ISLAMABAD _ The explosive case that threatened to topple Pakistan's government could crumble after the American businessman at the center of the so-called Memogate affair refused Monday to come to the country to testify, blaming concerns for his safety.
The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, after weeks of buildup and proclamations that he was prepared to give evidence even at the risk of his life, won't turn up for a scheduled court appearance Tuesday, his lawyer said.
Ijaz claims that the then-Pakistani ambassador to Washington asked him to deliver an anonymous memo to the American military leadership last year that offered to rein in Pakistan's armed forces in return for U.S. support to the civilian government. The controversy deepened the rift between the civilian administration, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the powerful military and spotlighted the disintegrating U.S.-Pakistani relationship.
The United States is seen in Pakistan now more as an enemy than an ally, a view reinforced Monday by a report from the Pakistani military, which rejected the Pentagon's conclusion that American airstrikes that killed some two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last November were justified as self-defense.
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The Pakistani army, in a 25-page response to a Pentagon probe that said Pakistani soldiers had fired first, said the failings of the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan were "deep, varied and systemic," especially their failure to inform Pakistan of an operation on the Afghan side of the border. The Pentagon inquiry _ in which Pakistan declined to participate _ had found faults on both sides for the deaths. Pentagon officials, who said Pakistan communicated the results of its inquiry over the weekend, said they stood by their findings and rejected the Pakistani claim that the attack was unprovoked.
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That finding "is simply false," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
The Pakistani military is widely thought to be seeking the ouster of Zardari, with whom it's clashed repeatedly. The Memogate allegations, which a judicial commission is investigating, could lead to treason charges against Zardari's former ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, but without Ijaz's testimony the case seemed likely to collapse.
Earlier this month, the tough-talking Ijaz told McClatchy in a telephone interview from Switzerland _ where he spends much of his time _ that he'd travel to Pakistan to testify despite receiving threats.
"I am coming because it is important that there be no perception left about whether I feared telling the truth on the record, whether I feared the threats, whether I feared the government and its sharp-tongued ministers, whether I feared facing Haqqani and his legal team: I'm ready for all of them."
But on Monday, Ijaz's lawyer, Akram Sheikh, said his client now was willing only to record his testimony in Zurich or London.
Ijaz had demanded to be guarded by the Pakistani military, but Sheikh said the army hadn't agreed to do so. The lawyer voiced fears that Ijaz wouldn't be allowed to leave Pakistan.
"I congratulate the government of Pakistan, who has succeeded in obstructing justice," Sheikh said in Islamabad. "Mr. Mansoor Ijaz refuses to knowingly walk into the trap laid by the government."
Pakistan's attorney general, Maulvi Anwarul Haq, who represents the government, said that all security arrangements for Ijaz required by the judicial commission were in place.
It remained unclear what evidence Ijaz could provide to back up his claims, although top military officials already have told the court that they believe his accusations. According to Ijaz, Haqqani had told him he was acting on behalf of "the boss," which Ijaz took to mean Zardari.Haqqani was recalled to Pakistan and forced to resign in November. In the subsequent court case, he risked being tried for treason. Haqqani has said he wasn't involved in any way in writing or delivering the memo, calling the scandal a "witch hunt" against democracy.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article from Washington.)
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