Posts Tagged ‘Mansoor Ijaz’

Was The News Manipulated By Its Own Man?

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The News (Jang Group)Now that The News acknowledges that ‘Memogate’ is not as open and shut a case as some assumed, the paper should ask itself why it was so certain about Mansoor Ijaz’s claims at the beginning. In his video series on journalism ethics, Abbas Nasir discusses several traps that journalists face including conflict of interest and working with sources that are promoting a particular agenda rather than the objective truth. We usually think of biased sources as being paid agents of agencies or other external organisations. But what if the biased source was an employee of the media group itself.

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Shaheen Sehbai was one of the the first Pakistani journalists to promote Ijaz – not after the famous Financial Times op-ed, but over a decade beforehand. While he was Dawn‘s Washington correspondent in the mid-1990s, Shaheen Sehbai wrote several stories promoting the American businessman.

In 1995, Sehbai filed a story, ‘Dateline Washington : A blueprint Pakistan cannot ignore’ that described Mansoor Ijaz as the manager of a billion dollar investment firm who is the secret hand writing US policy. Actually, Sehabi’s description from 1995 sounds strangely familiar.

He and his other friends, in similar well placed position, say they have laid the ground work for the changes that have started to show in the U.S. policy towards Pakistan (meaning others were just paying lip service) and they have been at this job ever since the Pressler sanctions were imposed.

Their claims are hard to be accepted or rejected at their face value but what has actually taken place in favour of Pakistan including the change of heart in the White House, the sympathetic mood of the Senate and the bipartisan support for an even-handed policy in South Asia, was originally outlined in Mansoor Ijaz’s confidential blueprint. That gives his claims a bit more credibility that any Pakistani Government official would make us believe.

It should be noted that this demonstrates that as far back as 1995, Shaheen Sehbai was already promoting Mansoor Ijaz as the billionaire international advisor that gave his recent claims such credibility in the media and the public mind. But blogger Ibrahim Sajid Malick investigated these claims and found Mansoor Ijaz’s wealth and power a little less impressive that what was being claimed.

A self-styled Pakistani-American who describes himself as “ultra wealthy man” with expensive lawyers in major cosmopolitans of the world seems to have several financial defaults, almost no personal assets, and a creditor attempting to collect a court ordered judgment against him since 2010 in New York.

How is that Sehabi did not uncover this same information about Ijaz’s supposed wealth? Ibrahim Sajid Malick himself used to work with Shaheen Sehbai, writing for his South Asia Tribune website in the early 2000s, and he wrote last year that Shaheen Sehbai and Mansoor Ijaz had more than just a journalist-subject relationship. According to Malick, Shaheen Sehbai’s South Asia Tribune was funded by Mansoor Ijaz.

When Shaheen Sehbai ran his website SATribune.com I had written few articles for him. I also briefly assisted him with getting advertisement when he converted his online presence to print. During those days, Shaheen Sehbai had mentioned that Mansoor Ijaz is one of the ‘funders’ for his publication. I didn’t think it was such a big deal. But now after memogate controversy, I can’t but wonder if MI and SS still collaborate.

This raises serious questions about the Shaheen Sehbai’s credibility as an independent journalist, especially in stories involving Mansoor Ijaz. Shaheen Sehbai was one of the first media men to strongly insist on Mansoor Ijaz’s credibility, even co-authoring stories with The News Editor Mohammad Malik declaring the memo as ‘treasonous’ as early as last November. Did Shaheen Sehbai reveal to Mohammad Malik that he had a long and possibly financial relationship with Mansoor Ijaz? Or did he withhold this information in order to manipulate his newspaper’s position on the story?

If Shaheen Sehbai discussed his long relationship with Mr Ijaz, did he note that he had written in 1996 that the spokesman for Pakistan Embassy in Washington had described Mansoor Ijaz as “vilifying and damaging Pakistan, because the embassy denied him 15 million dollars he had demanded to deliver votes in the United States House of Representatives for the passage of the Brown Amendment”?

Or did Sehbai describe Mansoor Ijaz as he did one year later in 1997 – “a Pakistani-American investment tycoon running a multi-billion dollar money management firm, who also wrote a number of hard-hitting articles against the Benazir Bhutto government, exposing itscorruption and incompetencelast year.” Actually, in his 1997 piece about Mansoor Ijaz, Shaheen Sehbai not only describes him as a ‘tycoon’, but spends most of his article quoting from an op-ed by Mansoor Ijaz himself! Did he mention to his boss that he noted in a 1998 article for Dawn that he had interviewed Mansoor Ijaz about the F-16s that went undelivered due to sanctions imposed under the Pressler Amendment?

