Islamabad: A scandal over a secret memo to Washington that could bring down the Pakistani President took a strange turn on Wednesday when a music video surfaced featuring the chief accuser acting as a commentator for a naked female wrestling bout.
Opponents of Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, said the clip damaged his credibility ahead of his scheduled appearance at a Supreme Court commission in this conservative Muslim country. The Florida-born businessman has pledged to provide damning evidence that the Pakistani government sent the note seeking US help preventing a military coup in the aftermath of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 02, 2011.
Others were simply amused at the latest twist in an affair that has transfixed the media and raised tensions between the government and the powerful military to dangerous levels. Dubbed "Memogate" in the Pakistani media, one Twitter user suggested it should now be renamed "booty-gate”.
Ijaz, who boasts of close friendships with the US security establishment and past back-channel diplomatic roles in Sudan and Kashmir, claims the unsigned memo was authored by the then-Pakistan envoy to Washington, Husain Haqqani.
Ijaz says that at Haqqani`s request, he delivered the memo to Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer at the time. Mullen`s spokesman confirmed that his boss did receive the memo from Ijaz but that he did not find it credible and ignored it.
Haqqani denied any role in the memo but resigned last year amid pressure from the outraged military. Ijaz has said that he gave computer records implicating Haqqani to Pakistan`s spy chief, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, who he says flew to London to meet with him in October. Pasha has told the court that he found the evidence credible.
The country`s top court is now probing the affair, which some believe could result in treason charges against Haqqani. President Asif Ali Zardari could also be vulnerable if — as Ijaz`s lawyer claims — it can be proven he also knew about the note. The investigation comes as Pakistani-US relations are at an all-time low.
It was unclear why the wrestling video, which was made in 2004 and has been viewed for years on the Internet, came to light only now. Ijaz`s role was apparently spotted by a blogger late Tuesday and spread quickly through social media.
Ijaz told a news agency he thought the video`s emergence was part of an effort by Haqqani to discredit him ahead of his testimony but conceded he had no evidence of this. He confirmed that the video was not a hoax.
Ijaz appears in two versions of the same video for "Stupidisco”, a house music track by Italian producer Junior Jack that was a club hit in 2004.
One clip features bikini-clad women wrestlers `Double D` and `Nasty Nancy,` who end up grappling on a mat in a sexually provocative fashion. The other is the same until the final 30 seconds, when the women remove each other`s clothes.
Ijaz`s scenes and dialogue feature in both versions.
"She`s giving it to her good now! You`ve got some real tumbling going on here. Nancy`s got that mean look," he says, as the two women wrestle in front of him. At one point, Ijaz`s eyes widen and his mouth gapes as the video cuts to the women ripping each other`s bikinis off.
Ijaz said he had not known he would appear in the version containing full nudity.
"I did this as a favour for my wife`s best friend, whose planned actor for the part did not show up for the shoot that day," he said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location, citing alleged threats to his life as a result of his role in the memo scandal. He said the shoot took place in Brussels, and that there was no other person available with an American accent.
"I was never present for any part of the video where those naked girls were shown. My wife was present at all times."
Ijaz provided the agency with 2004 e-mail correspondence between him and the producer of the video in which he threatens legal action unless the producer removes him from the clip that contains nudity.
"Given my political and public profile in the United States and around the world, it is impossible for me to appear in any part of any video clip with nudity of any type," he wrote. He included a reply from the producer, who assured Ijaz he would cut his role from the X-rated version and remove it from the Internet.
Haqqani`s lawyer, Zahid Bokhari, said the "Stupidisco" video shows that Ijaz "can break all the norms of decency”.
"I think a man of that stature, one who can go to that extent for fame, he can make up all kinds of false stories. I am really stunned by this," said Bokhari. He dismissed Ijaz`s claim that the video was part of campaign to question his credibility, noting that it was made and put on the Internet years ago.
The bikini video was uploaded onto YouTube in 2009, with 376,000 views since then, according to that website. The version in which the women appear naked was uploaded to a site called Dailymotion in 2007.
For Ijaz, the videos cast an unwelcome spotlight on his plans to come to Pakistan and testify to the Supreme Court commission next Tuesday. Ijaz has said he will present Blackberry smart phones with records of conversations between him and Haqqani that prove the former envoy authored the memo.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a Zardari loyalist, has hinted Ijaz could face legal troubles himself if he comes to Pakistan, alleging he once claimed to have brought down an earlier government.
Local media have speculated that Ijaz will fly into a military air base and then be escorted by the Army to the court to testify, such is his importance to the case.
Akram Sheikh, Ijaz`s lawyer, claimed the government was trying to stop his client from travelling to Pakistan.
"So what if my client has been dancing on the Internet," said Sheikh. "What difference does that make? He has never claimed to be perfect, or running an orphanage. Would Mr Haqqani like his personal life exposed?"
Haqqani, who returned to Pakistan to cooperate with the probe, is now living as a guest at the Prime Minister`s residence, claiming his life is in danger. He has been banned by the commission from leaving the country. His wife has lobbied in Washington in his defence, and several US lawmakers have spoken up for him.
The memo scandal is not the only threat to the Pakistani government, which has struggled since Zardari`s election in 2008. Like previous governments, his administration has had difficult relations with the Army, which has never trusted Zardari.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to appear before the Supreme Court to explain why his government has not asked Swiss authorities to reopen an old corruption case against Zardari. The court has initiated contempt proceedings against Gilani for failing to do this.
The government has long refused to write the letter, arguing that Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office. But Gilani`s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said on Wednesday that "there was no harm" in writing the Swiss because Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution.