By Rajeev Sharma
Two things stand out in the Pakistan-specific Wikileaks Cablegate: (i) the United States is micro managing Pakistan in every conceivable sphere of activity to the extent that Pakistan emerges as a mere satrapy of the Americans; (ii) Pakistan, like an impish child, is habitual of defying the guardian’s diktats and as a result the US is nowhere close to its ultimate strategic goals of controlling the Pakistani nukes and weaning the state away from jihadi terrorists.
The leaked American embassy cables also show that the Pakistani military and the intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are deeply involved in the country’s nuclear power politics, quite often at variance with American interests.
America’s micro-management of Pakistan is especially evident in three key areas: (i) the American Special Forces operating in Pakistan; (ii) the US interference or unduly deep involvement in Pakistan politics; and (iii) the controversial drone strikes in Pakistani territory.
US SPECIAL TROOPS IN PAKISTAN
The cables put a seal of confirmation on a long suspected fact – that the American special troops are deployed in Pakistan for counter-terrorism efforts, though Pakistan repeatedly denied that there were any American boots on the ground. In fact, the Pakistani military covertly allowed only a handful of US special troops in October 2009 for deployment in North and South Waziristan along with Pakistani soldiers. This too was done in ways that constricted their operational powers. The American special troops were forbidden to conduct combat missions and were roped in only to provide “intelligence, surveillance and recon support” coordinating drone strikes and helping the military hunt down militants.
Nothing demonstrates Pakistan’s duplicity of running with the hare and hunting with the hound better than its stance on the so-called war against terror. Wikileaks’ cables on the American drone strikes on Al Qaida and Taliban targets inside Pakistani territory are an eye opener. The American diplomatic cables show that the Pakistani leadership was rather comfortable and “quietly acquiesced” with the drone strikes, though it raised a ruckus in the National Assembly after every drone attack.
One of the cables quotes Gilani as saying in August 2008 thus: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” In any case, there seemed no rationale for Pakistan to be genuinely disturbed about the drone strikes because it is the Americans who are doing Pakistan a favour by fighting Pakistan’s war against its Frankenstein monsters particularly when the Pakistani armed forces’ operations in the country’s lawless regions had failed to break the back of the jihadists. The documents also say that Pakistani civil servants view drones as an effective counter to the Taliban’s influence in the tribal belt. Wikileaks quotes a senior Pakistani official as saying that most local people did not fear the strikes because “everyone knew that they only hit the house or location of very bad people”.
AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN PAK POLITICS
The extent of American involvement in the Pakistani polity is revealed by the fact that the Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani discussed with the Americans in early 2009 the possibility of “persuading” President Asif Ali Zardari to resign and replacing him with Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan. Gen Kayani’s soft corner for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was borne out by the fact that he wanted Gilani to continue as PM.
Evidently, Zardari was not unmindful of Gen Kayani’s aversion to him and his immense liking for Gilani. The leaked American cables quote him as saying that he feared a fresh army coup. Zardari is also quoted as telling the US Ambassador in Pakistan Anne Patterson that he had made provision in case of his assassination, saying his sister, Faryal Talpur, would be named president.
Pakistan has always had the tradition of disrespecting its own elected leaders. Zardari’s case is no different. The Wikileaks’ cables show how Army Chief Kayani and ISI Chief Pasha ganged up together against Zardari months after he was sworn in as President. “Kayani and Pasha’s body language was disrespectful of their own president,” then-Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told the Americans in 2009. Later in November 2009, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik requested an urgent meeting at the US Embassy in Islamabad saying that the government needed political protection for the President. Malik told the US ambassador that Pasha was spinning intrigues against Zardari. Anne Patterson was not convinced that Pasha was acting alone. “Malik’s view that ISI Director-General Pasha is behind the moves against President Zardari and that Chief of Army Staff Kayani is not involved is either naive or intentionally misleading,” she wrote to the US State Department. “It would be impossible for Pasha to move without Kayani’s acquiescence.”
The Zardari-Gilani tug of war in the Pakistani polity is also given a clearer perspective in the Wikileaks cables. The documents describe Zardari as “pro-American and anti-extremist”. Though the American embassy officials in Islamabad admit that Zardari was far from perfect, they categorically state that “Zardari runs the show, and Gilani has at times chafed at public acknowledgment of this fact”. The American diplomats, according to the documents, have this to say about Zardari: “we believe he is our best ally in the government”. They also describe the reports of Zardari-Gilani tensions as “exaggerated” and say that “Gilani knows his place and will tow Zardari’s line”.
