When Mansoor Ijaz’s piece in Financial Times was published earlier this week, we could almost feel the excitement in the air. Here is a piece in the international media that claims a conspiracy from president’s house! But, wait, there’s a problem! The majority of the piece actually attacks the national agencies a being a source of international terrorism! It seemed a missed opportunity for Zardari haters, for what self respecting journalist would be willing to blatantly ignore half of the claims in a column just to exploit the other half? But once again, The News (Jang Group), sinks to expectations.
Anjum Niaz tried to keep her piece short, possibly as a way to avoid drawing too much attention to the fact that her column is completely without substance. She even admits that the source, Mansoor Ijaz, is a “coup master” who “thrives on conspriracy theories” and is “driven by an uncontrollable ego to showcase himself as a kingmaker”. Then, after all but terming Mr Ijaz a bald faced liar, Anjum Niaz suggests that perhaps we should at least consider his claims anyway.
And then we get a hint to Anjum’s game:
First, Mansoor Ijaz must have provided irrefutable proof to the editors at FT. They will have gone over the “phone calls and emails” exchanged between Ijaz and the diplomat to establish the authenticity of the information. Publishing such slanderous material is to invite libel.
This blog has already investigated in detail just how credible Mr Ijaz is, but let’s consider Anjum’s argument on it’s own merits. According to Anjum Niaz, the Financial Times “will have gone over the “phone calls and emails” and therefore anyone who uses basic common sense to question the credibility of Pakistan’s James Bond is wasting his time. Perhaps. But FT never actually said that they saw any evidence, Anjum Niaz just assumes it is so. It should also be noted that Mansoor Ijaz’s piece for the FT was not an investigative news report, it was an opinion piece. Even if he were asked to provide some evidence supporting his sensational claims, we don’t know how much or of what quality this evidence is. Presumably it was of the same quantity and quality of evidence he showed the Wall Street Journal when he claimed to have been a secret negotiator between Sudan and the United States government – a claim for which America’s National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States “found no credible evidence”; or the quantity and quality of evidence he provided the Los Angeles Times in 2003 when he claimed that,”the growing body of publicly available evidence offers sufficient proof of Baghdad’s mendacious designs to warrant the immediate use of force”. We remember how credible that ‘evidence’ turned out to be. Mansoor Ijaz even claims to have brokered a ceasefire between Kashmiri mujahideen and Indian army, although Jang Group reporters who were there tell a different story.
Next year, Khalid Khwaja tried to fix a meeting between American businessman Mansoor Ijaz and Kashmiri militant leader Syed Salahuddin. Khwaja contacted Salahuddin through his friends in Jamaat-e-Islami and informed him that Mansoor Ijaz wanted to deliver a letter from Bill Clinton. Syed Salahuddin came to know that Mansoor Ijaz had meetings with Indian Army officials in Srinagar in early 2000 and also with then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He smelled a rat and refused to meet Mansoor Ijaz.
As we see, even a decade ago people were questioning the credibility of Mansoor Ijaz’s sensational stories and smelling ‘a rat’. And shouldn’t Anjum Niaz also be making the same assumptions about the evidence Mansoor Ijaz provided to back up his claim that the ISI is “a sponsor of terrorism” that “undermines global antiterrorism efforts at every turn”? She conveniently leaves out this entire part of Mansoor Ijaz’s latest conspiracy theory.
From there, Anjum spirals downward into a confused mess of speculation.
[I]f the account is accurate, Pakistan must identify the senior diplomat who allegedly contacted Mansoor Ijaz and prepared a dossier on behalf of Zardari for the White House and Admiral Mullen with Mansoor Ijaz as the messenger. How did the diplomat gain access to our military’s top secrets to pass them on to the White House and Admiral Mullen? Who gave them to him?
What if the senior diplomat was Hussain Haroon! What if it was Maleeha Lodhi, who Anjum’s colleague Shaheen Sehbai notes was Ambassador when Mansoor Ijaz supposedly arranged secret meetings between Nawaz Sharif and American national security officials at the White House! What if Gen Pasha gave away our military’s top secrets to the White House to the supposed diplomat! What if the national agencies are filled with Bharati agents! What if it was Anjum Niaz, pictured below with American President Bill Clinton who is the selling the nation!
