and commented about its contents. We remained in contact till June 22, 2011 and I did not hear nor contact him again till early September 2011, when I received a message from him which I no longer retain, stating that he was intending to leave his office and was reaching out to his friends for their support.”

Why, one may ask, is this particular exchange of messages from September not retained by Mansoor Ijaz who has retained so many messages, including ‘Ping’ and ‘Okay’ from May on his BlackBerry handset and its backup on his computer? Was retaining the exchanges from May deliberate so that they could serve the purpose of weaving a story around them while the latter messages are being revealed verbally only because critics, like me, have asked why Ijaz did not stay in touch with Haqqani after undertaking such an important “mission” on his behalf in May? Apparently, a “crucial” PIN message from Ijaz to Haqqani is also missing according to Ijaz’s statement.

If saving PIN and BBM messages (which, by the way, is the only function of the BlackBerry handset for which the set’s PIN No is relevant) is subjective and if data can be altered or deleted then how does the Commission expect to resolve the question of how the memo was written based solely on BlackBerry handset data? It is true that a witness sitting in London and talking to judges through video link can be impressive, especially when he shows how he has technical means such as a BlackBerry handset to “confirm” what he claims. But given that our judiciary is not always technology savvy it should be careful in deferring to experts, preferably not ones proposed by one of the parties.

During the memo commission’s hearing on Friday, the commission asked its secretary to approach forensics experts named by Mustafa Ramday, counsel for Mian Nawaz Sharif. If the commission was to identify totally independent experts it would learn that alteration of BlackBerry handset data over time as well as in retrieving it from a computer back up is a definite possibility. In fact, one of the expert witnesses from FIA who testified before the commission on January 9 tried to explain that to the commission but was scolded by the commission’s head because he was explaining things too technically.

Haqqani’s lawyers will probably grill Mansoor Ijaz during cross-examination but knowing Ijaz, he will have a story to further his original story. After all, here is a man who managed to borrow money from a San Marino bank by telling them he had an Indian family’s backing of $50 million without ever naming the family. Ijaz recently threatened to “deal” with newspapers and blogs that “slandered” him but has not denied the substance of articles that say he may have exaggerated his fortune to claim uber-wealthy status without really being that wealthy. His claims about unnamed US officials threatening him about testifying before the memo commission is as ludicrous as his claim about getting information from unnamed intelligence officials in four unnamed countries.

Just as Mansoor Ijaz’s investors are unnamed so are his sources in his art-time occupation of super-spy. In 2003, journalist Richard Miniter, in a book titled “Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror,” quoted Clinton administration officials who did not take Ijaz up on any of his offers to help get Osama bin Laden out of Sudan between August 1996 and 1998 because they viewed him as “a Walter Mitty living out a personal fantasy.” The US 9/11 Commission, which interviewed Ijaz, concluded that were was no “credible evidence” that the Sudanese had made any offer to hand over bin Laden.

According to Wikipedia, Walter Mitty is a fictional character in James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” first published in the New Yorker on March 18, 1939, and in book form in My World and Welcome to It in 1942. It was made into a film in 1947. Mitty is a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer. The character’s name has come into more general use to refer to an ineffectual dreamer, appearing in several dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs.”

Mansoor Ijaz has had many incarnations as Walter Mitty. In a 2004 interview with Fox News, Ijaz made the sensational claim: Chemical warheads were being smuggled into Iraq for a potentially catastrophic attack against American troops. He claimed that the whole plan was given the green light by hardline Iranian mullahs. According to CNN analyst Peter Bergen, “The story had everything to attract attention – Mad mullahs! WMD on the loose in Iraq! (At last!) And the threat of thousands of potential American casualties.”

Ijaz told Fox in 2003 that “eyewitness sources” placed Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Iran. When host Brit Hume asked about the source of the claim, Ijaz replied, “I can just tell you that the source is unimpeachable. It is from inside Iran. These are eyewitness accounts.”

By 2006, Mansoor “Walter Mitty” Ijaz had adopted the description of a “US nuclear proliferation and terrorism expert.” In that capacity he told Gulf News newspaper that Iran not only had a nuclear bomb, it was seeking to “duplicate them in large numbers before revealing their existence to the world.” Six years later, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon has still not materialised.

Tasked by the Pakistan Supreme Court to determine the origins, authenticity and purpose of Mansoor Ijaz’s memo to US Admiral Michael Mullen, the memo commission has bent over backwards to secure Ijaz’s testimony. But shouldn’t the commission look into the antecedents of the man before continuing a wild goose chase based on his phone bills, web of BlackBerry messages and emails, most of which either conceal the source or have unidentifiable intelligence agencies as sources.

With only Mansoor Ijaz as the explainer-in-chief, the memo story has already caused Husain Haqqani’s resignation and the army’s humiliation as a failed coup-maker. Let us hope it does not make our honourable judges look like people easily swayed by a fictional spy thriller just because it contained a lot of technical mumbo jumbo.

This piece was originally published by Daily Times on 4th March 2012.