December 12, 2010
Three A’s – Allah, Army, and America – have long defined Pakistan, but perhaps for the first time, the latest Wikileaks revelations have revealed how the US towers above the rest in the country’s affairs. The revelations show the extent of the American involvement in Pakistani politics, much to the embarrassment of the country’s ruling elite. The cablegate has confirmed how America manages Pakistan in every sphere that even Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a bitter critic of the US “imperialism”, lobbied with former US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, to help him become the prime minister.
The revelations show the country’s leading players seeking advices, favours, confiding, complaining and pouring their hearts out before Patterson. The ambassador’s good offices were even used to resolve the judicial crisis that threatened to destablize the country’s fledgling civilian government in 2009. Thousands of lawyers, with support from main opposition parties, marched to Islamabad seeking restoration of the judiciary after president Asif Ali Zardari dragged his feet on his promise of restoring chief justice Ifthikhar Chaudhary, whom former ruler Pervez Musharraf had ousted.
Analysts say the disclosure that former National Security Adviser Mahmud Durrani had leaked an in-camera briefing of Pakistan’s spy agency, the inter-services intelligence (ISI), to the country’s parliamentarian to the American embassy really takes the cake. Pakistani analyst, Shireen Mazari, said the revelations have “aggravated mistrust between the state and the nation” and said American ambassadors to Pakistan are no less than “viceroys’’.
The leaks have also, perhaps for the first time, exposed the country’s all-powerful military, deemed for long the “only institution with the country’s interests at heart’’. The revelation that its chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani allowed the US special forces to operate in the country and discussed the possibility of persuading Zardari to resign and replacing him with Frontier Gandhi’s grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan, with the Americans in 2009 has left the army red-faced.
The leaks have, however, come as the biggest setback for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Zardari, grappling with credibility crisis. According to the leaked cables, Zardari told Patterson that he feared a coup and that he had made a provision that his sister would be named the president in case he is assassinated.
The cables showing that the Pakistani leadership “quietly acquiesced’’ with the highly-unpopular drone attacks have provoked outrage. Gilani, who tabled a resolution condemning the attacks in Parliament, is quoted as saying that he does not care as long as drones get the right people. “We will protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’’
The cables revealed that interior minister Rehman Malik requested an urgent meeting with Patterson in November 2009 and sought “political protection” for Zardari. Malik told her that ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha was “spinning intrigues” against Zardari. An unconvinced Patterson wrote to the US state department that Malik’s view was “either naïve or intentionally misleading”.
Noted American South Asian expert Stephen Cohen said the reference to the role of the US ambassador is nothing new. “I discuss this in my book on Pakistan (2004, before Patterson went there), and, in fact, every US ambassador that I talked to complained that they were being dragged into Pakistani politics by politicians and even the military and that they were all distressed at the lack of political integrity in Pakistan,” he said, and insisted that “Indians should not gloat when their neighbor’s house is on fire”.
Islamabad Dateline editor Kamran Rehman agrees with Mazari, saying one of the first lessons a student of Pakistani politics and history learns “is that the US ambassador to Pakistan is, for all practical purposes, a viceroy’’. Small wonder, he adds, a shrewd cleric-politician “with a sharp eye for spoils of power, had no qualms about seeking Patterson’s blessings — an image in complete contrast to his public conduct’’.
The Wikileaks have dealt a body blow to American’s covert operations in Pakistan and put the country’s leadership in the dock over the embarrassing closed doors conduct. But it is unlikely to change the Washington-Islamabad equation. “The US will continue to be the Captain Kirk of the Pakistani Starship Enterprise,’’ says Rehmat.
Noted American-Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has a different take on the issue. “For someone, who has been using diplomatic sources for decades, I do not detect anything especially unusual about the exchanges.’’ She says all that is new “is the efficiency with which the media can stir up a storm across the globe in no time” and insists that it was too early to analyze the disclosures. “A substantive analysis of the disclosures must await, but I doubt we have with their help managed to capture all the intricacies of the US policymaking in the contemporary context.”
Rehmat, meanwhile, is optimistic. “The leaks are probably the best thing to have happened to Pakistan’s people — they are now definitely aware of where they stand with regard to their elected and un-elected leadership.’’
(First published in the Times of India)