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Who is Mansoor Ijaz? The US businessman behind Pakistan's 'Memo-gate'

A whistle blowing hero to some, a villain doing the Pakistan military's dirty work to others, Ijaz is above all a mysterious anomaly. 

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A multi-millionaire American businessman at the center of a political crisis in Pakistan refused to travel to Islamabad Monday to testify before a Supreme Court commission, saying he feared for his personal safety.

Mansoor Ijaz, whose international travel has him dividing time between the US, Europe, and the Middle East, claims he helped Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, deliver a confidential memorandum on behalf of the government requesting US help to curtail the country’s military in exchange for a series of pro-US policies. Mr. Haqqani vehemently denies the claim, though he has since stepped down.

The affair, known as “Memo-gate," has led to a high-stakes Pakistan Supreme Court case that pits the historically powerful military, who back Mr. Ijaz’s claims, against a resurgent civilian government wrestling for constitutional supremacy.

A whistle blowing hero to some, a villain doing the military's dirty work to others, Ijaz is above all a mysterious anomaly. That a private citizen has been able to wield such influence over Pakistan’s internal affairs speaks, at the very least, to a political system at an early stage of maturity, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council.

“Pakistan has failed to set up institutional systems for analyzing and dealing with issues so often, you have freelancers who take it upon themselves to act as surrogates for the government,” he says, adding: “The matter only took a life of its own when [opposition leader] Nawaz Sharif filed the court petition. So it’s not so much Mr. Ijaz’s doing as much as Mr. Ijaz having the spotlight being thrust upon him by domestic squabbling within Pakistan.”

In an interview with the Monitor, Ijaz who has long lobbied through op-eds – including several in the Monitor – against Pakistan’s shadowy spy agencies including the ISI for their backing of religious militants, bristles at criticism. He says his actions have strengthened Pakistan’s democracy by helping to create a culture of transparency.

“Those people who argue that I helped the very forces I have fought against for decades cannot comprehend the nuance of difference in this day and time. I still am against the ISI interfering.... I am still against the military being an umbrella for the proliferation of extremism.”

"Husain Haqqani lied – that lie was of such a magnitude that even [US Gen.] Jim Jones was misled into making a false statement in his affidavit, and Admiral Mullen [former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was misled to falsely deny the memorandum existed."

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