Or, what if this is all just hair-brained nonsense…
Which bring us to the other Jang Group journalist who attempts to squeeze a controversy out of a conspiracy.
Shaheen Sehbai has been suffering humiliation for over three years now since Asif Zardari was elected to the presidency and not immediately booted out, as Sehbai incorrectly predicted. During these years, he has penned a number of pieces based in little more than rumour and speculation, and that appear to be aimed at pitting the civilians and the military against each other. His blatantly selective reading of Mansoor Ijaz’s opinion piece for FT is only the latest strike in this sad campaign.
In a way, Shaheen Sehbai and Mansoor Ijaz have much in common. Both are prone to speculation, and both are known not to let inconvenient facts get in the way of a political agenda. Speculation plays a key role in this piece by Shaheen Sehbai also, as the author admits when he says that “The real facts would come out if and when the full text of that [alleged] memo ever gets out”. Lacking “real facts”, Sehbai decides to invent his own fantasy scenarios and wonders whether Zardari would offer to replace the present Army leadership with a team more friendly to the Americans. Unfortunately for Sehbai, such lazy speculation doesn’t pass a test of basic common sense – Zardari has already granted unprecedented extensions to both General Kayani and General Pasha, and sacking the leadership now to replace them with a more pro-American team would not discourage a coup, it would practically invite one.
Ironically, the one person who comes out smelling like roses is one of Shaheen Sehbai’s favourite punching bags, Husain Haqqani. After all, if Shaheen Sehbai is correct, Zardari knew that he could not trust his Ambassador in Washington to deliver such a pro-American, anti-Army message to the American government, so he had to turn to Mansoor Ijaz. So much for the old slander that says Husain Haqqani is ‘America’s ambassador to Pakistan’s embassy’, Zardari’s man in Washington who the Army doesn’t trust. Instead of being a pro-American Ambassador, Husain Haqqani is now a diplomat that must be worked around if an anti-Army message is to be delivered to Washington.
This brings us to the point that Shaheen Sehbai spends most of his time on: Mansoor Ijaz’s credibility. Unlike his colleague Anjum Niaz, who stops short of opening her column by terming Mansoor Ijaz a liar, Shaheen Sehbai goes out of his way to try to turn the “coup master” who “thrives on conspriracy theories” into a saint. He starts by echoing Anjum Niaz’s line that “the FT is not likely to publish something which it cannot substantiate if it was so required”. Some might find it curious that two ‘journalists’ working for the same media group would write the exact same speculative theory on exactly the same day, despite that fact that whether or not Mansoor Ijaz’s piece “invites libel”, they have no evidence to suggest it is true; or that if Mansoor Ijaz is in fact telling the truth, it has far greater implications for the subjects that both Anjum Niaz and Shaheen Sehbai conveniently left out of their ‘analysis’.
This gets to the obvious, though utterly predictable, failing of both Shaheen Sehbai’s and Anjum Niaz’s pieces for The News. Mansoor Ijaz’s column for FT included a brief accusation against Zardari in the opening paragraphs, but the bulk of the piece was directed not at Islamabad, but Rawalpindi. The title of the piece, it should be reminded, was ‘Time to take on Pakistan’s jihadist spies’ – nothing to do with Zardari. Mansoor Ijaz stated his conclusions and recommendations quite clearly: “More precise policies are needed to remove the cancer that ISI and its rogue wings have become on the Pakistani state…The enemy is a state organ that breeds hatred among Pakistan’s Islamist masses and then uses their thirst for jihad against Pakistan’s neighbours and allies to sate its hunger for power”. If Anjum Niaz and Shaheen Sehbai are to be believed and Mansoor Ijaz’s claims are above reproach, our security services are overrun with jihadis bent on overthrowing the government an installing a terrorist state.
But neither Shaheen Sehbai’s nor Anjum Niaz’s readers would know this, since Jang Group‘s ‘journalists’ conveniently ignored all of Mansoor Ijaz’s claims that were not convenient to their amateurish attempt at political point scoring and driving a wedge between army and civilian leadership. This highlights a major failing in our so-called ‘news’ media. Too many of our alleged ‘journalists’ are nothing but aging political gossips who act as if they would gladly sink the country for a juicy bit of drawing room drama. That’s not journalism. It’s not even a very good political hatchet job. Really, it’s just embarrassing.