Two years later in 1999, Shaheen Sehbai again praises Mansoor Ijaz – this time as Pakistan’s saviour “who used his clout with the Clinton Administration and key senators” to lift military and economic sanctions.

The close relationship between Shaheen Sehbai and Mansoor Ijaz appeared in the media again in 2002 when Vanity Fair was reported on the murder of Daniel Pearl. According to the report, Daniel Pearl called Mansoor Ijaz at the recommendation of Indian intelligence who claimed Ijaz “was wired with leading jihadis”. The Vanity Fair reporter called Ijaz who confirmed his contact with Daniel Pearl. According to the interview,

Ijaz made introductions to three sources: Shaheen Sehbai, editor of The News, Pakistan’s largest English language daily; a jihadi activist he declines to name; and — most fatefully — Khalid Khawaja, a Muslim militant and a onetime agent with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who counts among his very best friends Osama bin Laden.

Even if Shaheen Sehbai hid his long relationship with Mansoor Ijaz, shouldn’t The News have become somewhat suspicious when he wrote a detailed piece last October defending Ijaz’s credibility, and then included this fateful memory:

Ijaz, it may be recalled, was involved in mediating in Sudan during the Clinton presidency, where he secured critical counter-terrorism assistance for the US authorities. He was also the man who worked behind the scenes to get a statement issued by the then Vice President Al Gore against a possible military coup during Benazir’s second tenure. In fact, I personally attended the event where Gore came to join Pakistani activists at a fundraiser and out of the blue ended his speech with the warning that no military coups would be tolerated in Pakistan.

If journalists are going to effectively hold officials accountable, they must be credible as objective and neutral reporters. At a minimum, a reporters relationships – personal and financial – with key characters in their stories should be openly disclosed to the public. Better, though, is for journalists not report on stories when they have a close personal connection that can cloud their judgment.

All media groups are threatened by manipulators, and all media groups make mistakes. The important thing is to put in place processes and procedures that can prevent mistakes and manipulation, and to carry out investigations when mistakes and manipulations do happen so that the processes and procedures can be strengthened.

When The Nation was discovered to have Taliban propaganda on their website, Nawa-e-Waqt group responded immediately by investigating the incident and correcting it. They did so publicly to ensure that the credibility of their reporting was not jeopardised. Whether The News and its Editor Mohammad Malik were manipulated by Shaheen Sehbai to promote a particular agenda in the ‘memogate’ case can only be determined by a thorough and transparent investigation by Jang Group. Whether they will take this step is up to them.

Memos and Appointments – Media Speculation Gets It Wrong

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Media is sometimes said to be a reflection of the society. Most people enjoy a little idle gossip now and then, and a favourite past time of media too seems to be speculating – at times even wishing – about what the facts might be. However there is a difference between chatting with friends and the media which is taken as a credible authority on matters. Two recent examples show just how pointless it is for media to engage in gossip instead of facts, and how how doing so can actually make us less informed about what is going on around us.

The first example is the much anticipated and debated issue of a new DG ISI term. Would Pasha be given an unprecedented fourth term? Or would a new face take over the head of the premier national agency? As we wrote last month, what you believed to be the answer probably depended on where you were getting your news. Today, though, the question can be answered with certainty. As The Nation reported on Friday night, PM Gilani appointed Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam as new ISI chief.

The Nation logoPrime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Friday appointed Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam as the new chief of the country’s major intelligence agency, the Prime Minister office said. Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the incumbent chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will retire on March 18. “Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has appointed Lt. General Zaheer ul Islam, Corps Commander Karachi, as new Director General Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” a brief statement from the PM office said.

This might be an unremarkable news report about a routine government appointment if only the same newspaper had not reported only a few weeks ago that PM Gilani was giving Pasha a fourth term.

Sources said the prime minister has been vocal in supporting Gen Pasha, claiming he (PM) has also taken on board President Asif Ali Zardari on the issue of Pasha’s extension. They were of the view that Gilani believes that certain media outlets had created some misunderstandings related to ISI DG and army chief by overplaying the memogate scam, but those were later removed. The prime minister, they said, was also convinced that some US agencies were actively involved in backing media campaign to malign armed forces and security agencies including the ISI to achieve certain objectives.

The DG ISI appointment is not the only issue that has caused a media group to turn a quick ‘about face’ recently.

The News (Jang Group)In Decemeber, Editor The News Mr Mohammad Malick wrote a stinging piece about ‘Memogate’ in which he charged that “it’s only a matter of time before the real facts of the memo issue replace the perceived truths”. It was hard to not suspect that the Jang Group Editor was not reveling in a bit of personal attack when he claimed the president’s helicopter was delayed “reportedly by a perturbed and teary-eyed Husain Haqqani who, according to more than one eyewitness, was insistent that the president take him along” and that “word has it that he may already be wearing out his welcome at the prime minister’s house”. Petty gossip that has nothing to do with the substance of the ‘Memogate’ claim

A few weeks later, on 31st Demember, The News claimed in its editorial that “There are continuous efforts to politicise, even scandalise” what it termed “a simple case”.

