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WIKILEAKS Impact on Pakistan

The release by Wikileaks of hundreds of thousands of classified cables exchanged between the State Department and the US embassies abroad has predictably embarrassed both the individuals quoted in them, as well as the governments concerned.

This duplicity has left many red faces all over the world with the target individuals and governments scrambling to clarify their positions to control the damage caused by these leaks.

In the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel. The Pakistan Army is deeply sensitive about any questions on the safety of its nuclear weapons.  The country is also often awash with conspiracy theories accusing the Americans of harbouring secret plans to dismantle the nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are considered to be well-guarded although some western analysts have cited a risk of militants trying to seize nuclear material which they might use to make a dirty bomb. Meanwhile, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court dismissed a petition which prayed for a ban on the publication, printing and broadcast of the Wikileaks reports on Pakistan. The judge said nothing is greater than the truth and what Wikileaks reports published now, our media had been revealing to the masses far ago.

The Wikileaks exposure proved to be a bombshell, containing earthshaking prevailing situation in Pakistan, constitutes an abiding shame not only for our all leadership, but also the nation. This fact can be consolidated with the ‘secret permission’ to allow drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the stationing of foreign troops on our soil. It is a fact that Wikileaks disclosures have not provided new information about those sitting at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, but they have been instrumental in providing further evidence for what has already been known, or  suspected about them.

One of the major effects of Wikileaks on Pakistan is that it exposed some prominent Pakistanis, with most politicians trying to win favour of the US, including President Zardari. A report mentioned him as telling a Congress delegation that ‘we are here because of you’ and thanking the US government for the holding of elections.

Moreover, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif told US ambassador Anne W. Patterson that he was pro-American, the President told the delegation that Pakistan would not act without consulting the US. This showed his government’s tilt towards the US. The statement has not been denied by President Zardari, but he spoke on phone with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and agreed with her that the Wikileaks would not affect the Pak-US strategic partnership. Though he did not say so, it is to be presumed that the ‘consultations, which actually sounds like ‘permission’ to anyone who understands the nature of relations between Pakistan and the US, would continue.
Wikileaks have had many consequences, and one of them has been that Pakistani politicians have been shown as dependent on the US, and seeking its favour. Contrary to this, Pakistanis strongly oppose the US’ policies, particularly because of their support for India and Israel, and the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistanis are also the neocolonial nature of American friendship, and the special status of American citizens in countries like Pakistan. With the war on terror the icing on the cake, the assumption by Pakistani politicians that the US can help them should be abandoned, along with the unseemly struggle for its approval.

Conspiracy theorists

The US has obviously suffered the most from these leaks. It stretches the imagination, therefore, to conclude as some conspiracy theorists in Pakistan have done that these leaks are part of a calculated move by Washington to vilify Muslim countries and leaders. It is true that foreign governments and leaders, whose duplicity has been exposed, have also suffered because of these leaks. But they include both Muslims and non-Muslims. It is also disingenuous on the part of the targets of these leaks to deny their authenticity to protect themselves. If the leaked cables were fabricated, the US that has suffered the most, would have been the first to point it out. The fact is that the leaked cables are authentic containing mostly information or views conveyed by their authors in a frank manner in the belief that they would remain confidential.

Our top political and military hierarchies should be agreeing to let the country’s sovereignty be compromised, as reflected in the attitude towards; the looking up to Washington for getting a high office; trying to prove their pro-American credentials; and sharing with it their preferences about who should hold the top political slot in the country or, for that matter, would be better suited for it ‘demonstrates the sheer bankruptcy of the courage to take decisions that no foreign country or agent should have the temerity to interfere with, let alone the power to influence. The only person who stands out of this crowd is the sportsman-turned-politician Imran Khan. He remained steadfast in his views against the US interference in the region, in private conversation with the US as in his public statements. However, his political clout could not influence the country’s policies or direction.

The subtly demeaning characterisation of our leaders that the US diplomats and interlocutors have done would, in the backdrop of the above scenario, be difficult to question; for assessing the characters of foreign officials with whom diplomats and important official visitors come into contact is part of their assignment. The tragic reality is that their account more or less tallies with the views the politically wide-awake public holds of them.

Although the impression about Pakistan leaders’ subservience to the American wishes, even in matters of appointments of top political and military officials, gets entrenched in the public mind through the legitimacy that Wikileaks provides, it is not something that the people did not feel already. Even our leadership’s open acts lead one to such an interpretation. The view that the release of secret cables has raised questions in the public mind about the trustworthiness of our leadership is a bit puerile; they had little doubt about their unreliability even before the leakage.

Official reaction

Reacting immediately to the Wikileaks disclosures, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) decided to convey to the US the government’s reservations over the disclosure of confidential and secret information. A meeting of the committee, presided over by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, denounced the leak of sensitive information and warned that its continuation would damage friendly ties between the two countries. A formal stance of the government on the problem caused by the whistleblower website would be handed over to the US through proper channel at an appropriate time.

Although the Prime Minister’s Secretariat issued a press release on the proceedings of the committee, it did not say a word about the much-talked about leak of loads of top secret information about the country the US embassy had been sending back home through confidential cables.

Pandora’s Box
Wikileaks has opened up a Pandora’s Box of candid revelations of no-holds-barred communications that were never intended for public exposure. But now that they have been roundly aired, some things are bound to change. What will change first of all is the way business is conducted at the governments’ level and their diplomats posted worldwide. There has always been a certain amount of intelligence sharing and heart-to-heart chitchat in these circles. However after the debacle, many eminent personalities and government functionaries will be restrained from shooting off at the mouth or entrusting their secret communications to cables and such like. All governments and diplomatic missions, especially those of the US, are likely to rely solely on coded communications and means such as cipher machines to avoid such embarrassing situation in future.

