Many of us who have known Shaheen Sehbai personally are aware that his ties with Mansoor Ijaz goes back at least a decade. And I have been on a hunt to dig out some old articles so we can analyze Memogate in its historical context. My intent is not to vindicate Husain Haqqani but to demonstrate how some within Pakistani media are so obsessed with the status quo that they continue to peddle the dominant narrative.
In my previous blogs I have argued that Pakistani media creates, processes and disseminates information on behalf of the establishment (GHQ), which shapes our beliefs and attitudes and, ultimately, our behavior. Consistently displayed messages create a false sense of reality and produce a consciousness that cannot comprehend or even worst, willfully rejects the actual conditions of everyday life. This is exactly what happened with the Memogate scandal. I believe we must do a post-mortem of the scandal, which for a month shook everything and everyone in Pakistan.
Behind that scandal were several people – but Mansoor Ijaz and Shaheen Sehbai who have known each other since 1995 played the key roles.
It begins with an article Shaheen Sehbai wrote for Dawn in June of 1995 positioning Mansoor Ijaz as an architect of US-Pakistan diplomacy. At that time Shaheen Sehbai was Dawn’s correspondent in Washington DC. In early 2000 the duo then turned against the Pakistan army with both relentlessly kicking GHQ in the pants. Shaheen Sehbai used SATribune.com as a platform to criticize the army and Ijaz had abundant access to Fox news after 9/11 to spew hatred against Pakistan.
Shaheen Sehbai “made-up” with GHQ and shut down SATribune. Sehbai’s close friends tell me that Dr. Shahid Masood brokered a deal with Maj. General Shaukat Sultan who used to head ISPR. The deal was that Shaheen Sehbai will shut down SATribune and return to Pakistan to head The News.
UPDATE: Shaheen Sehbai has categorically denied this allegation. And, I have decided to include his view here as well.
Mansoor Ijaz stopped appearing on Fox news and ran into financial trouble around the same time. Shaheen Sehbai had personally told me that Mansoor Ijaz is one the ‘funders’ of his publication. It is not surprising then that Sehbai closed the deal with ISPR when his funding dried up.
UPDATE: Shaheen Sehbai now says Mansoor Ijaz never funded his endeavor. There is no way I can substantiate it either way. I can say this with mathematical certitude, under oath, if required: In 2003 Shaheen Sehbai told me that Mansoor Ijaz was one of the investors of SATribune. Don’t know if he said it to solicit my help in converting SATribune from online presence only to weekly print edition. I will leave it up the readers to draw their own conclusion.
In October 2011 Shaheen Sehbai, who is now the chief editor of The News amplified the voice of his old pal Mansoor Ijaz by launching a campaign against the democratically elected government courtesy of Memogate. Now that this scandal has proved substance less, we must try to understand what actually happened so we can avoid similar stresses in future.
There are two possibilities – Sehbai-Ijaz duo used DG ISI Shuja Pasha to give life to their conspiracy; or Pasha pulled the strings of Sehbai and Ijaz to conspire against the elected government. In either case, a conspiracy to dislodge the people’s representative was foiled by the democratically elected government with the help of social media savvy, pro democracy Pakistanis.
Skillfully plugging Mansoor Ijaz in his 1995 Dawn article Sehbai writes:
“Mansoor Ijaz runs a billion dollar investment management firm, claims he dines with President Clinton, is a Managing Trustee of the Democratic Party’s National Committee and a Majority Trust Member of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says he makes heavy donations which do move things for him on the Hill, produces a stack of letters written by almost anyone who is someone on the Capitol Hill, and boasts of his business connections outside the U.S.”
If you fast forward to 2011, Mansoor Ijaz is still doing what he did in 1995 and Shaheen Sehbai continues to skillfully promote him. No one in the Pakistani media ever questions his biases. No one asks Sehbai why do you keep on building this guy as a billionaire when in actuality he is so broke that he has defaulted on $1.5 million debt.