On Friday, though, The News was singing a different tune. In its new editorial it now claims that the case is not so “simple” after all.

Some of the allegations made by Ijaz are grave indeed; but there is a creeping doubt emerging that they may not be of as much substance as he would have us believe. So far he has not produced any incontrovertible evidence. What he describes as a receipt from Haqqani for the email he sent is a BBM message open to alternative explanations and interpretations. Ijaz is thought by some to be pursuing an agenda beyond just sharing a truth.

Once people had a chance to recover from the initial shock of the memo and Mansoor Ijaz’s allegations, questions began to arise and proper scrutiny was finally given to Ijaz’s claims and his supposed ‘evidence’. Now, even The News is suggesting that it is time to move on.

This newspaper led the demand for an investigation into the origins of the memo. In several editorials we have focused on seeking a transparent inquiry and the ascertainment of all facts…But for truth and objectivity to be visible there has to be a lot more beef on the table than there has been to date. It is also clear that an early resolution of the memo issue is unlikely and, as such, should not distract the country from other, more significant and less confusing issues.

This is a perfectly reasonable position. It’s too bad it took The News so many months to get there. It’s especially too bad when you realise that it wasn’t necessary to take so long. Had The News showed a little less excitement about catching officials being naughty and a little more excitment about facts.

In both cases, media groups gave too much attention to rumours and gossips and too little attention to verifiable facts. In both cases also the expectations and understanding of the people could understandably be confused and possibly misled. We look to news media for facts. We’ll take care of the gup shup ourselves.

Jang Group’s Double Standard on Security

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The News (Jang Group)When The News (Jang Group) published an editorial on 6th January questioning Husain Haqqani for claiming that he was concerned about his security without providing some concrete proof of threats, we noted that creating this arbitrary standard of proof of threats was insulting to the courageous men and women of the press who every day put their lives at risk to investigate and report news that is uncomfortable for certain powerful quarters, especially when their own newspapers had carried reports terming him as a traitor.

Imagine our disappointment, then, when we opened today’s edition of The News only to find another editorial, this time giving utmost sympathy to the claims of Mansoor Ijaz about his own security concerns in what appears to be a blatant double-standard.

This is what The News said about Husain Haqqani:

There has been no fulminating cleric calling for Haqqani’s demise, nor protests or rallies against his alleged treachery. Today Haqqani remains in the PM house, and one might reasonably wonder why there and not some other place – his own home for instance, suitably guarded against intrusion or attack. But that is another unknown, alongside all the other unknowns of this curious affair. We wish no ill to Mr Haqqani, but might attach greater credence to his claims of insecurity were he able to support them with something a little less ephemeral than euphemistic references to ‘powerful quarters’. In short, facts please. Or is that just too much to ask?

This is what The News said about Mansoor Ijaz:

Can anyone be blamed, then, for accusing the government of trying to intimidate Ijaz into staying away from Pakistan and standing in the way of the memo investigation reaching its logical end? It boggles the mind why the government would want to lose its already tenuous moral ground by shirking from its primary responsibility of witness protection. If the judicial commission fails to complete its work, the assumption of Husain Haqqani’s guilt and the complicity of top government leaders will be recorded in historical memory. An easier way out has already been suggested by Haqqani’s lawyers when they asked the commission to arrange testimony of their witnesses through video conferences. If this can be done for one side, why not for the other? The government must exhibit that it is committed to protecting Ijaz for the sake of the truth, and make every effort to get him to come to Pakistan or get his testimony for both the judicial and parliamentary commissions. On his part, Ijaz also needs to exhibit more faith in the judicial process to which he says he is ready to surrender the truth.

According to The News, Husain Haqqani is crying crocodile tears while he is placed on the ECL and sitting behind armed guards at PM’s house, but Mansoor Ijaz has an understandable complaint while he enjoys the comfort of his home in South France and is able to travel freely. We are not questioning whether Mansoor Ijaz has received any threats, but why are his claims more believable to The News than Husain Haqqani? Is it because The News wants to create different impressions about the two people? Or is The News simply unaware of their obvious double-standard?

This is the worst sort of double-standard because it so obviously takes sides in a case that is presently sub judice. Rather than acting like the media team for one side or the other, Jang Group would be appreciated to inform readers without bias. In short, facts please. Or is that just too much to ask?