Along with the fact that Wikileaks has confirmed a great deal of information ‘most of which we knew anyway’ we will probably have to wait for the entire corpus of information to be released and for governments then, including Pakistan’s, to assess their appropriate response. These cables have proved damaging to certain personalities and institutions in Pakistan too. At the heart of the revelations concerning Pakistan remains the vexed question of civil-military relations, a conundrum that is a permanent feature of our landscape. Despite the military’s dominant position in this relationship, some of which can be glimpsed through the prism of the Wikileaks deluge, the DCC meeting is a step in the direction of hopefully greater cohesion in at least two of the angles in the power triangle that is said to be the ultimate arbiter of our destiny, hopefully in the country’s interest. Wikileaks will, therefore, have no immediate impact on any country’s foreign policy. Wikileaks have not unmasked all the political secrets. Many secrets are still confined only to a few individuals and to some top-secret files and these secrets will come out only when these individuals will themselves speak.

Wikileaks has revealed that President Zardari feared a military coup in 2009 and considered the US as his ultimate saviour. US Ambassador to Pakistan sent cables to Washington in support of Zardari. But Wikileaks did not expose the storm created in the White House and Pentagon by her cables, which warned Washington about a possible military coup in 2009. President Obama asked one of his top military commanders many times to speak with General Kayani and get the truth.
Military coup
Wikileaks has revealed that President Zardari feared a military coup in 2009 and considered the US as his ultimate saviour. US Ambassador to Pakistan sent cables to Washington in support of Zardari. But Wikileaks did not expose the storm created in the White House and Pentagon by her cables, which warned Washington about a possible military coup in 2009. President Obama asked one of his top military commanders many times to speak with General Kayani and get the truth. US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen inquired from his Pakistani counterpart General Kayani not once but more than three times about the possibility of any military coup and every time Kayani said that he was not planning any coup.

The situation changed in just one year. In 2010, the Zardari-led government started suspecting US diplomats as the ‘mastermind’ behind all the anti-government moves. Then President Zardari asked Interior Minister Rehman Malik in September 2010 to monitor the activities of a second tier US diplomat, who was meeting different politicians frequently those days. Two main intelligence agencies informed the government that the diplomat had completed his tenure and went back to the US but suddenly came back and again started meeting politicians and journalists.

These agencies also informed the government that the diplomat was discussing the possibility of mid-term elections with opposition parties as well as some government allies. This created so much alarm in the government camp that one fine morning, Rehman Malik wrote a letter to US Ambassador Anne W Patterson about the ‘un-diplomatic’ activities of the US diplomat.

Within 48 hours, Patterson arranged a meeting between Rehman Malik and the diplomat. Interestingly, Rehman Malik produced documentary evidence before the US ambassador and claimed that the diplomat was instigating not only the opposition leaders but also some government allies against the government.

Ultimately, the president informed the PM that everything was all right and one day the PM surprised the nation by announcing a new three-year extension in the service of Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani. This new tenure was the proof that the situation in 2010 had changed from 2009. It was also learnt that Prime Minister Gilani used the recent floods as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the Presidency and the Army House.

Subsequently, the president and the Army chief were on board when the government decided to cut off the Nato supply lines after the US attack on Pakistani border check-post. Admiral Mullen tried his level best to use his ‘personal relations’ with General Kayani to cool down the situation.

It is worth mentioning that Mullen had visited Pakistan more than 20 times since November 2007 and during this period, he had 12 one-on-one meetings with COAS. Mullen spoke to General Kayani again and again during the Nato supply lines crisis but COAS demanded an apology.

The unity in the power troika in Pakistan ultimately forced Ambassador Patterson to make a public apology. It was the same Patterson who sent dispatches to Washington in 2009 that the Army and the civilian government did not enjoy good relations but now she was apologising to all of them in 2010. The power troika has decided to formulate a strategy for minimising the undue political role of US diplomats in Pakistan and this strategy will bring some big surprises in 2011.

Of potentially huge significance for Pakistan are cables, reported in The Guardian, saying that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme. Pakistan has traditionally had a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia.  But it has also been building bridges with Iran, whose cooperation it needs to secure a settlement in Afghanistan.

The New York Times quoted cables showing Saudi King Abdullah speaking about President Zardari. The King called him the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. When the head is rotten,’ it quoted him as saying ‘it affects the whole body.’Meanwhile, there might be more on the US distrust of Pakistan. But that is hardly new.

The New York Times, citing documents leaked by the group Wikileaks, said representatives from ISI met directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organise militant networks fighting US soldiers. The agency was also involved in plots to assassinate Afghan leader, the Times said, adding the Wikileaks report was based on 91 000 documents collected from across the US military in the country.

The White House condemned the leak, saying it could threaten national security and endanger the lives of Americans. Pakistan said leaking of unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible. Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest of the nine-year-old war as thousands of extra US troops, dispatched by President Obama in December, step up their campaign to drive insurgents out of their traditional heartland in the south.

The leaks have also caused a severe blow to the element of confidentiality inherent in these official cables. Henceforth, foreign governments and officials would be extremely careful in sharing their views on important issues with American diplomats realising the high risk of their leakage to the public. This will obviously make the task of the US embassies and missions abroad much more difficult. The disclosure of adverse comments by the US diplomats on local leaders and high-ranking officials, conveyed to Washington in a spirit of frankness, will undoubtedly further complicate their difficulties. It is not surprising, therefore, that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been engaged in a damage control exercise over the last few days to reassure foreign governments, including Pakistan.

By: Waseem-ur-Rehman Khan

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