ISLAMABAD — The chief witness in a secret memo scandal that threatens to bring down the president will not travel to Pakistan to testify, claiming the government has set a trap to prevent him from leaving, his lawyer said Monday.
Mansoor Ijaz offered to record his testimony and submit it to a Supreme Court commission that is investigating the scandal, said lawyer Akram Sheikh. Ijaz, a U.S. businessman of Pakistani origin, was scheduled to travel to Pakistan to appear before the commission on Tuesday but had bickered with the government over who would guarantee his safety.
Ijaz has accused the Pakistani government of orchestrating a memo, which he delivered to the U.S. last year, asking Washington to help stop a supposed military coup following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Pakistani government has denied any involvement.
The army was outraged by the memo and denied it ever intended to carry out a coup. It successfully pushed the Supreme Court to investigate against the wishes of the government, which said the matter was already being probed by the parliament.
Ijaz has claimed the Supreme Court commission ordered the military to guarantee his security while in Pakistan, but the government has said the job was the responsibility of the Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has warned Ijaz could be prevented from leaving the country if requested by the parliamentary committee probing the scandal.
"It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mansoor Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan," said Sheikh, his lawyer.
Ijaz has accused the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, of crafting the memo with the support of President Asif Ali Zardari. Both men have denied any connection to the memo, although Haqqani resigned in the wake of the scandal. The Supreme Court has prevented the former envoy from leaving the country while it is investigating the scandal.
Some observers have questioned Ijaz's credibility. Those questions increased last week after a music video surfaced in which Ijaz acted as a commentator for a female wrestling match in which both women eventually ripped off their bikinis. Ijaz claimed he didn't know there would be nudity in the video.
One of the reasons the memo scandal has generated so much controversy is the rampant anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. The memo offered to replace Pakistan's national security leadership with people favorable to the U.S. in return for help from Washington in stopping the supposed coup.
The U.S. has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars over the past decade to help fight the Taliban and al-Qaida, but relations have always been defined by a lack of trust.
The raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistani garrison town heightened mistrust between the two countries. Pakistan was outraged it was not told about the operation beforehand, and U.S. officials questioned how bin Laden was able to live near Pakistan's equivalent of West Point for years.
The relationship deteriorated further at the end of last year when American airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border. Pakistan retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones.
Drone strikes have been a source of tension between the two countries because they are widely perceived in Pakistan as mostly killing civilians, a claim denied by the U.S. The U.S. held off on carrying out drone attacks in Pakistan for over six weeks after the 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed on Nov. 26.
But the strikes have since resumed. A U.S. drone fired missiles at a house and a vehicle in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing four alleged militants in an attack that could signal the program is again picking up steam.
The U.S. had recommenced strikes on Jan. 10, when missiles hit a house in the North Waziristan tribal area in an attack that American officials said killed a key al-Qaida operations planner, Aslam Awan. The U.S. carried out another attack two days later.
Monday's strike in North Waziristan's Deegan village was the third since the attacks resumed. Initial reports indicated the alleged militants killed were foreigners, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The U.S. refuses to speak publicly about the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan, but American officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.
Although Pakistan is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past, that cooperation has become strained as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.
Associated Press writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.