Jang Confusion Over Mansoor Ijaz Security

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

The News (Jang Group)In The News on Sunday, Jang Group‘s reporter Murtaza Ali Shah has an article claiming that the US will protect Mansoor Ijaz in Pakistan. The day before, however, The News reported that the US Embassy denied that they supported Mansoor Ijaz’s visit and “made it clear that Ijaz has not been committed any security during his visit”.

The Embassy also issued an official denial to Dawn, telling their reporter that the US Embassy will not support Mansoor Ijaz with his security or any of his activities if he comes to Pakistan.

The US embassy had a word about Mr Ijaz’s trip, too. It came out with a denial of reports that he had been given any assurance.

Spokesman Mark Stroh, talking to Dawn, said the embassy would not be involved in coordinating his security or any of his activities during his stay here.

The comments came in response to Mr Ijaz’s media interviews in which he had claimed to have been assured by US authorities of support during his stay in Pakistan.

This raises the question if Jang Group knew that the US clearly refused to provide support to Mansoor Ijaz on Saturday, why did they publish an article on Sunday implying that US supports Ijaz? The article contains several statements by Mansoor that could be misunderstood as meaning that Mansoor Ijaz has the support and protection of his government, which had been denied by the US Embassy. But the statements by US Embassy spokesman denying Mansoor Ijaz’s claims do not appear, even though Jang Group had this information a day earlier.

Readers of The News must be scratching their heads and wondering what other information Jang Group selectively leaving out of news reports.

Will Ahmed Quraishi be the next memogate victim?

Friday, December 9th, 2011

The latest version of the media’s ‘memogate’ parlour game has turned from who knew what and when about the infamous memo to who knew what and when about the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. Mansoor Ijaz invented this new version of the game by first alleging that Husain Haqqani and Asif Zardari secretly knew about the raid before it happened. He provides no evidence, of course, and his claim flies in the face of all logic and reason, but since when have logic and reason been required rules for our media parlour games? In fact, already the field has expanded to speculation that UK High Commissioner Wajid Hasan also knows something he’s not telling, including a front page article in The News that asks, “Will Wajid Hasan be the next memogate victim?” But why limit the field to only PPP officials? Surely there are plenty of people who can be brought to dock on the same quality of  speculation and innuendo.

Let’s begin with Ahmed Quraishi. On 6th May, Ahmed Quraishi was the guest on Voice of Russia‘s radio programme. During the interview he said that,

“At some level, maybe not the entire government, but at some level Pakistan definitely was on board with the United States before the operation was carried out and some of the logistics that were involved in that operation do indicate that it would not have been possible to carry out the operation in its entirety without a major, a good level of cooperation on the Pakistani side”.

Quraishi goes on to say that the Abbottabad operation “of course also vindicates the US intelligence community [and] the US military in Afghanistan”. Interesting.

Then on 10th May, Ahmed Quraishi further wrote that the operation that killed Osama bin Laden was a joint Pakistan-US victory. Here is how Ahmed Quraishi described the scene:

“Crucial and critical intelligence from Pakistan and the United States succeeding in pinpointing the location of al-Qaeda terror chief. ISI gave decisive leads on the trusted courier of bin Laden. The CIA and the US military put together a plan to take him out. By virtue of the more advanced American surveillance technology, Washington filled in the gaps and sealed bin Laden’s fate.”

Ahmed Quraishi then goes on to criticise the military for not explaining their larger role in the operation.

“Instead of ‘admitting’ failure, it was better for the army chief to object to CIA hijacking a joint victory and turning it into a one-sided victory and a one-sided attack on our military and ISI. And we could have certainly done without our foreign secretary quoting US national security adviser to confirm to our media that we did scramble some fighter jets in the end. The weak media management capabilities of our civilian and military bureaucracies are breathtaking.”

Neither is Ahmed Quraishi the only one who was making such statements. Let us take a moment to revisit the front page of The Nation on 3rd May, just after the raid:

The Nation front page of 3rd May 2011

The Nation front page of 3rd May 2011

The front page article by Sikander Shaheen quotes “top level official sources” saying that “200 Pakistan Army men provided ground support” for the operation while “four helicopters of the Pakistan Army hovered over the fortress-like hideout of al-Qaeda chief at Thanda Choh”. Shaheen goes on to quote “military sources” that “US dignitaries thanked the military leadership of Pakistan on intelligence sharing and the successful operation”.

It seems that perhaps not only Ahmed Quraishi but Sikander Shaheen, military and intelligence leadership, 200 jawans and four helicopter pilots should be under suspicion.

Let us be clear: We have not seen any evidence that Ahmed Quraishi, Sikander Shaheen, Wajid Hasan, Husain Haqqani, Asif Zardari…or anyone else had any advance knowledge or was privy to any secret information about the raid. During the aftermath of the raid, there was great confusion and many people were making guesses about what happened. Because of this, it is easy to take even the words of a democrat like Wajid Hasan or a hyper-nationalist like Quraishi and twist them to create suspicion. But that is not journalism.