The Wikileaks Cable Gate has given a new perspective into the India-Pakistan brinkmanship in the immediate aftermath of 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Immediately after the November 2008 strikes both nuclear powers began to put their armies on alert. The Wikileaks cables demonstrate how an Indo-Pak military conflict loomed large as the then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee apparently threatened Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari over the phone with war. “Both Chief of Army Staff General (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani and President (Asif Ali) Zardari have stated flatly to Ambassador that the government of Pakistan would have no choice but to retaliate if attacked, and post has no doubt they are sincere,” reads a classified US dispatch.
The Wikileaks cables say that New Delhi was convinced that Pakistan’s ISI had prior knowledge of the 26/11 attack and had approved it. During these chaotic days, communication between Pakistan’s military and the civilian government had become muddled and confused. Zardari, who according to the Wikileaks cables, is more powerful than his bête noire Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani but less powerful than Pakistan Army Gen Kayani, gave his army chief cursory information about his contacts with the US, other allies and India. At this point of time Zardari’s main task was to de-escalate tensions with India and he floated the trial balloon when he stated that he was willing to send ISI Chief Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to cool temperatures.
Eventually Pasha never travelled to New Delhi evidently because Gen Kayani vetoed Zardari’s offer saying that it would lay a wrong precedent, whet the appetite of the Indians, and the next time they would be demanding his head. Therefore, a tutored Zardari later told the Americans that it was “too early” for a meeting with the head of the intelligence agency: “Let the evidence come to light, let the investigation take its course. Then perhaps there is a position where the directors general could meet … The DG (Pasha) is too senior a person to get into who overall looks into the investigation.” Shortly thereafter, Pakistani law enforcement officials arrested 124 suspects and tensions eased somewhat. It took some time for Islamabad to press charges against seven of those detained and has already taken an eternity for bringing the trial of these seven men to its logical conclusion.
Immediately after 26/11, the Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military, was all honey and sugar with India. Pakistan offered intelligence sharing in its bid to mollycoddle India, though the Indian leadership rightly ignored these placatory gestures. While Indo-Pak intelligence sharing never materialized, Pakistan shared intelligence information with Israel regarding possible terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli sites in India, the US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks show. This when Pakistan doesn’t even have formal diplomatic relations with Israel!
A document dated October 7, 2009 said Gen. Pasha told an American diplomat that he had conveyed intelligence on potential terror attacks in India to Israel. He told Anne Patterson that he had traveled to Oman and Iran to investigate information he received from the US about possible pending attacks in India. “Pasha asked Ambassador to convey to Washington that he had followed up on threat information that an attack would be launched against India between September-November. He had been in direct touch with the Israelis on possible threats against Israeli targets in India,” the cable read.
PAKISTAN DEFIES US
The world has feared for long that the Pakistani nukes may spill over to the jihadists, either by accident or by design. The Wikileaks cables deal at length with the Western fear that a rogue scientist in the Pakistani nuclear programme “could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon” for a terrorist group. The leaked US embassy cables also discuss the possibility of Islamic hardliners gaining power in Pakistan, triggering off a tense nuclear stand-off with India. Some of these cables talk about some British officials privately pushing for a “Cold-War-like relationship” to emerge between India and Pakistan, with China helping to stabilise the situation.
In 2008, Anne Patterson, cabled to Washington: “Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.” The US cables say that the US diplomats have been particularly worried that “despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world”.
The Americans have fancied their nation’s complete control over the Pakistani nuclear arsenal but, as the reports show, they are a long way from achieving this goal. Pakistan has steadfastly rejected a pro-active involvement of the Americans in the Pakistani nuke management. The Pakistanis have dug in their heels as is evident from Richard Holbrooke’s recent visit to Pakistan wherein he merely received a briefing on the “physical, personnel and command and control safeguards for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” The Americans laboriously worked towards a plan for “fuel removal” to the US from a research reactor years ago. But Pakistan jettisoned the American plans. A Pakistani decision-making official in the Foreign Ministry was quoted by the Wikileaks as saying that “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
The David Coleman Headley saga is yet another example of Pakistan’s open defiance against the US. In December 2009 the FBI informed Pakistan about the big fish in their net: Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origins. Pakistan sought access to Headley as he pleaded guilty to the charges, but the Americans refused. The measure of the US-Pakistan disconnect on terrorism issues is reflected by the fact that the Pakistanis paid back in the same coin and refused the Americans direct access to Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged accomplice of Headley. Incidentally Kashmiri is an officer of the Special Services Group, an elite commando unit that was trained by the Americans. The wheel comes to full circle!