Pakistan’s minister summoned in memogate scandal probe
AFP & REUTERS
ISLAMABAD PAKISTANI judges investigating a major scandal threatening President Asif Ali Zardari summoned the country’s interior minister on Tuesday after a key witness refused to appear in person.
The three-judge panel will determine whether the president endorsed a secret memo seeking US help to curb the army’s power and the investigation has heightened frenzied speculation that Zardari could be forced out of office.
But the star witness, American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, whose testimony is considered key to any case against the president, said through his lawyer on Monday that he would not give testimony in person, citing fears for his safety.
“The commission has ordered the interior minister to appear before the commission on Tuesday and explain his statements about Mansoor Ijaz’s security,” attorney general Maulvi Anwarul Haq told reporters.
The message had been conveyed to the minister, Rehman Malik, who was expected to appear before the judges later on Tuesday.
Ijaz’s lawyer, Akram Sheikh, earlier told the commission that his client feared being barred from leaving the country if he comes to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence chiefs met with the prime minister on Tuesday, state television reported, during the worst political crisis since a 1999 coup.
President Asif Ali Zardari is currently on a two-day state visit to Myanmar. State television gave scant details on the high-powered meeting, which also included the foreign minister, saying only regional security, especially the situation in Afghanistan, was discussed.
When an American businessman revealed his role in writing and delivering the memo late last year, the army was enraged.
The memo was delivered on May 10 to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, and allegedly aimed to forestall a feared military coup after American troops killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Writing in the Financial Times on October 10, Ijaz alleged that a senior, unnamed Pakistani diplomat telephoned him asking for help because Zardari needed to communicate an urgent message to the Americans.
The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the scandal following advice from the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency after the ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, was forced to resign.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week adjourned a contempt hearing for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in a case that could push him from office and is adding to growing pressure on the unpopular civilian government.
Gilani was in court to explain why he should not be charged with contempt for failing to re-open old corruption cases against Zardari. The government maintains Zardari has presidential immunity.
The military, despite being officially under civilian control, sets foreign and security policies and drew rare public criticism after US special forces killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in a raid in May 2011, an act seen by many Pakistanis as a violation of sovereignty.