The White House has categorically denied Mansoor Ijaz’s claims that anyone knew about the Abbottabad operation, and headlines speculating about whether one or another government official may have had secret knowledge of the American operation are completely irresponsible. Rather than carrying out witch hunts against government officials based on speculation and innuendo, perhaps it would be better if journalists thought about who was feeding them false information following the raid and who is feeding them information now.

NDTV interview raises more questions than answers

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Appearing on NDTV yesterday to explain his view to Barhka Dutt, Mansoor Ijaz’s answers actually raised more questions about his allegations in the ‘memogate’ controversy.

Mr Ijaz begins by saying that the international media should be asking “what the government is trying to cover up”, which is a strange way to begin the interview – we know what Mr Ijaz claims that government is trying to “cover up” because Mansoor Ijaz is the one who made the allegations to begin with. From there, the interview only got more bizarre.

Talking to Barkha Dutt, Mansoor Ijaz claims that he was approached about the memo because his anti-ISI beliefs made him “a plausibly deniable channel…and I agreed,” said Ijaz. “I knew that if something went wrong, there would be a need for plausible deniability.” Barkha picks up on this logical disconnect, and presses him on it. If he understood and agreed that this was a confidential process and that he would be denied if word got out, why did he reveal the story in a newspaper op-ed, and why does he act surprised when it is denied?

According to Mansoor Ijaz, he publicly revealed his alleged role in the ‘memogate’ affair because it added authenticity to his op-ed for The Financial Times. This raises another obvious question: If Mansoor Ijaz is as credible and trusted among American officials as he claims, why would he need to include some anecdote about his involvement with Pakistani officials in order to grant authenticity?

But that’s not the only strange thing about his new explanation. Mansoor Ijaz wrote an almost identical op-ed on 2nd June that also terms the ISI as “the enemy” and alleges a secret ‘S-Wing’ that is responsible for breeding terrorism – but he did not then feel the need to include any stories about secret memos.

Here is what Mansoor Ijaz wrote about the ISI on 2nd June:

The enemy is the ISI—it runs Pakistan from the shadows like a puppet master. The ISI is a danger to civilized societies everywhere, because it nurtures and breeds hatred among Pakistan’s Islamist masses, and then uses their thirst for jihad as a foreign policy sledge hammer against Pakistan’s neighbors and allies, often for no purpose besides just creating chaos.

And here is what he wrote about the ISI on 10th October:

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. Taking steps to reduce its influence over Pakistan’s state affairs is a critical measure of the world’s willingness to stop the terror masters at their very roots.

Here is what Mansoor Ijaz wrote about the alleged ‘S-Wing’ on 2nd June:

The finger of responsibility in these recent events often points to a shadowy outfit of the ISI dubbed the S-Wing. A notorious group of operatives, the S-Wing is made up of active ISI officers, recent retirees, and plain-clothes civilians with highly specialized training—all dedicated to protecting and preserving Pakistan’s territorial integrity using any method, at any cost, with no regard for collateral damage. As black-ops units go, it is about as thuggish and ruthless as is possible, without being a criminal organization.

That is why the S-Wing should be declared a sponsor of terrorism under the “Foreign Governmental Organizations” designation by the U.S. State Department. It no longer matters whether the ISI is willfully blind, or explicitly complicit, in the murderous plots attributed to the S-Wing, which the ISI routinely denies any knowledge of or responsibility for. S-Wing must be stopped dead in its tracks before immeasurable harm comes from the missionary zeal of its agents, no matter how misguided their mission may be.

And here is what he wrote about the alleged ‘S-Wing’ on 10th October:

Questions about the ISI’s role in Pakistan have intensified in recent months. The finger of responsibility in many otherwise inexplicable attacks has often pointed to a shadowy outfit of ISI dubbed “S-Wing”, which is said to be dedicated to promoting the dubious agenda of a narrow group of nationalists who believe only they can protect Pakistan’s territorial integrity.

The time has come for the state department to declare the S-Wing a sponsor of terrorism under the designation of “foreign governmental organisations”. Plans by the Obama administration to blacklist the Haqqani network are toothless and will have no material impact on the group’s military support and intelligence logistics; it is S-Wing that allegedly provides all of this in the first place. It no longer matters whether ISI is wilfully blind, complicit or incompetent in the attacks its S-Wing is carrying out. S-Wing must be stopped.