In an article titled “A blueprint Pakistan cannot ignore”, Shaheen Sehbai wrote in June 1995:
“A comprehensive blueprint of how and in which direction future relations between Pakistan and the United States would, or should move… It has been put forward by some influential Pakistani-Americans in the form of a confidential memorandum which takes into account the pressing security and defence requirements of Islamabad as well as provides Washington a framework to achieve its own goals.”
Please note mention of the “confidential memorandum” in this story from 1995 “which takes into account the pressing security and defence requirements of Islamabad as well as provides Washington a framework to achieve its own goals.”
Does this ring a bell? Isn’t this similar to Mansoor Ijaz’s memo of May 2011? How dumb do these people think we are? Mansoor Ijaz and Shaheen Sehbai forget that in these days of digital media anyone with patience can do some digging.
Did Shaheen Sehbai and Masnoor Ijaz use the same template? In June 1995 Shaheen Sehbai wrote:
“The man behind the whole idea is a 34-year old American of Pakistani origin, MIT and Harvard educated mechanical engineer turned nuclear physicist turned investment consultant who was introduced to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto by a senior Pakistani diplomat in Washington as ”the silent billionaire”.
Now please review an article published in The News in October 2011 “The memo that saved Zardari- at what cost?” Shaheen Sehbai writes:
“The third key issue is the credibility of the writer, Mansoor Ijaz, a man once dubbed by our ambassador to Washington as the “silent billionaire”, a self-made man as one of the world’s top investment minds and with friends in the highest defence, national security and political echelons of many governments around the world, a man who surely doesn’t need the headache of dealing with our incestuous politics while he jets around the French Riviera.”
Shaheen Sehbai knows that Mansoor Ijaz is broke but he is still using the same “silent billionaire” phrase he coined in 1995. According to the financial statements provided by Mansoor Ijaz and entered in judgment in New York Court, he doesn’t have more than a few million. Even if you were to take Mansoor Ijaz at his words MansoorIjaz Consolidated Financial Statement his net-worth is $15 million. If that made someone a “silent billionaire” you would find so many in the US that you would need several phone directories to publish every name.
But if you take a closer look, that $15 million seems questionable. You will notice Ijaz claims his apartment in New York City is worth more that $5.9 million. A search of public record puts it at $4.4 million. Only a million and a half more than what Ijaz estimates. But that’s fine. The market did go down somewhat. It is, however, the only tangible asset.
Ijaz further values the stocks of Crescent (CHR) and Eco Drive (ECO) at $2.5 million and $9.3 million respectively. Neither of these are publicly traded companies. With no real business to back it up- these shares are worth pennies and if you discounted these shares to current market value Mansoor Ijaz is merely left with his apartment. Well- he also claims to posses’ jewelry/art/heirloom worth $477k, furniture/electronics worth $225k.
Compare that to his liability of $4.4 million and do the math yourself. No matter how fantastical your imagination, you would shy away from describing this gentleman as a “silent billionaire.”
Although many people exaggerate their socio-economic status, it becomes problematic when one uses that perception to exercise political influence. This is exactly what Shaheen Sehbai and Mansoor Ijaz have done. They have both misled us and postured to be “ultra-wealthy” to establish credibility.
Shaheen Sehbai and other pseudo-journalists like him manipulate the people of Pakistan by constantly repeating the narratives of GHQ. These messages become the ‘instrument of conquest’, by which the ruling elite tries to conform the masses to their objectives.
By using compromised journalists that explain, justify, and sometimes even glamorize the prevailing conditions of existence, GHQ secures popular support for a social order that is not in the majority’s long-term interest. In the cacophony, which is often masked as intelligent debate of “national interest”, what remains unconsidered are the “peoples’ interest”.
But enough is enough- if Maya Khan can be booted off the air for harassing young men and women in a park why can’t Shaheen Sehbai be booted off for conspiring to dislodge a government that people of Pakistan elected.