Memogate’s Mansoor Ijaz was once an NDA guest, Iftikhar Gilani
The Pakistani-American businessman played a key role in facilitating talks between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir dispute
Soon after lush green meadows started reappearing from beneath the melting snow, the Indian Army and the paramilitary forces had begun relentless search operations and a crackdown in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district in the spring of 2000.
Reason—the military intelligence (MI) sleuths from across the LoC had informed that Abdul Majeed Dar, chief operational commander of the only formidable Kashmiiri militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) was missing from its headquarters in Muzaffarabad. According to intelligence inputs gathered by the MI and some other agencies, Dar was last seen travelling towards a border village to sneak into Indian territory. The air was already thick with rumours about his movements and meetings with the top brass of HM.
Little did they know that external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had a major scoop up its sleeve. In a successful operation, they had airlifted Dar to Srinagar via Karachi, Dubai and Delhi in May 2000, to enable him to announce a unilateral ceasefire. And the man, who negotiated and mediated the short-lived truce, was believed to be Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani American businessman, now at the centre of controversy, nicknamed ‘Memogate’, that is taking a toll on the civilian government of Pakistan President Asif Zardari in Islamabad.
Later, Ijaz was also involved in brokering a Kashmir solution between India and Pakistan in 2000 and 2001, as an unofficial interlocutor, it was claimed, for then United States President Bill Clinton.
Though India opposes any third party mediation on Kashmir, the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee accorded Ijaz a status that befits only high-profile emissaries and, at least, on two occasions he visited Delhi on special “out-of-passport” visa, with full secrecy of his identity and itinerary. Ijaz made half a dozen trips to India and Pakistan at that time to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute.
In an interaction with the media at a hotel in the outskirts of Delhi, he denied acting on behalf of the US government but claimed that he was drawn to the Kashmir problem because “oppressed people have no capacity to speak for themselves and stop violations that occur against them in the name of religion or politics or money.”
Ijaz, a nuclear physicist and a New York-based investment banker as also a member of the influential US Think Tank Council on Foreign Relations, had given contours of his efforts in an interview to Pakistani daily The News International on 25 December, 2001, seven months before the Agra summit between Vajpayee and President Musharraf Pervez failed, dashing the initiatives he had taken. He described the HM ceasefire as “a momentous event in the tumultuous history of the Kashmir valley,” which opened a door to search for an earnest resolution of the conflict.
Recalling his visit to Delhi, Ijaz heaped praise on Chandar D Sahay, then point-man on Kashmir in the RAW, (he later became its chief). Sahay, he believed, was the key man who made India’s hawks understand that peace in Kashmir meant giving the Kashmiris a stake—economic, moral, emotional— in the success of their choice to remain with India or become a semi-autonomous region.
“In my hotel suite in New Delhi in November 2000, I brought Sahay and a prominent Kashmiri activist, Yasin Malik, together after nearly a year of painstaking negotiations following the military coup in Pakistan,” he claimed. Maintaining that Malik had taken unprecedented risks in dealing with Sahay secretly, Ijaz claimed having persuaded even the toughest Kashmiri loyalist, Syed Geelani, to not oppose progress towards permanent peace.
Ijaz revealed that Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official, who had piloted Osama bin Laden’s aircraft in Afghanistan during the Afghan resistance, had also taken unprecedented risks in bringing him in contact with Syed Salahuddin, the chief of HM and also allowed him to hand-carry his written messages back to President Clinton at the time. Khawaja was murdered by Taliban militants in April 2010.
In his interview with The News International, Ijaz had claimed: “The process of empowering both civilian and militant Kashmiri voices remains the central objective of our efforts at present because a strong Kashmir provides Pakistan and India with face-saving exit strategies.”
Ijaz also spoke of a mid-January 2001 meeting of political and militant leaders in Islamabad to set a common agenda for talks with New Delhi and take General Musharraf into confidence about the merits and rationale for the talks. “There will also be a clear effort made to deal with the so-called mercenary problem whether or not to allow non-indigenous Pakistani-backed insurgents a seat at the peace table. Once the internal agenda is agreed upon and the various Kashmiri parties are united on a message and a delegation, Indo-Kashmiri dialogue can begin,” said he.
Ijaz also referred to ground ceasefire modalities and a possible Musharraf-Vajpayee summit and said in that interview that “the Kashmiris will be free to suggest Pakistan’s inclusion either partially or wholly in political dialogue aimed at a permanent solution. Delhi understands this as a condition for beginning talks with the Kashmiris.”
Stressing that “Pakistan is a party to the (Kashmir) dispute, Ijaz had gone on to affirm: “But General Musharraf is rapidly, flexibly and correctly adapting the Pakistani position to the reality that Islamabad’s pursuit of Jihad-based resistance in Kashmir has not worked.
As head of state rather than just head of the army, his responsibility to the larger interests of the Pakistani people go far beyond the narrow pursuit of an ideological war that is decimating an innocent population while deeply scarring the image and vitality of Pakistan as a nation.
“That is why General Musharraf is wisely preparing the people of Pakistan for a policy of maximum flexibility in its negotiating stance. By doing so, he accommodates growing Kashmiri willpower to test India’s sincerity for peace and resolution while maintaining a firm bottom line that protects Pakistan’s security interests.”
Ijaz’s ‘Mission Kashmir’ did not take toll on the Vajpayee government for allowing a mediator against India’s declared policy as he always maintained a low profile unlike an article he wrote for a British paper last month to strengthen President Zardari’s stance, which boomeranged. He narrated how he felt threatened from encroachments by Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.
If he is to be believed then Zardari had sought him out, after the US Navy Seal raid to extract Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad in May, to convey its insecurity to Admiral Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff and avowed “friend” of General Kayani to fend off a possible coup. Ijaz reportedly drafted and dispatched a secret “memo” portraying the Pakistani military as being part of the problem rather than the solution to America’s dilemma in Afghanistan.
Once the “memogate” became public, Ijaz tried to prove his credibility by revealing all, even though he may no longer be sought by anyone any longer as a credible and confidential interlocutor. It is because of his reveal-all mess that the Pakistan military has turned its guns on Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. Running afoul of Musharraf in 2002 for his critical newspaper columns in Urdu and English, Haqqani had fled to the US where he wrote his seminal book on the unholy historical nexus between the mosque and military in Pakistan. Since he was appointed ambassador to Washington in 2008, the Pakistan military has since embarked upon a campaign to defame him, he reasoned.
Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com.