Actually, the point of both pieces is the same – to declare the ISI and its alleged ‘S-Wing’ unit as the world’s terrorists. The only real difference is that in October, Ijaz added the dramatic story of the secret memo. This raises the question of what changed between 2nd June and 10th October that Mansoor Ijaz felt he needed to add an anecdotal story to back up his claims?

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that during the same timeline that Mansoor Ijaz claims he was working with Husain Haqqani to deliver the memo to American officials, Husain Haqqani was very publicly defending Pakistan and the ISI.

On 2 May, The Atlantic quoted Husain Haqqani saying:

“President Obama has answered the question about Pakistan’s role. It wouldn’t have been possible to get Bin Laden without Pakistan’s help. People are piling on this one, but the fact is, it is very plausible for someone to live undetected for long periods of time.”

On 3 May, The Guardian quoted Husain Haqqani saying:

“What I find incredulous is the notion that somehow, just because there is a private support network in Pakistan, the state, the government and the military of Pakistan shouldn’t be believed.”

On 4th May, Husain Haqqani spoke offered a strong defence of Pakistan’s security services when speaking to Barkha Dutt on NDTV.

And on 8 May, Husain Haqqani appeared on ABC News where he stated that:

If any member of the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, or the Pakistani intelligence service knew where Osama bin Laden was, we would have taken action. Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan was not to Pakistan’s advantage… As the national security adviser said, a lot more people have been arrested in Pakistan, including Al Qaida people, than in any other country. So Pakistan did not have a policy of protecting these people.

This raises yet another question: If Mansoor Ijaz really was working with Husain Haqqani, his partner in the conspiracy was undermining the credibility of the scheme day by day. How could American officials take seriously the offers made in Mansoor Ijaz’s memo while the Pakistani envoy was in the media defending the very group that Mansoor Ijaz was terming as terrorists?

Here is what we can confirm so far. Mansoor Ijaz is an “ultra-wealthy” and politically connected American businessman who believes that Pakistan’s intelligence agency is made up of terrorists and enemies, and he wants the American military to strike against them. We know that in May he delivered a memo to some American officials, and that the Americans “did not find it at all credible and took no note of it.” In June he wrote an op-ed making his allegations against the ISI public, but it seemed to get little attention. In October, he wrote another op-ed making the same allegations, only this time he added a sensational story about a conspiracy within the Pakistani government, and suddenly his name became front-page news. We also know that several weeks ago he held a secret meeting with DG ISI to discuss his evidence against the civilian officials.

The rest of the story remains pure speculation. Did Mansoor Ijaz and Husain Haqqani talk via email and BBM? Perhaps, but it is also likely that Mansoor Ijaz is not the only wealthy Pakistani-American in the Ambassador’s contacts. It is the job of a diplomat to cultivate relationships with influential and well-connected people. Did President Zardari authorize the memo or its contents? Actually, there has been nothing to suggest that he knew anything about it. And why, if Mansoor Ijaz believes the ISI are terrorists, is he working closely with the ISI to make his case?

Husain Haqqani has requested a full inquiry to clear his name, and has offered to turn over his Blackberry and his computer for a forensic investigation. Hopefully we will have more facts soon. In the meantime, media interviews and talk shows are only fueling speculation and creating more questions than answers.

Hidden Hands in Pak Media

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

MI

A flurry of interesting pieces have begun to appear in the media today, all reporting about a secret meeting between DG ISI Shuja Pasha and Mansoor Ijaz in a London hotel room last month. While PMW is in no place to question the information presented in the news reports, we are troubled by many of the questions raised about the origin of these reports, and what that says about the “news” we are being fed.

Newsweek Pakistan quotes a source “who was privy to the meeting”. What source would be privy to a meeting between DG ISI and Mansoor Ijaz in a London hotel, I wonder? Probably not room service. The News (Jang Group) says that its story is based on “highly classified information obtained by The News”.

Newsweek Pakistan‘s piece certainly contain one of the funniest lines in recent memory. According to the reporter, Fasih Ahmed, his source “spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of offending the general”. And what did he say that he was so worried may offend the General? “Pasha seemed like an intellectually-sound man and while he grimaced and looked shocked at times, he did not give away how he intended to proceed, if at all, with the information provided to him.” Was this “source” really worried that describing a General as “an intellectually-sound man” would be risky?

PMW does not have access to “highly classified information”, nor do we have access to any sources with access to DG ISI’s private meetings in London hotel rooms (or anywhere else, for that matter). So we cannot comment on whether these reports are factually correct. We only comment on them here to raise the question of whether these news reports are based on information provided by a neutral source, or if they are provided by state agencies themselves.

If a neutral source has access to the DG ISI’s private meetings, we as a nation should be quite worried about our national security. On the other hand, if the agencies are providing the information to reporters themselves, why not do so openly?

