By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
This past Sunday on GPS, I interviewed a very different kind of guest. He's not a head of state, not an ambassador, not a diplomat. In fact, he has no official position whatsoever, but he functions at the intersection of power and politics between Pakistan and the United States.
Mansoor Ijaz is a Pakistani American businessman who has contacts and friends in both governments. He's come to prominence now because of a controversial op-ed he published recently in the Financial Times.
In it he claimed he was the messenger for a memo from Pakistan's civilian government to the Pentagon, asking Washington to clamp down on Pakistan's military. The U.S. says it ignored the memo. But since Ijaz outed the story, Memogate has led to a new low in relations between the two countries and to a Supreme Court investigation in Pakistan.
In my interview with him, I tried to figure out why this Pakistani American businessman published this article and what he really does know.
Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Fareed Zakaria: Let me begin by asking you, Mansoor, about the substance of the charges you'd laid out in the - in the op-ed in the "Financial Times." And by that, I mean the basic point of your article was a rather striking - in fact, even stunning call for the U.S. to label an element of the Pakistani military, the 'S Branch' of the intelligence wing, a terrorist organization. What brought you to feel so strongly that?
Mansoor Ijaz: Well, Fareed, first of all, it's good to be with you.
You know, the thing that was really behind this thinking process of mine is that, you know, I've been involved in different operations in Pakistan now for a very long time. I helped Benazir come back together with the Clinton administration as a part of the larger Pakistani-American community. I, as you know, was deeply involved in trying to broker a ceasefire in Kashmir. And during these various interventions that I tried to effect in Pakistan, what we found out in almost every single case was that there was a political motivation and a political interference by the ISI.
Now there have been so many wrong things that have happened since the death of bin Laden in the early part of May, so many things that, you know, indicated that there was some hidden hand if you will in what was going. And it is my view and it is still my view today that section S of the ISI has been involved in some very, very nefarious activities, and so since nobody was able to get their arms around that, the United States had to take the lead on that. And the United States has done this in Iran.
They have done it in other countries where they have been very, very hard in, you know, labeling certain organizations in those countries as terrorists. And it had - a material impact in terms of how both U.S. policy as well as other country policies were formulated to handle problems in those countryside.
Fareed Zakaria: Explain what the S Branch of the ISI is. The ISI is the intelligence wing of the Pakistani military. What is the S Branch?
Mansoor Ijaz: Yes. So the ISI has two critical branches in it, one is called CT for counterterrorism, and the other is the S branch for strategic - it's sort of the arm of the ISI that does everything from political interventions in other countries, for example, Afghanistan, which is what they're doing through the Haqqani Network and the Taliban right now.
They do a lot of political interventions in their own country. You know, there are many times when it has been reported in the past and authentically reported and authoritatively reported by the Pakistani press that S Branch was involved in manipulating elections and doing things of that nature inside Pakistan.
So it's an organ of the state that nobody can control, and it is essentially the organ of the state that the army and the intelligence wings are using to shall we say coordinate or obstruct what it is that the political side of the government, the civilian side of the governments do in Pakistan.
Fareed Zakaria: Now the whole thrust of op-ed is that the ISI, the Pakistani military, operates in very nefarious ways often. Has involved itself as you just said in the domestic affairs of Pakistan and really brooks tolerates no adversaries.
So what I'm wondering is, why would you make public the fact that the Pakistani civilian government was concerned about the ISI and was trying to curtail it? It seems to undercut the very purpose of your own article to reveal that the civilian government was trying to clip the wings of the Pakistani military.
Mansoor Ijaz: Yes. That's a fair question. And all I will tell you is that you've written enough op-ed pieces to know that the way the op-ed process, the writing process works is that there has to be some authenticity in the way that a writer presents his particular argument.
Now I'm not a writer of a book like Ahmed Rashid, I'm not a decorated veteran of some war, I'm not a former secretary of state, I'm not you. You've got a great credibility to do these things just on your name alone.
In my case because I'm a businessman who theoretically has nothing to do with these kinds of issues, what I wrote and how I wrote needed to have a certain authenticity to it –
Fareed Zakaria: But I still have to ask you, isn't the net effect of what you've done been to silence the democratically elected branch of government and empower the very people who you seem to be opposed to?
Mansoor Ijaz: I don't think that's what's happened. If you ask me, we have strengthened Pakistan. Maybe we haven't strengthened the civilian side of Pakistan's government, but there may have been a rot there that needs to be cleaned up. And if that rot is cleaned out, you might find a very strong Pakistan emanating out of this in which the judiciary does what it's supposed to. The military does what it's supposed to.
There will never be a time in my view where the military is subservient to the civilians in our lifetime. It may take 30, 40 years for that transformation to come. But when it does come, at least what we did was make sure the civilian government has an equal shoulder to the military and the judiciary.
And if I look at the broad picture, that's a pretty good result in terms of making sure these facts got known.