ISPR is the official channel for communicating with the public. If the agencies are bypassing the official communication channels to provide information to reporters, it raises the question whether the intent of the leaked information is to inform or to influence. Provided the facts, we should be allowed to make up our own minds. We do not need hidden hands writing a script for us.

The News repeats “ludicrous” claims

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

The News (Jang Group)A curious article appears in The News today which claims that Jang Group researchers discovered that Mansoor Ijaz, the American millionaire at the center of the “memogate” controversy, had previously “negotiated between the United States and the Sudanese government in an otherwise failed effort to apprehend Osama bin Laden”. This is an old and well known claim of Mr Ijaz, and one that this blog researched when Mr Ijaz originally published his infamous opinion column in The Financial Times. While researchers at The News found quite a bit of information, what is curious is just what information they found – and what information they didn’t.

Despite their hard work, researchers at The News failed to discover news reports in the international media over the past two days that quote Clinton’s former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger terming Ijaz’s claims about his role in negotiations with Sudan as “ludicrous and irresponsible”.

The News‘s research staff didn’t even read this blog where we revealed that in 1997, The Washington Post reported that Mr Ijaz used his political connections to advance his financial interests in Sudan1.

Wealthy and well-connected, Ijaz was more than willing to pitch in. By Election Day in November, he had raised $525,000 for the Democratic cause, including $250,000 from his personal funds and $200,000 donated by guests at a fund-raising reception for Vice President Gore at Ijaz’s New York penthouse in September, according to Federal Election Commission records, White House documents and Ijaz.

Now Ijaz is trying to reap what he has sown. Having earned access to the Clinton administration through his fund-raising prowess, Ijaz has met with a succession of senior officials in the White House, State Department and Congress to further his business interests through changes in U.S. policy toward Islamic countries, particularly Sudan, a government long accused of sanctioning international terrorism.

Unfortunately, researchers at The News also forgot to read the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States AKA The 9/11 Commission that says, “We have not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim.”

What information was The News able to find? Apparently they could only find the testimony of Mr Mansoor Ijaz himself before US Congress. Testimony that was considered by the US government as too unreliable to be included in the 9/11 Commission Report.

It appears that US officials who have met Mansoor Ijaz have a habit of terming his claims as ludicrious, unreliable, and uncredible. It is quite unfortunate that The News either could not find or forgot to include in their report all of the independent, third-party information. It might have been a little more informative than only taking Mr Ijaz’s word.

1. Ottaway, David B. ‘Democratic Fund-Raiser Pursues Agenda on Sudan’. The Washington Post. 29 April 1997.

Media’s Newest ‘Moment of Shame’

Friday, November 18th, 2011

It has been one year since the media caused a national crisis by inaccurately reporting that the government was plotting to withdraw notification to reinstate the judges sacked by Musharraf. Unfortunately, it seems that journalists and TV anchors did not learn from this ‘moment of shame’ and are once again causing alarm by rushing to report unsubstantiated rumour without conducting the proper background checks. We cannot even call out one or another media group as the sad truth is that so many were guilty that the entire profession has been stained by the event.

We are referring, of course, to reports that created a stir on Wednesday night when media groups rushed to report the resignation of Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani. As the evening progressed, the reports escalated. Not only had the Ambassador resigned, but he had already moved out of the official residence. Then we were told that not only had he resigned and moved out of the official residence, but he was not returning to Pakistan. As it grew later there were even reports that Haqqani had applied for asylum in the US! The media frenzy had reached a full peak.

Of course, not one single one of these reports was true. It was all lies and fabrications invented by reporters and their sources and given the green light by unquestioning editors and producers.

Following the media’s false reporting of a conspiracy against the judiciary last year, Farrukh Khan Pitafi wrote the following:

In the golden days of journalism, we were taught not to carry any report unless there was prima facie evidence or at least three separate sources available. In the case of a breaking story or report of critical importance, this rule was relaxed to either two independent sources or word from the horse’s — in this case the prime minister’s or the law minister’s — mouth. As evident however, none of these precautions were taken, nor was any patience shown for such details to emerge. Innocent until proven guilty is the universal principle in case of unsubstantiated allegations. However, in this particular case it was deemed fit to consider the government guilty until proven innocent.

Unable or unwilling to find anyone at the Embassy in Washington or the presidency to confirm the rumours, our media not only ran with the story, they ran riot with it. Were the false reports necessary?

By 1:30am, Dr Firduas Awan was available to give a statement that the government had received a letter from Ambassador Haqqani offering his tender resignation by saying that he did not want to be “a distraction from the major challenges facing our country and our government”, but that no decision had been made to replace anyone. It was less than 24 hours later that Geo was able to contact Ambassador Haqqani by telephone to get his statement on the air.

Imagine if the news channels had simply taken the time to check not with their ‘reliable sources’ who every time prove embarrassingly unreliable, but with the actual people involved in the story. It would have prevented confusion, misinformation, and the continued humiliation of the media as incompetent and untrustworthy.

As the dust begins to settle, it is worth once again revisiting the recommendations of Farrukh Khan Pitafi.

The best practice would be to ask the concerned reporters or the channel managements to produce the evidence. It is important not to confuse a source with evidence. Even when we have sources we are not supposed to air an item without our own satisfaction. And in any case, no source will ever accept that it had generated such information in the absence of recorded evidence. If media outlets do not produce evidence they should be fined and asked to ground the reporter for a bit. This is about the only civilised way.

Now let us focus on the source of the problem in the heart of darkness. Apart from the culture of cynicism that has mushroomed around the current government and for which the government’s poor media policy is to be blamed, the institution of a professional editor is almost extinct in this country. In the presence of owner-editors the assurance of content quality and adherence to media ethics becomes impossible. Our profession has become highly complacent and in a conflict between the business owners and a professional editor, most journalists wish to stand with the former. Had there been professional editors in place, even if unverified information was produced, it would not have made it to the screen or print. Also the professional editor, given the damage caused, would have sacked someone.

Of course, there is the issue of talk show hosts-anchorpersons and their reckless attitude. It must be recognised that since each anchor-host is responsible for the content of his program, he/she is usually expected to act as an editor for the content. But remember in the heat of live programming there always is the chance of some inappropriate behaviour. A professional editor as the media’s conscience should always be there to remind the anchor and to issue the corrigendum. Yet these are mad times and even at stations with elaborate infrastructure, a tendency of getting carried away has been witnessed.

Getting carried away has become not only a tendency, but an addiction. It is time to break the habit.

The News invents a new twist to revive a dead conspiracy

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

The News (Jang Group)We noted yesterday that Adm (r) Mike Mullen denied the claims of Mansoor Ijaz also known as Pakistan’s James Bond. Most media groups reported this development in a straightforward way. Pakistan Today reported that ‘Mullen denies secret back channel in US-Pakistan relationship’, Dawn reported that ‘Mullen denies receiving Ijaz’s letter’, and Express Tribune reported that ‘Mullen denies secret back channel in US-Pakistan ties’. But The News (Jang Group), apparently unwilling to give up such a juicy conspiracy, invented a new twist to keep the story alive. According to the unsigned article in Thursday’s paper, ‘Mullen’s ex-spokesman issues confused denial of memo’.

According to the unnamed reporter, rather than putting the issue to rest, Adm Mullen’s statement actually added more mystery as it “left the door of receiving the memo open through someone else”. This is a classic example of the logical fallacy ‘moving the goalposts‘ “in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded”.

What happens, for example, if Adm Mullen issues another statement that says, “Not only did I not receive any memo from Mansoor Ijaz, I did not receive it from anyone else either”. Will The News the claim that this is “confusing” and adds more “mystery” also? After all, he would have said he did not receive a “memo”, but what about an email or a telegram! Why did he not clarify that no carrier pigeons flew to his window with a note scrawled on a scrap of paper tied to its leg? Where does it end? If you’re unwilling to accept facts, you will continue to believe anything, no matter how untrue it is.

Mansoor Ijaz’s claims did not stand the test of basic common sense according to assistant editor at The News Mehreen Zahra-Malik,

Vintage AZ? Maybe, but definitely typical Islamabad, city of the faithful, where faith means believing in things when common sense tells you not to. Really, how would an attempt to sack the army top brass discourage a coup? Anyone who knows how difficult it is to keep a secret among three people knows how absurd is the idea that Zardari imagined he’d get away with this undetected. Plus, didn’t he himself give the generals the extensions they wanted? And why does our man in DC, the army-hating ‘US ambassador to Pakistan,’ need to be bypassed to pass on a message that is decidedly pro-US and unmistakably anti-army?

But try suggesting any of this to someone in the grips of AZ-phobia and this memo-reverie, and he’ll gently shake his heads and begin to walk you through the cherry-picked lumps of ‘facts’. The screaming mass of reason pointing in the opposite direction? – who cares. Try hard enough and you can possibly find evidence Nawaz Sharif masterminded 9/11. It would certainly make for a more interesting story, and that’s what Islamabad’s hackeratti is interested in: an interesting story.

And that appears to be what happened again – ignoring reality in the hopes of resurrecting an interesting story from the dead. Adm Mullen’s statement was not confusing to anyone who was more interested in the facts than inventing interesting stories. Mansoor Ijaz already stands discredited by his fanciful tale, The News would be wise not to follow suit.